Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2017: The Best Laid Plans Can Go Awry

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," this quote comes from the poem "To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough" by Robert Burns, yet it's a quote that neatly summarizes how this year's output on the blog turned out.  In last year's editorial, I talked about how I hit my stride when it came to writing reviews and getting them out at a reasonable time, and when the year started, things looked like they would play out smoothly, but that wasn't the case.  2017 turned out to be a year where some, but not all planned reviews came out, and writer's block was the dominant force.  Yet, why did things turn out the way they did?

The answer is simple: reality.  In a perfect world, all of my reviews would come out on time, but for anyone that creates content in written or video form, he or she knows that what goes on in your daily life can unexpectedly overshadow what you create, such was the case for me.  For those who don't know, when I'm not writing about recently-released games, games from the past, or well-known and unknown movies and anime, I go to college, have a part-time job at a pizza place, and take martial arts.  When I started college back in 2015, I managed to keep all four of these major life aspects in check, but in 2017, things got out of control.

Simply put, I was working too much, and though it didn't hamper grades tremendously, it significantly affected my time devoted to martial arts and writing.  At first, my schedule had been bumped up to working Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, which was fine.  Yet, in 2017, Wednesdays were thrown into the mix as well.  Worse, on some weeks, I was scheduled to come in on days when i went to karate, which bugged me whenever that occurred.  It eventually dawned on me during this summer that if this kept up I would have to do something about it.  When I first started working in the summer of 2015 and going into 2016, I enjoyed my job and liked working with my employees, but when our workplace got a new boss in August of last year, it dawned on many of us that he was intended on making us into machines whose sole purpose was to make pizzas, and in turn, make money, all the while zapping away the enjoyment of our job positions and working with others.

Based on that strong tone, one would assume I eventually left, but that wasn't the case.  In an ironic twist, our then-current boss left in August and we got a new manager, one who had been part of the workforce ever since I started working.  With a new year of school rolling in, I managed to get my schedule rolled back to Fridays and Saturdays, which felt great.  I was at peace knowing I would be able to properly devote time to school, karate, and writing, and I've felt rejuvenated ever since I started back school.  However, one thing I have been doing is laying low on writing, occasionally publishing reviews when I can, if only to relax myself back into the swing of things.

Speaking of which, I can confidently say you can expect a return to form next year.  Game reviews will dominate the first half of 2018, with movie and anime reviews taking center stage in the summer, and Drive-In of Terror shall be back and with a vengeance in October.  Additionally, Cubed3 exclusive reviews will be more frequent as well.  Combine that with my new, freelance-writing gig at VHS Revival, and there will be a lot of content readers will be able to view that isn't published directly on to the blog.

2017 has been a year of trials and tribulations, but rather than give up this glorious endeavor, I am going to keep on trucking and continue with what I started back in 2015.  With the way things are looking now, it's best to say that the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Monday, November 6, 2017

VHS Revival Presents: C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (1989)

In my first review for VHS Revival, I ask the age old question, "What would happen if you took a 80's classic like Night of the Creeps or Return of the Living Dead, and added in a dash of Saved by the Bell?"  You get C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud; sure its connections to the original are tenuous at best and the violence is very tame and makes you question why this has an R-rating, but its got Gerrit Graham playing a zombie-er-I mean C.H.U.D.  Plus, where else can you see a movie where said titular monster has his own rockin' theme song?

Link to review:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Drive-In of Terror II: Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick (PS2)

Franchises never die, plain and simple.  Even after the story has reached its conclusion, there will be continuous demand from the fanbase for more.  Sometimes, the requests can be satisfied; after all, ten years after the release of Star Wars Episode III, we got not just a new trilogy of Star Wars movies, but spin-off films as well.  Yet, there are many instances where the promised new entry never happens.  For a long time, there was loose talk of Ghostbusters 3, and every time the project looked like it would get off the ground, a snag occurred.  It took so long for a new movie that one of the key actors, Harold Ramis, passed away, hence the existence of the 2016 reboot.

So, what does all of this have to do with Evil Dead?  Like Ghostbusters, there was a lot of talk about a fourth entry starring everybody's favorite demon slayer, Ash Williams, yet nothing arose.  Eventually, the story continued in 2015 with the excellent TV series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, but during the mid 2000's, publisher THQ took the chance to capitalize off of the popularity of the series and the demands of the fans by releasing three different Evil Dead games, starting with Evil Dead: Hail to the King, released in 2000.  Then came the sequel, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, released in 2003.

