Archive for the ‘Movie Review’ Category

Director: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya

For as long as we can remember, superhero films have featured protagonists whose motivations consist primarily of a combination of two things: 1) a natural enemy to defeat and 2) someone whose death they feel compelled to avenge. #2 comes around a little less often than #1, but the fact remains that the hero is focused on defeating the villain. #1 is no different in the case of Wonder Woman, as she was born and bred for this purpose. But there is much that is different about her. Apart from Marvel’s Thor, Wonder Woman is unique in that she is the offspring of a god. Having the powers of an immortal god could have easily led to her imposing her will on all of humanity. But that’s not Wonder Woman’s style. She is not the sort who would destroy entire cities to end a threat, or perform a memory wipe on someone just to remove the burden of having to shield them 24/7. What truly helps Wonder Woman to stand out among the crowd is her unwavering desire to save people.

In 2017 Paris, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) stares at an old photograph of herself and others from a century ago, recovered for her by newfound friend, Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman. Her memories of a long ago era take her back first to her youth on the island of Themyscira, where she was one among the many of Amazonian warrior women who lived there. The island is obscured from the rest of the world for their (and, more specifically, Diana’s) own protection. Despite the objections of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana begins training for a battle yet to come. That battle, against Ares, the god of war, is one that Zeus (Ares’s father) believed was inevitable, and thus he created Diana through Hippolyta. In Hippolyta’s sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), the greatest of all warriors on Themyscira, Diana could find no better teacher. Princess Buttercup is a general, now. How cool is that?!

Trouble arrives when a German plane piloted by American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the water just off the coast of Themyscira. Diana saves Steve, but he was followed, and although the ensuing German assault is soundly defeated, Antiope is killed. The Lasso of Truth forces Steve to reveal the nature of his mission: the theft of a notebook from the laboratory of Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), who is developing mustard gas for the Germans, which indicates the plans to start a higher form of warfare. The Amazonians, up to now, had no idea that World War I was going on around them. Diana believes that this is a sign of Ares’ return, that he is posing as German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), and that it is her duty to find and defeat him.

Having no experience with the outside world, Diana is unaccustomed to a society where women have no say in any matters of importance. As such, there are many awkward moments, both in trying to assert herself and in trying to look the part of a woman living in the 1910s. Perhaps the best example of this is when Diana attempts to walk out onto the streets of London whilst carrying both her sword and shield. Not exactly the type of thing that would help her to “blend in”! At the War Council, Steve barges in and delivers the notebook, but is barred from taking any further action. An armistice with Germany is in the works, and they don’t want anything mucking it up. Steve is a soldier, and as such is willing to (reluctantly) accept orders once they are given, but Diana (whom Steve has introduced as Diana Prince) sees only foolishness in failing to act. One member of the council, Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) agrees to help them covertly.

After putting a team together, Steve and Diana head for Belgium. At the Western Front, the team finds what appears to them to be an impasse. In what has to go down as the movie’s greatest scene… perhaps one of the greatest scenes of ANY superhero film… Diana climbs from the trenches and walks through No man’s land, using her bracelets and her shield to deflect all incoming enemy fire. This moment is as breathtaking as it is inspirational. A village is liberated, and the photograph from the film’s opening scene is taken. Afterwards, Steve and Diana share a moment of intimacy. Alas, though the battle may be won, the war is far from over.

Diana tracks down and attempts to kill Ludendorff, but Steve stops her, believing that their mission to stop the gas attack would be compromised. Ludendorff subsequently orders a test of the gas on the very town which Diana and Steve just rescued. Distraught by the senseless loss of life and beginning to lose her faith in humanity, Diana lashes out at Steve and continues her pursuit of Ludendorff. Finding him once again, Diana does not fail in her mission to kill Ludendorff, yet she is puzzled. If Ares is now dead, why then does the war continue? That question is answered quickly. Out of nowhere, Sir Patrick appears, declaring himself to be Ares.

All along, Diana has assumed that Ares has been controlling the thoughts and actions of the Germans. In an attempt to simultaneously break her spirit and cause his sister to join him, Ares explains to Diana that he hasn’t deprived humanity of its free will, that it is they who choose to be evil. While this is going on, Steve pilots a plane carrying the mustard gas high into the sky where, in an act of self-sacrifice, he can detonate it safely. Despite some cheer-leading from Ares, Diana chooses not to murder a defenseless Doctor Poison, instead reassured and inspired by Steve’s final words to her as well as his final act, both of which were born from love. It is through the power of love… Diana’s love for Steve and for all of humanity… that Diana is able to summon the energy that has always existed within her to ultimately defeat her brother, once and for all.

Wonder Woman was already recognizable as being (easily) the best part of 2016’s Batman v Superman. As the star of her very own movie, the Princess of Themyscira makes 2017’s Wonder Woman one of the very best superhero movies ever made. Apart from the rather timely message of love conquering hate, Wonder Woman also features terrific set design (owing to its World War I setting), a great supporting cast (in which Chris Pine is the standout), and a powerful score by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Not since John Williams’ Superman (1978) and Danny Elfman’s Batman (1989) scores has a superhero been blessed with such appropriate music, particularly the track “Wonder Woman’s Wrath.” Incidentally, when Wonder Woman returns in Fall 2017 for Justice League, Danny Elfman will provide the music.

Finally, there’s Gal Gadot herself. A former Israeli model who owes her first big break in Hollywood (2011’s Fast Five) to actor Vin Diesel, Gadot’s hiring for Wonder Woman was widely criticized. So was Michael Keaton for 1989’s Batman, as well as Heath Ledger for 2008’s The Dark Knight. Unfairly, Gadot’s criticism had more to with her body shape than anything else. Gadot turned out not just to be a good choice, but a perfect choice. Like those before her who’ve entered the superhero genre and succeeded as mightily as Gal Gadot has with Wonder Woman, Gadot’s name will forever be synonymous with her character. For as long as Gadot wields the Lasso of Truth as Diana Prince, I will always be appreciative of what she brings to the table.

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevigne

When the character of Harley Quinn first arrived on the scene in 1992’s “Batman: The Animated Series,” I never would have guessed that she would become a part of the comic book lineage as well, nor that she would ever be anything more than a throwaway sidekick/love interest for the Joker whose very presence undermined the more famous supervillain. Since that time, it had always been my belief that the Joker was better off without being tied to Harley Quinn. Now, with the release of Suicide Squad in 2016, I am left to wonder if the opposite can’t also be true.