After eradicating the Deadite menace once again in Hail to the King, Ash has been in a state of depression every since his girlfriend, Jenny, died in a bus accident.  While drowning his sorrows away at a bar in Dearborn, Michigan, a local public access show, Mysteries of the Occult, is filming a live episode featuring an interview with a friend of Professor Knowby, Professor Eldridge.  To carry on what his colleague started, Eldridge has been investigating and analyzing the infamous Necronomicon Ex Mortis, a.k.a. The Book of the Dead, going so far as to write a book exploring its history and mythology.  Unlike Knowby, he doesn't believe the book poses any threat, and proves this by playing the recordings of Knowby reading the passages.  Immediately, a portal opens up above the TV station, unleashing evil spirits all over Dearborn.  Realizing the Deadites are back, Ash jumps into action to figure out how to close the portal and to confront Eldridge for his grave mistake.

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick's story is serviceable, if a bit too predictable since the major beats are obvious and can be seen from a mile away.  Without going into too much detail, let's just say some characters have ulterior motives regarding the Necronomicon, and Ash is going to teach them a lesson for meddling with the forces of evil.  Speaking of which, Ash is the most developed out of the cast; like his film counterpart, he's cocky and in over his head, but when people are struggling how to eradicate the monsters, he knows the easiest thing to do is to slice and shoot.

Another positive is the creativity in how the writers explore the concept of time travel, which was introduced in Army of Darkness.  As the game progresses, Ash finds himself traveling between different time periods to stop the Deadites.  Said eras include Colonial America, Civil War-era Dearborn, and a post-apocalyptic version of present-day Dearborn; even better, he'll also assist his ancestors and acquire weapons pertaining to the current setting.

Eschewing the survival-horror mechanics of its predecessor, this is an action-adventure, open-world game in which players will slaughter hordes of Deadites, complete tasks, and find items necessary for progression and survival.  Levels are small sandboxes that allow the gamer to freely explore the surroundings and accomplish objectives in whatever order as they please.  When the game begins, Ash only has his sawed-off shotgun and a shovel found not too far from the starting point.  Weapons can be held in both his left and right hand, with firearms and melee weapons occupying his left, and strap-on devices like the chainsaw useable in his right hand.

There's a sizable selection of weapons for Ash to find throughout the campaign; besides a shotgun and shovel, there are also handguns, swords, throwables like dynamite and Molotove cocktails, plus crazier contraptions like a flamethrower and Gatling gun.  All firearms take ammunition, which can be picked up from fallen enemies or by searching the environments.  Combat itself has a strong, arcade feeling to it, and in certain regards, is a refined version of the fighting system from State of Emergency, an earlier title by developer VIS Entertainment.  Like that game, Ash is constantly swarmed by large groups of Deadites asking to be sliced up or shot, both are which are satisfying to pull off thanks to a snappy lock-on system and some cool combo moves.

Yet, the mechanics aren't perfect; eliminating Deadites and other monstrosities at long or medium-range is manageable, but when they're up close, fighting them is clunky, as there's a slight delay whenever pivoting Ash in different directions; thus, it allows the bad guys to pull off a lot of cheap shots.  A block is available for use, but due to the delayed reaction time, it's best to stay mobile.  Also, bad guys are capable of pinpointing your exact location, regardless of where you are, and even when normal humans are nearby, they'll still focus on Ash.

Besides an eclectic selection of firearms and other devices, Ash acquires a spell book that can be filled with spells throughout the game.  Some of them act as offensive measures, like launching a lightning storm or a meteor shower, but many others are for solving puzzles.  Specifically, a multitude of spells allow Ash to possess different Deadite types; for example, there's an area filled with undead protecting mission-critical items, so the player needs to find a spell that can allow Ash to take control of one of them; then, he can sneak in, grab the stuff, and head out without firing a single bullet.  Using spells takes up energy, but getting more is tedious since it only drops from enemies, and in small portions.  Whereas health can be filled from dead foes or health packs, no such items exist for magic.

These issues pale in comparison to A Fistful of Boomstick's biggest problems, the lack of a map and easy boss fights.  Initially, finding your way around isn't much of a hassle, but in later stages, it can be a pain to figure out where you're supposed to go due to the winding nature of levels and lack of architectural variation, the latter which adds to the feeling you're wondering around in circles.  I'm not afraid to admit there were times when I caved in and pulled up a walkthrough, something I usually don't do, only because I didn't want to be stuck in this endless cycle of looking for clues.

Then, there are the boss fights, which are a joke, to say the least.  Each beast has very obvious weaknesses, and in most cases, the fights start Ash off with the required tool necessary to defeat them, so you don't have to worry about figuring out the solution yourself.  As such, these grotesque creatures can be taken down within a matter of minutes; additionally, the game is short.  When you know what you're doing and not lost, beating the story can take roughly five to six hours.  Aside from a challenge mode, which involves killing Deadites within a time limit and under different parameters, the replay value is low.  Although there are cool extras you unlock after each stage including concept art and an enjoyable "Making of" video featuring Bruce Campbell.

Visually, the game is nothing to write home about.  The high on-screen enemy count is cool, but the whole package looks average with basic and uninteresting designs for both the locales and civilians that inhabit the stages.  Also, for some reason, Ash's face looks like somebody pressed an iron on him.  Sound doesn't fare much better.  As expected, Bruce Campbell is great as Ash; the remainder of the cast gets the job done, but do little to stand out, same applies to the music.

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick delivers chaotic action by the boatload and features some cleaver ideas, but it's held back by confusing level designs, lack of challenge, and an underwhelming presentation.  Though not bad by any means, the game lacks memorability and had the issues been straightened out, this could have been a hidden gem.

Final Score: 6/10

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Special Announcement II: The Quickening

Hello people of the internet; rest assured, the remaining reviews for Drive-In of Terror II will be published within the forthcoming days.  In the meantime, I have something to share.  While surfing Twitter the other day, I stumbled across a site known as VHS Revival.  Imagine a Youtube channel devoted to cult movies, like Brandon's Cult Movie Reviews or Good Bad Flicks, but in the form of a website that publishes articles.

After reading through multiple articles on their site, I decided to get into contact with them about writing articles.  Through some conversation, they have decided to let me onboard, to say this is great is an understatement.  Things will function very much like the Cubed3 gig, so expect a link to my latest articles when they get published.  The first one can be expected within the next few days, and will cover the 1989 horror/comedy C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.

As always, stay tuned for the latest and greatest from a man whose goal is to critique and be honest, yet also entertain.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Drive-In of Terror II: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

You travel to another dimension.  A dimension not just of sight and sound, but of zaniness and intellect; a place where one man follows his goal of reviewing whatever he can get his hands on, so long as it isn't related to unholy terrors like The Garbage Pail Kids Movie or Manos: The Hands of Fate.  In this regard, you have just crossed over into the territory known as GamerGuy's Reviews.  Submitted for your approval, a review focusing on a film, but not just any ordinary picture, but one that is based off what is arguably one of the greatest television shows ever made.  That movie is 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Like the landmark series, the film features four, separate stories, each created by their own director who brings their style to the forefront in these productions.  Before the first segment kicks off, we are treated to a prologue where two men, played by Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd, cruise down the open road as music plays.  When the tape malfunctions, they begin discussing and play a game where one person hums a song to a TV show, and the other must figure out what it is.  This series of events leads them into a talk about The Twilight Zone and their favorite episodes, before Aykroyd's character tells the driver to pull over so he can show him something scary.  Said fright involves him turning into a blue demon that strangles the man to death.

Afterwards, the movie begins proper with the story "Time Out."  A businessman named Bill Connor (Vic Morrow) arrives at a bar with his buddies, infuriated that he lost a potential promotion to another individual, who was Jewish.  With frustration boiling, he launches into a rant about how he thinks other races are receiving bigger and better opportunities while those who are white don't.  This makes many of the customers mad, but when Bill storms out, he finds himself in Nazi-occupied France.  Confused as to what's going on, Bill is forced to run and evade the Nazi forces, who believe he is a Jewish man.  Soon, he ends up at a Klan meeting, about to be hanged by Klansmen for being black.  He escapes, only to land in the middle of the Vietnam War under the assumption by U.S. soldiers that he's a Vietnamese soldier.  Lost and unsure as to why he's hopping between these different eras, Bill eventually realize that this is punishment for his racist beliefs.