The events of Batman v. Superman have (at least temporarily) led to a hole in the Earth’s protection against threats it can’t handle alone.  Enter the Suicide Squad: DC Comics’ version of The Dirty Dozen. This ragtag group of misfits and criminals who’ve been jailed by the likes of Batman, the Flash and others are recruited against their will by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Waller is tough as nails, takes no crap from anyone, and has as much of a mean streak as any of her new “recruits” do. All except for one: The Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), an ancient witch with god-like powers which has attached itself to the mind and body of Dr. June Moone. Enchantress doesn’t much care for being imprisoned and paraded around by mortals, so she bolts the first chance she gets and sets off on her plan to destroy the human race, with an assist from her brother, Incubus.

Even though it’s a mess of her own creation, Waller expects the Suicide Squad to clean it up for her, adding that she’s had nano-bombs implanted in each of their necks. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) incorrectly calls her bluff, leading to an attempted escape by team member Slipknot, who is quickly killed as a demonstration. Captain Boomerang and the others acquiesce and follow the lead of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who unbeknownst to them is the lover of Dr. June Moone. The rest of the Suicide Squad includes Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

The group’s mission is a simple extraction. Turns out the person in need of removal from the city is Waller herself. In the meantime, the Joker (Jared Leto) has come to free Harley. Having arranged for her implant to be disabled, the Joker steals a helicopter; the very one that was meant for the team’s extraction. Harley boards the helicopter, but falls out when it takes fire from Waller’s men. Deadshot is ordered to kill Harley, but he intentionally misses. The helicopter goes down, leading Harley to assume the Joker is dead.

Citizens and military personnel under the Enchantress’s control kidnap Waller, while Deadshot gets a hold of Waller’s confidential files, revealing the truth of the mission and Flag’s connection to it. Flag relieves the team of their obligation, and they all find the nearest bar. After downing a round or two (or three), they regroup and decide to take on the Enchantress anyway. Deadshot has the biggest motivation to do so, as he has a young and impressionable daughter who was present the night he was captured by Batman, and whom he wants to think highly of him.

The team climbs a long flight of stairs like in the original Ghostbusters, and gear up for the fight against Enchantress and Incubus. Diablo takes on Incubus alone. With the aid of explosive charges, Incubus is defeated, though not without the self-sacrifice of Diablo. Enchantress is not so easily handled, in fact she is nearly invincible. Ultimately, Harley Quinn acts as a distraction, pretending to have interest in joining the Enchantress’s cause. Instead, Harley Quinn cuts out the Enchantress’s heart. Acting as a team, Killer Croc then tosses an explosive into Enchantress’s doomsday weapon, while Deadshot fires the shot that destroys it. Flag then takes the heart and threatens to crush it unless June is brought back. Enchantress defiantly dares him to do it, even though it means her death. Flag is despondent, believing his lover dead, but she arises from the Enchantress’s carcass (yet another Ghostbusters nod).

The group is ready to disperse back into society, when a very much alive Waller emerges, still holding her finger on the kill button connected to the implants in their necks. Relunctantly, each returns to their cells, though not without special requests. Deadshot is allowed supervised visitations with his daughter. Harley Quinn, enjoying her new espresso machine, is broken out of prison by the Joker.

Like Batman v. SupermanSuicide Squad is a deeply flawed superhero film. The flaws begin almost immediately, as the audience is besieged by a soundtrack that can best be described as an amateur mixtape. Nearly the entirety of the first 45 minutes plays out like an elongated series of mini-music videos. Spread out, this wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s no chance for anyone to take a breath. Every character introduction requires another song.

Let’s talk about the characters in this movie. Of the main cast, only a handful has what one would call development. Viola Davis and Will Smith are both reliably good. Joel Kinnaman plays the conflicted hero role well enough. Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo is a decent tragic figure. On the other hand, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Adam Beach and Karen Fukuhara are disposable as Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Slipknot and Katana.

Hands down, this movie belongs to Margot Robbie and her definitive performance as Harley Quinn. Robbie’s Harley is equal parts sexy, funny, and batshit crazy. More Harley is wanted, and more Harley is what we’ll get in both Gotham City Sirens and a Suicide Squad sequel. What I’m hoping to see as little as possible of in the future is Jared Leto’s Joker. Less psychopathic and more just plain weird, Leto’s performance takes up maybe seven minutes of actual screen time here. More footage was left out of the Theatrical Cut (I assume some is reinserted into the Extended Cut). Despite the insistence of Jared Leto and director David Ayer, I can’t imagine any more of this person masquerading as the Joker doing anything but harm the movie even further.

The plot itself is copied and pasted from other capers, superhero flicks and comedies, with a villain that is far too weak to be an ancient immortal god/witch. Fault in the Enchantress’s threat level may lie simply in the casting of supermodel-turned-actress Cara Delevigne. A flaw like this might have been overlooked had the Suicide Squad itself not been short on character development. Ultimately, Suicide Squad represents a step up from the mostly disastrous superhero films of a generation ago, but stands as below average in the same genre of today.

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

As a comics reader, I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan. The same is true of the movies… for the most part. There have been exceptions to that rule, of course, notably with DC’s adaptations of Alan Moore classics V for Vendetta and Watchmen. The big-screen escapades of DC’s two most popular characters, Batman and Superman, have also piqued my interest on occasion. Of the two, Batman, being a man who has no superpowers to fall back on, is infinitely more relatable than the Last Son of Krypton.  So, of course, when it comes to a showdown between the two, I would always choose the side of the Caped Crusader. Not to mention the fact that I can count seeing Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman at the age of 7 as the event which changed me from a casual viewer to full-blown fan of movies. From 1978 to the present day, each hero’s cinematic ride has experienced the highest of highs, and (extremely) lowest of lows. 2016’s Batman v. Superman falls into neither category.

After a brief opening credits sequence which features what feels like the millionth depiction of the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne (played by “The Walking Dead” co-stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan), the action moves to the climactic battle sequence from the end of 2013’s Man of Steel, where Superman (Henry Cavill) winds up causing more destruction in Metropolis than he is able to prevent in battling General Zod (Michael Shannon). Only, this time, we witness the battle from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).

One cannot watch this sequence without automatically thinking of 9/11, and that’s what makes this the most effective part of the movie. It also helps to establish a motive for Bruce Wayne/Batman to see Superman not as a guardian of Earth, but as a threat against it. Bruce, who has been at this superhero gig for a while now, is using a much more harshly defined sense of justice these days, which provides Clark Kent/Superman with reason to voice his opinion on the matter via Daily Planet articles.

Unlike the Superman of the 1980s, who somehow was able to convince the leaders of the world to allow him to rid the Earth of nuclear weapons, this version of Superman has a hard time assuring the U.S. government that he has our best interests at heart. He is even compelled to appear before a Senate committee hearing on the subject. Unfortunately, the hearing is interrupted by a suicide bomb, which kills everyone in attendance, including Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter). Everyone, that is, except for Superman. As it happens, this event, along with the seeds of doubt pitting Batman and Superman on opposing sides, have all been orchestrated by the unhinged head of LexCorp, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

Behind the scenes, Luthor has been very busy, collecting a Kryptonite sample, acquiring both Zod’s corpse and his spaceship, and also investigating the existence of metahumans. Bruce Wayne acquires both the Kryptonite and the info on meta-humans, the former to be used as a deterrent against Superman. The latter reveals to him four individuals with extraordinary gifts: the super-speedy Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), the underwater-dwelling Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the part man, part machine Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), as well as Amazonian Princess and daughter of Zeus, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Bruce is already familiar with Diana, having bumped into her at a party at LexCorp. He only needs the one meeting to be able to sense that there is more to her than most men would notice.

Diana is also interested in the meta-human file, though only for a specific photo which she claims belongs to her. Bruce shares the file via e-mail, noting that this grainy black & white image from a century ago is not merely her possession, but is in fact a record of her involvement in the events of World War I. I reserve any further commentary on the matter, as the movie does, for 2017’s Wonder Woman.

The film’s promised fight finally gets underway thanks to Lex’s maneuverings, the final piece of which is the kidnapping of Martha Kent (Diane Lane), which will ensure that Superman fights Batman at Lex’s bidding, lest Martha meet a fiery end. So the two heroes fight, with Batman using Kryptonite as a means to level the playing field. Eventually, Batman gains the upper hand, but is startled by the notion that Superman’s adoptive mother and his own dead mother share the same first name. For most who have seen this movie, this scene is one of the most heavily scrutinized. It’s the jarring transition from beating the hell out of each other to suddenly being best buds which earns that criticism.

So, Batman volunteers to save Martha while Superman goes to confront Luthor. Unable to accept defeat, Luthor unveils his Plan B: the Kryptonian abomination known as Doomsday. It takes the combined efforts of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to provide adequate defense against the monster, but only Kryptonite can kill it, and the only fragment left was used by Batman to form a spear. It falls to Superman to find and use the spear, but because of his own weakness to the shiny green rock it leaves him just as vulnerable, and thus Superman and Doomsday simultaneously kill one another.

An epilogue, which is mainly a teaser for the forthcoming Justice League movie, shows Batman confronting a deranged Luthor in prison, who warns of the imminent arrival of supervillain Steppenwolf (whose actual name is never mentioned), leaving Bruce Wayne with the sense that, soon, the meta-humans will be compelled to answer the call to battle. Meanwhile, a funeral is held for Superman, who is recognized in death as the hero he was never fully appreciated as in life. But there are indications that he may not be totally dead just yet…

Batman v. Superman is a fundamentally flawed movie, which is pretty much par for the course with Batman and Superman’s movies (except for 2008’s The Dark Knight). It gives us a terrific Bruce Wayne/Batman (not to mention a decent Alfred as performed by Jeremy Irons), and a not-so-great Superman. The battle scenes are great, but character behavior/motivation is a problem. Particularly depressing is the portrayal of Superman not as the ray of hope he’s been known as through the majority of his existence since 1938, but as a dark, brooding character. That’s supposed to be Batman’s territory! The whole point is for them to have two wildly contrasting outlooks on the world and life in general.

So desperate was DC to compete with Marvel Studios that it got a little too greedy. It’s never a good idea to cross pollinate two completely different comic storylines into one movie. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did the same thing. So did 2007’s Spider-Man 3. All it does is undermine both arcs. If you’re gonna throw in “The Death of Superman” right after his first meeting with Batman, that’s fine. A little weird, but okay. What you shouldn’t do is pass off their chronologically final confrontation from the comics (“The Dark Knight Returns”) as their first in this movie. It’s rather jarring.

This movie is neither fantastic, nor fantastically awful, although it is clear that this wasn’t the best way to introduce the DCEU (DC Expanded Universe). One thing that Batman v. Superman got fantastically right is its portrayal of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Even her theme music is badass! The scene-stealing Gal Gadot’s performance is spot-on; so much so that, by herself, Wonder Woman gave hope that her own adventure might just give DC the boost it needed after this misstep. But that, as I said, is a subject best left for another film review.

In the cinematic justice system, poorly-made movies are considered especially heinous. On the Satellite of Love, the dedicated human and robots who suffer through these felonious films are members of an elite group called Mystery Science Theater 3000. These are their stories.

 

11.08 – The Loves of Hercules (1960)

For the eighth episode of MST3K‘s 11th season, Jonah, Tom Servo and Crow are forced to tackle 1960’s The Loves of Hercules, a sword and sandal adventure co-produced by Italy and France. Probably accounts for the English dialogue being poorly dubbed/generally out-of-sync. The film stars Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield, parents of Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay.  The movie gets its title exactly as one would expect, from the fact that Hercules (Mickey Hargitay) manages to get involved with more than one of the beautiful women in the film.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the schemes of the evil Licos, who personally sees to the destruction of Hercules’ village while he is away, and the murder of the King of Ecalia, as Licos means to claim the throne for himself. At the kingdom, Hercules meets the King’s daughter, the newly-crowned Queen Deianira (Jayne Mansfield). They seem to form a bond, until it’s revealed she’s already betrothed to another. When Licos arranges the murder of Deianira’s husband-to-be, it is made to look like Hercules did it.