Following this gloomy scenario is "Kick the Can."  An elderly man (Scatman Crothers) arrives at a retirement home, noticing that the people there are miserable and hate the fact they are old and have been abandoned by their families.  Seeing this, he invites to play Kick the Can at night; when this happens, the old folks are young again, and relish the chance.  Next is "It's a Good Life."  Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinan), a schoolteacher, accidentally damages a kid's bike while leaving a diner to continue her travels.  She decides to take the boy, Anthony (Jeremy Licht), back to his home, where she is greeted by his overly generous family once she arrives.

Unbeknownst to her, Anthony is gifted with powers that allow him to do whatever he wants; this, this has the family on edge since one wrong move might mean facing the wrath of the young boy.  Finally, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" tells the story of John Valentine (John Lithgow), an author whose fear of flying has him in constant anxiety.  Making matters worse, an unusual creature shows up and starts tearing apart one of the wings of the plane he's on, but whenever he tries to their attention on the matter, it disappears, making those on the flight question his sanity.

As stated earlier, all four segments, plus the prologue, are handled by different directors, including John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller.  Not only do they bring their own style to the table, but there is a shift in quality with each segment.  The introduction, directed by Landis, is misleadingly calm before it's surprise ending.  The way this part plays out is like a scene from the beginning of An American Werewolf in London, also directed by Landis, where two hitchhikers get attacked by a werewolf while walking down a dark road and talking with each other.  Yet, the transformation and attack at the end of this part is more surprising than it should be, since what you think might be a simple joke turns out to be a lot more than what both the driver and the audience bargained for.

Though it succeeds at foreshadowing what is to come, the following segments are uneven in quality, to say the least.  On the surface, "Time Out" has an interesting premise regarding the consequences of prejudiced beliefs, but it's shaky pacing and abrupt ending makes the whole experience feel rushed.  Vic Morrow is good as the angry, racist businessman who receives the mother of all punishments, but as one watches his character Bill Connor get flung through these different time periods, you feel that there should be a lot more to what's going on.  Unfortunately, just as it picks up steam, it ends, and not in a pleasing way.

There is a reason for "Time Out's" abrupt closure, one that is very tragic.  Initially, Bill Connor was to have a redemption moment, something that would bring his trials and tribulations full circle.  The sequence involved Bill rescuing a pair of children as a Vietnamese village is getting bombarded with aerial attacks.  Sadly, while shooting the scene, the pyrotechnics that were being used set the rotary blades of a helicopter on fire, causing it to spin out of control and crash on top of Morrow and the two child actors involved in the scene.  Accidents during a movie that result in the death of somebody are tragic and unfortunate, and when these events happen, it veers the direction of a film wildly off course.  In the case of "Time Out," it left the filmmakers with no other choice but to end the segment on a dark note, one that is a reflection of the incident that happened.

Not helping matters is that the next segment, "Kick the Can," is arguably the weakest entry, which is odd, considering the impeccable talent whom was responsible for bringing this story to life.  A remake of the episode of the same name, "Kick the Can" explores the concept of how we handle age with all of the intensity of a Hallmark movie.  Director Steven Spielberg tries to tug on our heartstrings with its images of old people who are young again thanks to the magical powers of Scatman Crothers' character, but instead of being whimsical, it's a bore.

Fortunately, there are three things that save this part from being a total flop.  The first is Jerry Goldsmith's score, which is warm, inviting, and it fits the tone of the segment.  The next is Scatman Crothers as the kind, old man who shows the senior citizens that just because your old doesn't mean you can still be active and youthful, mentally speaking.  Finally, there is a decent message behind this act about how we shouldn't let the fear of old age get to us, and we should accomplish as much as we can in our time on Earth.  Regardless, the mediocre quality of "Kick the Can" makes Kingdom of the Crystal Skull look like Saving Private Ryan.

Despite an uneven first half, the remaining two stories, "It's a Good Life" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," pick up the pace tremendously.  While both are remakes of episodes from The Twilight Zone, they each benefit from their updated premises and increased production value.  With "It's a Good Life," Joe Dante retains the darkly humorous nature of the original episode, yet adds in a new character that may be able to turn Anthony's powers into something good.  Still, as you watch the segment unfold, the tension is incredibly high throughout, as Anthony's family pleases the demands of him to avoid incurring his wrath.

Additionally, this segment boasts a unique visual style that shines in the design of the house, as every section is based on the old cartoons Anthony likes.  There are also some inventive special effects on display, including a grotesque, monstrous rabbit and an out-of-control cartoon character that jumps off the TV screen and into the real world.  It's during these parts that you can tell this is just foreshadowing for Dante's next project, Gremlins.  Plus, like most Joe Dante films, veteran actor Dick Miller pops up in a small role as a diner employee.