The highlight of the episode comes when Hercules fights the three-headed monster Hydra, as ridiculous and cheap-looking a creature as the monsters from Reptilicus and The Beast of Hollow Mountain. The swordplay is a particular source of amusement, since it’s plainly obvious that anyone being “stabbed” (including the Hydra) is being gently tapped by the fake swords. The movie would end more quickly but for the distraction provided by Hercules’ encounter with the Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, who turns men into trees after finishing with them. To attempt to lure in Hercules, Hippolyta changes her form to look like Deianira (which allows Mansfield to play a second part, this time with red hair). Ultimately, Hercules regains his senses and returns to defeat Licos and save Deianira.

As a movie, it’s fairly uninteresting. As an MST3K episode, The Loves of Hercules is also not especially memorable, though it is at least more fun than Avalanche.

 

11.09 – Yongary: Monster from the Deep (1967)

Much better! It’s clear as crystal that the boys at MST3K really dig their monster movies, regardless of quality. It shows in nearly every episode involving the genre. Yongary is no different. For that matter, in terms of movies featuring giant monsters smashing Asian cities to the ground, Yongary is also no different.

What could be considered Godzilla’s inferior Korean cousin, Yongary is a dinosaur which is found to be the cause of severe earthquakes which have greatly disturbed the citizens of Seoul, South Korea. Where Godzilla is known for his catastrophic nuclear breath, Yongary is found to require consumption of oil for sustenance. In fact, the similarities between the two monsters are a great source of amusement for the MST3K boys, who point out that the only real physical difference between Yongary and Godzilla is that the designers of this film saw fit to give Yongary a horn on its nose.

Much of the monster action is seen from the perspective of a young boy, who watches with glee as Yongary appears to dance around at one point. This is important because it’s supposed to give the audience a reason to sympathize with the monster when it is finally put down. Why shouldn’t we sympathize? It’s not like any of the human characters are given anything resembling a personality (though this may be something that was lost in translation due to the English dubbing).

Overall grade: Among the season’s best!

 

11.10 – Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985)

It is unclear exactly how a movie like Wizards of the Lost Kingdom sees the light of day. A lot of Roger Corman productions hold that distinction. What is clear is that this fantasy film is perfect fodder for MST3K.

A silly twit of a young boy is tasked with saving his kingdom from an evil wizard who has killed his father and taken over the kingdom. Luke Skywalker he ain’t. Link from The Legend of Zelda video games, he ain’t. Simon is annoying as hell, and his company isn’t much better: a Yeti-like creature who must be a Chewbacca stand-in, and a drunken swordsman named Kor. Somehow, this kid acquires the tools, skills and the manpower necessary to restore order to his kingdom. One plus for the film is the score by Christoper Young, with excerpts from James Horner’s score from Battle Beyond the Stars).

It was at this point in the season that I became tired of the gang’s constant name-dropping of celebrities when characters appear on-screen who (in point of fact) bear absolutely no resemblance at all to the person with which they are being compared. This practice, which had cooled off in recent episodes, is turned up a notch with Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, and it was clear by now that it would only grow in intensity. The episode is enjoyable enough, even with these troublesome quirks. The promise by Kinga Forrester that the next movie in line would be the sequel to this film proves quite foreboding.

 

11.11 – Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (1989)

Impossible but true, the sequel to Wizards of the Lost Kingdom makes the original look good by comparison. It also makes featured actors David Carradine, Lana Clarkson and “Hell’s Bells, it’s Mel Welles!” look like they were hard up for cash. Adding to the lunacy of the proceedings is the fact that this is an incomplete film beefed up to feature length by making use of stock footage from two other Roger Corman films: Barbarian Queen (starring Lana Clarkson) and The Warrior and the Sorceress (starring David Carradine).

This time around, an even more annoying young lad with a Bran Stark haircut is your alleged hero-to-be. But how is this possible? He’s as dumb as a bag of rocks! Three kingdoms are at stake this time, with a specific item to be collected and used further along in the journey, until all are combined in the defeat of the final wizard. Once again, I’d rather be playing Legend of Zelda, but the boys help us to soldier through this mess.

 

11.12 – Carnival Magic (1981)

Carnival Magic ranks up there along with Cry Wilderness for its ability to be completely absurd and yet somehow interesting enough to hold certain folks’ attention. Especially when aided by the wisecracks of Jonah, Crow and Tom Servo. What may be the best thing about the episode is that it was enjoyable enough to make me hope that any future MST3K seasons might include similarly-themed films.

Like Cry Wilderness, this movie features an animal of an extraordinary nature, and outside forces who have nefarious plans for him/it. Instead of Bigfoot, a talking chimpanzee is the center of attention, although not at first. He’s befriended by a magician who works for a struggling traveling carnival, whose business booms after the chimpanzee is included in his act. Working against them are a lion tamer who has become jealous of the magician’s success, and a doctor who wants to “study” the chimpanzee.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, there’s a love story between one of the carnival workers and the carnival owner’s daughter, whom the father has been forcing to dress as a boy and adopt a boy’s nickname. He, of course, sees the error of his ways and all is well. As for the chimpanzee, he has his E.T. moment near the end of the film where he appears to have died, only to miraculously recover. Whatever. The big thing you’ll end up taking away from the movie is the moment where the chimp decides out of the blue to go on a joyride, all with a young blonde woman sleeping in the backseat.

This episode is pretty good, but it has one flaw that I just can’t get past. The celebrity guest star for Carnival Magic is Mark Hamill, who is portraying a carnival barker character. This affords him the opportunity to use his Joker voice/persona. That’s all well and good. The nitpick I have is this: You took the time to bring in Mark Hamill, and you didn’t see fit to use him for the Starcrash episode (i.e. the movie that’s basically a Star Wars clone)?!

 

11.13 – The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

They just HAD to save the worst for #13! The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is a pretty mundane title, and it isn’t even an accurately descriptive one. Santa Needs Money would be better suited to inform the audience. From the looks of things, the production itself ran out of money rather early on.

Santa’s down in the dumps, kids, and it turns out that he’s about to be evicted by his new landlord, Phineas T. Prune. That’s right. Santa Claus is no longer master of his own domain up in the North Pole. Not sure how that’s supposed to work exactly… Anyway, a lawyer catches wind of this and offers to help Santa out. He and Santa both go to work at a department store where they’re a hit with children. Prune outfoxes them by purchasing the store. Long story short, the reason why this guy has it out for Santa is so deep-seeded that even he’s forgotten why. Turns out that a young Phineas had sent a card to Santa telling him of his greatest desire: a toy sailboat. Finally receiving the toy after all this time, all is forgiven. How sickeningly sweet!

By far, the hardest movie to sit through this season, even with the MST3K riffs.

 

11.14 – At The Earth’s Core (1976)

At The Earth’s Core just might be the perfect movie to close out the season on. Careful examination shows it to be a mixture of what made the majority of the previous 13 films so breathtakingly bad. You need only look at the main cast to find evidence of this, as At the Earth’s Core features both Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot) and Caroline Munro (Starcrash). It is the second film based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel (after the aforementioned The Land That Time Forgot) to appear, and features the same sort of cheaply-constructed prehistoric monsters we’ve been subjected to on and off all season long.

During the Victorian era, British scientist Dr. Perry (Peter Cushing) prepares to test his drilling machine with the assistance of his American friend and financial backer, David Innes (McClure). Through the process of their drilling, they discover a pre-historic underground society, where humans are lorded over and held as slaves by a bunch of telepathic flying reptiles referred to as Mahars. While the pair work to free the humans, David falls in love with Princess Dia (Munro). The day is saved, but the romance is bittersweet, as Dia elects to remain behind with her people rather than journey back with David to an unfamiliar world.

The celeb guest this time is comedian Joel McHale, posing as actor Doug McClure. A subplot that’s been going on for a few episodes now is that of Kinga Forrester’s intention to marry Jonah, much to Jonah’s surprise and to the chagrin of Kinga’s lackey/secret admirer, Max. The wedding proceeds as scheduled at the episode’s end, but Max sabotages it by unleashing a Reptilicus-like monster just before Jonah can decide whether to say the words “I do.” This marks the first time that the host of the show has not found a way to escape back to the safety of Earth. Short of some half-assed resurrection, it would seem that a Season 12 would likely star someone other than Jonah Ray.

While not my favorite episode of the season, At The Earth’s Core makes for a decent season finale. It also came up with what was for me one of the season’s most memorable one-liners, when the gang refers to David Innes as “Phineas T. Mitchell,” referencing both this season’s The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t and the classic MST3K episode, Mitchell.

In August of 1999, millions of voices cried out in terror… and were suddenly silenced. What cataclysmic event could have possibly elicited such a response? It was the result of the cancellation of the long-running TV series, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Beloved by all who followed it through the years (and those who became fans following the show’s demise), the mission of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a simple, yet relatable one: Track down the worst movies you can find, and make them a bit more bearable by suffering through them with a group of friends. Do that, sit back, and let the hilarity ensue.

From its humble beginnings on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1988, to its run on Comedy Central (1989-’96, including a theatrical movie), to the final years on the Sci-Fi Channel, the brainchild of Joel Hodgson (show host from 1988-’93) has never ceased to be relevant. As long as bad movies keep being vomited into existence, there will always be a need for someone to poke fun at their flaws. This is why, in MST3K‘s absence, the spirit of the show had been kept alive, making the series more popular posthumously than it ever was in its original run.

This resulted in the creation of several similarly-themed TV series, the rise of countless YouTube stars, and quasi-spinoffs Cinematic Titanic (created by Hodgson) and RiffTrax (featuring former MST3K members Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett). Not everything that MST3K riffed on was entirely horrible, and it’s actually a good thing that many of those films were unearthed. An important lesson brought up by MST3K is that all cinema is of value in one way or another, and none of it should ever be forgotten… no matter how terrible it might be.

For these reasons and others, MST3K has never been forgotten either, and that’s exactly why an online petition to resurrect the show. With a little luck and a lot of support, the idea became a reality when Netflix picked up the series, re-launching it in April 2017 for a belated 11th season as Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return. Immediately, one can see that the formula is familiar, and the movies are still terrible, yet there are still some new things added just to spice things up a bit.

The only returning original cast member is Joel Hodgson (appearing only as supporting/tertiary characters). Robots Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy all have new voices and can do things that the old, much more limited budget prevented them from doing. Jonah Ray joins them as Gizmonic Institute employee Jonah Heston. Tormenting our lovable crew with bad movies are Felicia Day as Kinga Forrester (daughter of Dr. Clayton Forrester and granddaughter of Pearl Forrester) and Patton Oswalt as Max. Season 11 (or Season 1, depending on your perspective) consists of 14 episodes. In the interest of brevity… and a desire to be thorough without going overboard, I’ve broken up my review of these episodes into two parts. So, without further delay, here are Episodes 1 through 7!

 

11.01 – Reptilicus (1961)

It makes sense that the new MST3K would kick things off with a lame-ass monster movie, since the original series also riffed on several bad movies of the same genre early in its run. The premise, the opening theme, and the set all seem comforting in their familiarity, but right away you’ll notice some things have changed in the last 18 years. For instance, Tom Servo and Crow can now both get up out of their seats and move about the theater when the joke calls for it. Gypsy also pokes her head in on occasion, something she never did (or was never capable of doing) before. This first episode also presents a sign of things to come as there are celebrity cameos, this time from Wil Wheaton and Erin Gray.

The movie itself is, as one would expect, run-of-the-mill at best. The tail section to an ancient creature is discovered by Danish miners. The historical find is transported to the Copenhagen Aquarium for further study. That is, of course, until one of the badly dubbed, dumbass scientists falls asleep on the job, allowing for the specimen to thaw. Instead of decaying, to everyone’s amazement, it regenerates! This results in a very large, very pissed off monster tearing through Copenhagen, puking up a corrosive green substance all over everything and everyone. The monster is eventually subdued, but not without a chunk of it surviving in the ocean, leaving room for the sequel that never happened.

For a show like MST3KReptilicus is easy cannon fodder. You need something like this to both reassure longtime fans and to help draw in first-time viewers. The introductions of all the new characters are handled effectively. It’s the new voices for the robots that take getting used to. It will not go down as one of the show’s all-time best episodes, but even an average episode like Reptilicus is enough to give everyone hope that Joel Hodgson’s baby still has plenty of life left in it.

 

11.02 – Cry Wilderness (1987)

MST3K: The Return gets over its growing pains pretty quick in this, its second episode. Featuring amusing guest appearances from Sci-Fi Channel era villains Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), Observer (Bill Corbett) and Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy), the main focus of this episode is a Bigfoot movie released in 1987. If it were Harry and the Hendersons, it wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting episode since that’s actually a decent family film. No, the object of our disdain this time is Cry Wilderness, and boy is it a doozy!