Finally, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" takes the suspense and paranoia of the original and cranks the dial up to eleven.  Thought William Shatner in the original was paranoid?  John Lithgow's anxiety-ridden, manic behavior makes Shatner's take look mentally stable in comparison.  Given his fear of flying and uneasy composure, it's understandable that both the passengers and the crew doubt his claims that there's something on the wing of the plane trying to cause a crash by tearing off pieces and throwing them through the engine.

Speaking of which, the remakes takes what is an arguably goofy-looking creature and turns it into something that is most assuredly scary.  It's tall, slender, and has a wicked grin, indicating how much he enjoys causing mayhem.  It also knows how to do jump-scares right.  In the film's highlight, Valentine tries to get some rest to calm his nerves, but his curiosity tries to get the better of him, and when it does, he comes face-to-face with the beast itself, and in a split-second shot, his eyes bulge right out of his sockets.

Twilight Zone: The Movie is the very definition of a mixed bag.  Although it starts on a promising note, the first half leaves much to be desired, with one story that's a promising endeavor that is cut too short, and another that bores, a shame considering the person responsible for it.  The second half helps the film find its footing, yet one feels that the picture could have done more.  With only one original story and three that are retellings, Twilight Zone: The Movie doesn't quite live up to the pedigree of the series this film is based on.

Final Score: 5/10

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Drive-In of Terror II: Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (PS4)

In 1996, a genre that had received minor attention in the past became widely known by gamers when Resident Evil released for the PlayStation One, and that genre was survival horror.  Rather than focus on mowing down every single bad guy in sight, the focus of the survival horror genre lied within that word, survival.  Ammo and health were at a premium, and in many cases, it was best to avoid combat and focus on exploring your surroundings to look for keys and solve puzzles necessary for progression.  For a time, Resident Evil was the king of the genre, but things changed in 2005 with the release of Resident Evil 4, which brought action into the mix and shifted the perspective from fixed camera angles to an over-the-shoulder, third-person experience.

Fortunately, it retained many elements that made the previous games great, and its impact on the gaming industry is prevalent in many of today's third-person shooting titles.  Unfortunately, the next installments, Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, shifted away from scares and leaned more towards spectacle, with over-the-top set-pieces, exaggerated monsters, and protagonists so buff, they could punch boulders with their bare fists.  The future of the franchise was unclear after those two games, but in 2017, developer and publisher Capcom surprised everyone wit Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, a title that not only went back to basics, but still managed to shake the formula up via a new, first-person perspective.

Instead of focusing on the continuing adventures of series mainstays like Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, or Leon S. Kennedy, the story follows Ethan Winters.  For the past three years, his wife Mia has been missing ever since she went out of town for business purposes.  One day, Ethan receives a video message from her, telling him to come find her.  He tracks her down to an abandoned house in a remote part of Louisiana, and though he does find Mia, Ethan also gets captured by a deranged family known as the Bakers, consisting of Jack, Marguerite, Lucas, and Zoe.  He's tied down and forced to eat disgusting food, but when a cop shows up and they split, Ethan takes the opportunity and frees himself.  With outside assistance from the daughter, Zoe, Ethan must save his wife Mia, find a way out of the Baker residence, and figure out what's going on.

It becomes apparent from the opening title screen that this is a different kind of Resident Evil.  Though there is the terror of having a psychopathic family and disgusting monsters to contend with, there's also an underlying sense of uneasiness that permeates itself into the dingy setting.  Jump scares are plentiful, such as one moment where the father, Jack Baker, bursts through a wall to try and catch Ethan, but the lack of music throughout much of the game, combined with the dilapidated conditions of many of the locales, instills inside the player the feeling that they're being watched by someone or something.

The story and direction of the game takes much inspiration from a multitude of American horror films including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw, and even the Evil Dead films via a few visual and audio references to that series.  The influence of The Texas Chainsaw can especially be seen in the Baker family, whose run-down house, Southern accents, and gruesome actions call to mind the Sawyer family from Tobe Hooper's classic  Despite sounding like it's striving to be a more realistic experience, this is still Resident Evil in more ways than one.  There are unusual monsters called the Molded that populate many of the locales, and as the game progresses, the reasons behind these creatures and the strange powers the family has are revealed to be the result of a corporation trying to weaponize an unusual being.  Plus, a certain individual from past games shows up in the final cutscene, yet who this person is I will not mention.