So, Bigfoot (i.e. a big guy in a really cheap Sasquatch costume) warns a young schoolboy named Kevin that his father is in danger. Kevin does what any kid would do when presented with such cryptic information would do, go to the nearest adult and tell them what he’s heard and who/what he heard it from. Probably should have left out the last part, since most everyone beyond a certain age believes Bigfoot to be a myth. Still, somehow Kevin manages to weasel his way into accompanying his father, a park ranger, on a hunt for a runaway tiger. Danger lurks in the form of a poacher who… now, get this… actually believes in Bigfoot (not unlike the David Souchet character from Harry and the Hendersons).

Things get even weirder when it turns out that, not only does Kevin know for a fact that Bigfoot exists, he’s even been protecting the big guy and kept him fed for a year (including an entire truck’s worth of Coca-Colas). The movie teases you with the idea that Kevin might wind up unsuccessful in protecting his father from danger on several occasions, but never actually pulls the trigger. Oh, also the poacher never has that moment where he has a change of heart. He does eat like a pig, though. Really bad movie, really funny episode. Some of the season’s funniest one-liners can be found here. If Cry Wilderness isn’t the best of the first half of Season 11, it’s very close.

 

11.03 – The Time Travelers (1964)

Ib Melchior strikes again! The same man responsible for writing the screenplay for Reptilicus also wrote AND directed this putrescent project. I would hate to think that the creators of the original Planet of the Apes film series might have mined this particular pile of dookie when crafting the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes… But after seeing this episode, I have to wonder.

A group of scientist have developed a device that is quite literally a window through time. The idiot power plant technician among them notices that it’s more than just a window, and decides to step through. Because of the device’s instability, it’s very likely that the guy is going to get lost on the other side if he doesn’t wander back soon. So, of course the others decide to go in after him. The woman among them isn’t pleased about being left behind… even though she’s supposed to monitor things until they return. She goes in after them, and the portal closes. They’re screwed. Stuck in a post-apocalyptic future, they elude the primitives by hiding underground.

There, the scientists discover a somewhat more sophisticated group who are building a rocket on which they plan to leave this lousy planet and all its cheap film sets behind. Our stranded scientists plead their case, but that doesn’t buy them a ticket on board the rocket. You’re probably asking why they don’t just rebuild their time portal. In fact, that’s what they are encouraged to do. But then the question comes to why the others would rather time travel than face a long, dangerous space journey. Time travel doesn’t interest them until the moment when the primitives destroy the rocket, leaving them no other alternative.

They arrive at the precise moment they originally left, but they are experiencing time at a faster rate and must do something or they’ll die quickly from old age. They jump through the portal, which had been set to 100,000 years in the future, but with the screen blank there’s no way to tell what they’re getting themselves into. Once they get there, everything looks okay, but we’ll never know for sure because that’s how we leave things… open-ended. I understand the regular cut of the movie includes some time-loop stuff at the end, but the MST3K version skips over all that.

As with ReptilicusThe Time Travelers is a chore to slog through. Only a superficial resemblance to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which is a far more nihilistic movie than this, but enough similarities that it’s possible some influence exists. Not as complete of an episode as Cry Wilderness, and not as amusing as Reptilicus. The boys have fun with it though, and that does make this one worth the watch.

 

11.04 – Avalanche (1978)

There’s a good reason why disaster movie marathons NEVER include this one. Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, and an assorted cast of characters sit around and talk for about an hour before anything interesting actually happens. This would be the point where Avalanche finally lives up to the promise of its title, where loads of snow finally break off the mountain, covering everything in its path and smothering its victims to death.

The problem is that this one interesting part of the movie is doomed before it even starts. You’ll probably be fast asleep when it does. You wouldn’t even miss much if you managed to stay awake.  None of the characters are built up enough for us to care whether they’ll survive or not. Even the movie’s headliners, Hudson and Farrow, are extremely vanilla. There’s really not much more that can be said beyond all that.

One of the episode’s features (beyond the staggeringly stupid movie) is the guest appearance of Neil Patrick Harris. The filler segments of the original show were something I generally used to fast forward past, as all I was really interested in was the riffing on the bad movie. I lke NPH, but his segment is no exception, particularly because it drags on far longer than it should. Everything about this episode is slow-moving. Overall, Avalanche is the least of the first seven episodes.

 

11.05 – The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

I came dangerously close to labeling this episode as the least so far, before realizing the brilliance of it. As with AvalancheThe Beast of Hollow Mountain moves at a snail’s pace. So much so that it will test the patience of most Netflix viewers. In fact, it takes so long to get to the point that you start wondering where either the Beast or the Hollow Mountain are!

Set in Mexico in the 1900’s, we’re treated to a boring, uninspired love triangle. The main selling point of the flick doesn’t even show up until the last half-hour. The “Hollow Mountain” makes a brief on-screen appearance about ten minutes later. Until then, it’s all about the lovers’ quarrel. There’s a chubby comic relief character whom the MST3K boys seem to get a kick out of. Naturally, when the Beast arrives, Fat Boy is the first to go.

The stop-motion creature effects are done by the legendary Willis O’Brien (who also co-wrote the story). Nowhere close to his best work in either regard… The T-Rex from King Kong (1933) comes to mind when considering his best stop-motion work. Still, a movie that almost forgets what it sets out to be about is sheer brilliance, and the episode riffing on it makes sure to drive that point home.

 

11.06 – Starcrash (1978)

Among the things which one can count on from Italian cinema are classic Westerns, bewildering indie films, gory horror movies, and Z-grade imitations of immensely popular American films. Starcrash, owing its entire existence to Star Wars, occupies the latter category. The above image ought to give you a good idea as to this movie’s true selling point. It was the only one of the fourteen films included in this season which I had previously seen, so naturally it’s also the episode I looked forward to the most. It does not disappoint.

Stella Star (played by a scantily-clad Caroline Munro) is a space smuggler who, after a brief prison term, is tasked with saving the galaxy. But, you know, no pressure. Along for the ride are her partner Akton (a wise, excitable young man whose powers are meant to mimic the Force and who uses a weapon which is clearly a lightsaber), and former captors Thor (who is not related to the Greek God/Marvel Comics superhero) and Elle (a robot who sounds like a southern preacher). Their mission, assigned by the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) is to thwart the plans of Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) by finding the Count’s ultimate weapon… and if at all possible, saving the life of the Emperor’s son, Simon (David Hasselhoff).

An accompaniment to all the cheesy goodness of Starcrash is the score composed by John Barry, which consists of tracks similar to stuff he came up with for Moonraker and The Black Hole. Can’t go wrong with John Barry. You can’t go wrong with Caroline Munro either, even when she’s forced to overact with amusing facial expressions and her voice has been unnecessarily dubbed. It’s pretty clear that director Luigi Cozzi had no real plan going into making this movie, and was betrayed by the limits of his special effects budget (note the Christmas tree lights which stand in for stars). That’s a shame too, because it meant that his planned sequels were never going to happen. This is one bad movie which is so much fun that it deserved to spawn more bad movies. The best! The absolute best! The only real downgrade is another drawn-out celebrity cameo, this one from Jerry Seinfeld.

 

11.07 – The Land That Time Forgot (1975)

You might suppose that a movie based on a cherished Edgar Rice Burroughs novel would automatically give the film an advantage. But then you’d remember all the bad Tarzan movies mixed in with the good ones. The Land Before Time shows the signs of a good story fighting to rip its way out of the plottings of a terrible film. A bigger budget and more polished actors might have saved it. Hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

Set during World War I, the surviving passengers of a British merchant vessel are taken prisoner aboard a German U-boat. Eventually, the captives turn the tide and take over the ship, but not before being knocked off-course. So much so that they come across Caprona, a land heard of but fabled to exist. This is because the inhabitant human and animal life is so primitive that it is said to be stuck in time.

Speaking of time, budget limitations dictate that the film take its precious time in actually getting us to the island. Once there, the action is rushed, and we’ve barely enough time to learn that evolution on Caprona is based on migration, not natural selection before the movie ends on a rather bleak note. As an episode, the gags are good, and the little dance number performed by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt is as cute as it is funny. A bit of a letdown after the last two brilliant episodes, but otherwise pretty good.

What will Episodes 8 through 14 have in store (beside hilariously awful movies)? Stay tuned for Part 2…

31. Halloween 4 (1988)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, but his readers wouldn’t have it. So,  Doyle had to come up with an explanation as to why it had only appeared that Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, had apparently died together from a fall off a cliff. After the abysmal failure of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” the late Moustapha Akkad was left with a similar task to Doyle’s. The final scene of “Halloween II” saw both the psychotic, knife-wielding killer Michael Myers and his ‘Holmes,’ Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), apparently burning to death in a gas fire explosion at  Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Although Jamie Lee Curtis had given him an out by declining to return, Akkad was still left with the unenviable task of finding a way of explaining how his series’ other two main characters could have survived.

At the film’s beginning (which was originally to have included an introduction explaining what REALLY happened at the end of Film #2), we learn that neither Dr. Loomis nor Michael Myers had perished in the fire at the hospital. It is now ten years after that brutal night, and Michael is in heavy bandages and lies in a coma at Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium, from where he is being prepped for transfer to Smith’s Grove. The ambulance crew make the mistake of mentioning the existence of his niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), and Michael suddenly awakens and kills everyone in the ambulance.

Learning of the incident, a heavily scarred Dr. Loomis is quickly on the scene, where he and others find the ambulance lying on its side in a creek, twisted and blood-stained. Although the severity of the wreck makes it impossible to tell who’s who among the casualties, Dr. Loomis knows Michael is not among them. Despite the sheer implausibility of anyone suddenly waking from a decade-long coma with muscles that haven’t atrophied, this does make for a visually exciting beginning. Loomis knows Michael will be heading back to Haddonfield to hunt down his niece, and races to warn Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) to be ready for Myers’ impending arrival.

After locating Jamie and her older stepsister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), Loomis and Meeker are horrified to discover that Michael has annihilated everyone inside the police station. It is at this time that a band of vigilantes from the local bar arrive on the scene and take it upon themselves to track down and kill Michael. This prompts the Sheriff to call for official police reinforcements, blockading Rachel, Jamie, Brady (Sasha Jenson) and Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont) inside the Meeker home. It isn’t long before Michael shows up at the house, killing a deputy, Kelly (pinning her to a wall by shoving a shotgun through her!) and then Brady, and chasing Rachel and Jamie up onto the roof in one of the film’s more memorable scenes.

Both of the girls eventually fall to the ground below, and Dr. Loomis escorts Jamie to the schoolhouse, trying unsuccessfully to subdue Michael. This leads to perhaps the most preposterous scene in the whole movie (and yes, that includes Michael awakening from his coma with full strength and the aforementioned shotgun impalement). The group of vigilantes arrive in their truck to take the girls out of town, and thus out of danger. But Michael has other ideas, hitching a ride on the truck unbeknownst to everyone. From there, he somehow manages to individually dispose of every single one of the vigilantes without the rest of them ever hearing a sound. Never mind that he makes a ton of noise accomplishing this feat. He eventually kills the driver, too, (and in the movie’s bloodiest scene of all) by ripping the man’s neck wide open. Eww.

Rachel takes control of the truck and rams right into Michael, knocking him senseless several feet away. Although she is told to stay in the truck, Jamie gets out anyway and touches hands with her uncle. Sheriff Meeker then arrives with the squad of deputies, who raise their guns just in time to keep Michael from stabbing his niece from behind, sending him crashing into an old mine shaft. No way he’s getting out of there, right? Hey, if he can survive getting freaking burned alive in a gas fire…!

Back at the Carruthers home, all seems quiet. Even Dr. Loomis, although injured from the battle at the schoolhouse, appears to be all right. Jamie’s stepmom decides to draw her a bath. Jamie is still wearing her Halloween costume, which looks strikingly similar to the one worn by her uncle the night he killed his older sister Judith in 1963. Sure enough, Jamie puts on her mask, grabs a pair of scissors from the next room, enters the bathroom and stabs her stepmom. The shrieking alarms Dr. Loomis, who races to find Jamie at the top of the stairs, covered in her stepmom’s blood, and still wielding the scissors. Mortified by the scene in front of him, Dr. Loomis instinctively pulls out his gun, intending to kill Jamie. Sheriff Meeker wrestles the gun from Loomis’s hand and spins around to look up at Jamie. Rachel and Jamie’s stepfather arrive just afterwards. Everyone is in shock. Loomis in particular is both horrified and saddened, crumpling to the floor and able only to utter the word “No!” over and over. It appears that Evil has been passed (rather than destroyed) from uncle to niece and that Innocence has been corrupted once again.