Eschewing the focus on action found in recent entries, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard goes back to survival horror, and is more the better because of it.  Ammo and inventory space are limited, and a larger focus is put on looking for keys and solving puzzles that will inch Ethan one step closer to freedom.  Along the way, the Bakers and the vicious Molded will try to halt his progress any way they can.  Besides the shift in gameplay style, the game is played from a first-person perspective, and the switch works since his movement and speed aren't as swift as characters in other first-person games, almost akin to the tank-like movement found in the the first three entries.

To assist Ethan, there are weapons he can acquire, including a handgun, shotgun, and an assault rifle late in the campaign.  As stated prior, though, ammo is at a premium, so when fighting the Molded, aim for the head, and if necessary, use the knife in close encounters.  Also, take advantage of blocking to reduce damage from enemy attacks.  However, the Bakers are a different story.  Each family member has their own methods and abilities they use to try and take Ethan down.  Jack chases after Ethan with a giant axe, Marguerite, his wife, can summon swarms of insects with her lantern, and Lucas, the son, relies on traps and puzzle rooms that kill their victim when solved correctly.  When it comes to Jack and Marguerite, the best you can do is sneak around them since taking them head-on is suicide, and when you are discovered, run.  Unfortunately, Lucas is never confronted due to reasons that are best left unexplained.

To better even the odds, it pays to explore the locales, as health, ammo, and other items are hidden across the Baker estate, along with a host of collectibles.  There's chemical fluid that can be fused with gunpowder or herbs to create bullets and healing liquid, as well as a stronger chemical to create powerful variations.  Additionally, searching around will also net Ethan old coins that can be put into special bird cages to unlock access to steroids, which increase his health, a stabilizer that can decrease reloading time, and a state-of-the-art magnum that is rare on ammunition.  The most interesting collectible, though, are the VHS tapes.  When put into a VCR, this shifts the perspective to one of the previous victims trapped at the Baker estate, and though they are optional, playing through them will help prepare yourself for what is to come in the campaign.

Although Resident Evil VII's combat and exploration are nail-biting and rewarding, the puzzles leave a little to be desired.  Often, it's a matter of finding an item and putting it in the right spot, or manipulating an object so that its shadow matches the figure of a painting, which opens a passageway when done right.  They're not bad, they're just lacking that extra kick the rest of the gameplay has, yet the best one is a scenario where stealing a shotgun from a statue closes the door behind you, but by finding a broken shotgun elsewhere, it can be replaced and voila, Ethan has a new boomstick.  Even better, there's a way to acquire the broken one, fix it, and receive a stronger shotgun for your hard work.

Resident Evil VII's creepy, atmospheric visual design does much to draw you into the dilapidated house and other locations that encompass the game.  Sound is solid, featuring good performances from the cast, except for Ethan, whose monotone voice feels out of place in context of many of the situations he finds himself in, and the music gets the job done, but doesn't stand out.

Scary, tense, and fun, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard puts the series back on track through challenging but immensely enjoyable survival horror gameplay that is enhanced via the new point-of-view.  Some elements leave a little to be desired, but this is a great entry that shows the series is still alive and kicking, and that it has a few tricks left up its sleeve.

Final Score: 9/10

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Drive-In of Terror II: The Revenge

Greetings boys and ghouls!  It is the cowboy of schlock, the purveyor of frights, the one, the only, William Lowery!  It's that time again folks, the temperatures are getting cooler, the leaves are falling off of the trees, it's fall.  Next month, October comes and with it, the return of Drive-In of Terror, and boy, do we have a selection of titles this year!

We've got a little bit of something for everybody, from slashers to creepy monsters to boomstick-wielders, Drive-In of Terror is going to pack a punch with its roster horror-related films and video games.  Stay tuned every Wednesday this month for a new review, and who knows, there might be some surprises as well.

There's a lot of ground to cover, and if it's not done, that guy wielding a knife and wearing a Gary Busey mask will track me down and give me a taste of my own medicine.  So sit back, bust out the popcorn, and get ready for Drive-In of Terror II: The Revenge!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cubed3 Exclusive Review: Time Recoil (PS4)

Hi diddily ho readers, as I work fervently on the upcoming Drive-In of Terror and the remaining reviews for this month, I found the time to re-establish my good will with Cubed3 via a review of the inventive top-down shooter Time Recoil.  If I'm lucky enough, you can possibly expect a review for Wolfenstein II, if the cards fall into place.