What would have otherwise been an okay, yet totally unnecessary sequel is made ten times better by its conclusion. No matter how many times I have personally seen it, that final image of 11 year-old Danielle Harris wearing the bloody Halloween clown costume and holding up the pair of scissors in striking position is hard to erase from my mind. I just wish the producers would have had the guts to run full steam with this ending into the next (inevitable) sequel, because I think then that “Halloween 5” could have had the potential to become the most terrifying film in the franchise, or at least the best of the sequels.

“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” could have benefited from a little MORE restraint in the gore department, methinks. A couple of the deaths in this film are just plain ridiculous (in particular the previously mentioned Kelly Meeker). It’s Zombie Jason of the latter “Friday the 13th” sequels ridiculous. I also wish they could’ve gotten a more imposing mask for George Wilbur to wear in this film. Danielle Harris’s clown mask was scarier than that silly thing… even before the final shot! Still, a very decent entry in one of the greatest of all horror film series.

30. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks

It really doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years since “From Dusk Till Dawn” was unleashed upon the world. In fact, it almost feels like it could have happened yesterday… or even overnight. The thing that best serves to keep this movie fresh in the mind is how effortlessly it is able to combine two completely different genres into one beautiful package. Add to that the fact that the script was written by Quentin Tarantino (as his first paid Hollywood writing gig) and an excellent cast of characters, and you have a classic modern horror movie on your hands.

Bank robbing brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are on the run, both from the FBI and law enforcement of the State of Texas. They’ve already killed a few cops, feds and civilians, and two more casualties soon follow at a liquor store. On top of it all, they’ve also kidnapped a bank clerk, to whom Seth has promised she will live as long as she does all that they ask of her. Unfortunately, Richie has a bit of an impulse control problem. He rapes and murders the woman while Seth has stepped out of their motel room to pick up some hamburgers.

Meanwhile, a family of three driving an RV fatefully stops to rest at the very same motel. Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) is a former preacher who lately has questioned his faith following the death by auto accident of his wife. Jacob and his children, Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu), are to be the Gecko brothers’ next hostages. Forcing Jacob to drive past the Mexican border, the Gecko brothers’ destination is a strip club called the Titty Twister, where are supposed to rendezvous at dawn with a man named Carlos. Until that time, they intend to enjoy themselves, and encourage the Fullers to do the same.

The fun only lasts a short while. After a very sexy show from the featured attraction, Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek), the truth of this place is revealed: All of the employees (the girls, the bartender, the band, Santanico and others) are in fact vampires! Most of the truckers and bikers who’ve shown up to eat, drink and get their rocks off are killed within minutes. Richie himself is bitten and killed by Santanico. When Richie turns, Seth is forced to drive a wooden stake through his heart. By the end of the initial assault, the only ones who still have a pulse are Seth, Jacob, Kate, Scott, Sex Machine (Tom Savini) and Frost (Fred Williamson).

As the survivors commit to dealing with the dead bodies so as to prevent them from rising up again, one of them bites Sex Machine on the arm. Gradually, he turns into a vampire. When he does, Sex Machine bites both Frost and Jacob. As Frost becomes a vampire, he tosses Sex Machine through a door, allowing a second wave of vampire to fly in as bats. Retreating to a storage room, Seth, Kate and Scott and an injured Jacob (wielding a shotgun) make the most out of what they can find to create weapons to be used against the vampire horde. This includes a Super Soaker with holy water (for Scott), a crossbow (for Kate), and a rather phallic pneumatic drill with an attached wooden stake (for Seth).

Going back out into the crowd of vampires, the group begins to fight back. Jacob doesn’t last long before he changes and bites Scott. Kate is forced to kill her father, and then her brother as well. Having lost their weapons in the fracas, Seth and Kate are down to one gun with a scant amount of ammunition. Daybreak arrives, and the sunlight starts to peek through the holes in the walls, made by earlier gunfire. Seth instructs Kate to create more holes, but it’s only partially effective, as the vampires continue to close in on them. Just then, Carlos (Cheech Marin) and his men show up outside. Seth hollers at him to shoot down the doors, which then exposes all the vampires inside to sunlight, killing them in a fiery explosion. Expressing anger at Carlos’s ignorance of just what kind of establishment that the Titty Twister turned out to have been, Seth makes their planned exchange, and give some of the money to Kate. Afterwards, Seth sends Kate on her way back home, while he departs for El Rey, Mexico.

The second-best movie I’ve watched all month (behind only “Psycho”), I have long considered “From Dusk Till Dawn” to be a fantastic movie in every conceivable way. It’s horrific (thanks to wonderful makeup effects from KNB), it’s well-acted… George Clooney in particular is just superb… and expertly written. I love the fact that it’s essentially two movies for the price of one, starting off as a action-crime getaway movie before transforming into a vampire flick at the sixty-minute mark.

I kinda wish we’d seen a little more from Tom Savini’s Sex Machine, as he’s just hilarious. Cheech Marin, a veteran of Robert Rodriguez’s films, plays three roles: in addition to Carlos, he also shows up as a border patrol officer and as one of the vampires. Greg Nicotero (best known today for his directing and supervision of the makeup effects on TV’s “The Walking Dead”), in addition to working on the makeup effects for “From Dusk Till Dawn,” also cameos as a biker from whom Sex Machine steals a beer. Although Nicotero’s character dies off-screen in the final cut of the film, a deleted scene shows that his head is bitten off by Santanico Pandemonium.

If you love the work of Quentin Tarantino but never have bothered with “From Dusk Till Dawn,” you’re missing a lot! Everything that makes a Tarantino script great is present here. If you’re a “Walking Dead” fan and love the gore that the show provides… same answer, except that it probably would have been even better before cuts were made to bring the movie down to an R-rating. Basically, you can’t go wrong. As fresh now as it was in 1996. Two decades from now, you’ll doubtless be able to say the same thing, because “From Dusk Till Dawn,” like the creatures of the night that it depicts, is immortal.