Link to review:

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Rest in Peace: Tobe Hooper (1943-2017)

"You've got to send a physical sensation through them and not let them off the hook.  I like to make it faster and faster and faster and pumping and banging until I get into you.  (Tobe Hooper on making horror movies.)"

When somebody thinks of icons of horror, specifically directors, there are many names that come to mind like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, George Romero, and more.  One director whose name definitely ranks up there with the others is Tobe Hooper.  In 1974, the man leapt onto the scene with his film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It was a movie that showed audiences the genius of a man who was able to get under peoples' skin through creeping, psychological terror, plus occasional violence, in a film about a group of friends stuck near a house of lunatic individuals.  Not only that, but this landmark picture also debuted one of the iconic monsters of the genre, the infamous chainsaw-wielding psychopath known as Leatherface.

Suffice to say, Tobe Hooper had a remarkable approach when it came to making movies within the science-fiction and horror genre, often finding ways to make it interesting or show us something that hadn't been seen before.  1982's Poltergeist offered a mixture of Hooper's macabre imagery with Steven Spielberg's fascination with the fantastical and family bonding under tense circumstances.  However, the most interesting movies he created arguably came during his tenure with Cannon Films, in which he produced three different movies, one an original work (Lifeforce, 1985), another a sequel to one of his earlier titles (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1986), and the last one a remake of a 50's invasion flick (Invaders from Mars, 1986).

Though Tobe Hooper is no longer with us, his impact and legacy on cinema shall not be forgotten, and his movies will continue to attract more and more people to his work in the many years to come.

Link to quote:

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) Review

His foot stomps shake buildings, citizens flee in terror at his sight, and the army can do nothing to stop the force of nature that is Godzilla.  Over the course of his sixty-plus year film career, the King of the Monsters has faced and defeated his share of bizarre yet memorable monsters.  From three-headed space dragons to giant moths and even a creature made of pollution, at some point, you think the people at Toho Studios would run out of ideas for new monsters, yet they don't.  However, in the case of the monster Godzilla confronts in this film, its creation was not the result of a studio writer, but a dentist, of all people.

After the release of The Return of Godzilla  in 1984, Toho held a contest in which people could submit their own drafts for the next installment in the series.  The winner got his story about Godzilla fighting a giant plant turned into a motion picture, while the guy in second place saw his script get turned into Gunhed, that magnificent film about a super-computer trying to take over the world, but whose plans are thwarted by a bandit, his robot, and a pair off annoying kids.

(WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS ARE AHEAD) 1984.  The city of Tokyo is in ruins after Godzilla's attack on the metropolis.  As teams of clean-up crews remove the debris, a secret spec-ops team from America steals a sample of Godzilla's skin from the rubble.  In the process of fleeing the authorities, though, a Middle Eastern man working for a research company located in Saradia flanks and kills them, taking the sample back to his home country.  There, one of the scientists, Dr. Shirigami (Koji Takahashi), is assigned to a project related to the DNA, but he is not able to start it as an explosion at the facility he works at kills his daughter Erika (Yasuko Sawaguchi).  In the years since the incident, Shirigami has moved to Japan where he conducts research on telepathy with the help of Asuka (Yoshiko Tanaka) and a young psychic named Miki (Megumi Odaka).

Eventually, the doctor is approached by the Japanese government to help develop special bacteria that can get ride of nuclear material, but more importantly, cripple Godzilla, who has been trapped inside a volcano since the events of the prior film.  He agrees to their request, but also asks for permission to use some of Godzilla's DNA which they have stored away, and on a dark and stormy night, he merges the cells of Godzilla with that of a rose and his daughter's cells to create a new species of rose, or so he thinks.  When a pair of men from America and the Saradian assassin from the beginning both try to and steal the samples of Godzilla, Shirigami's creation attacks the three and flees.

Trapped in the volcano, Godzilla eventually escapes when the Japanese government fails to meet the demands of the American organization Bio-Major, and explosives set around the mountain detonate, allowing the King of the Monsters to be released from his imprisonment.  While this is happening, the plant monster has set itself up in a nearby lake, growing to tremendous size in the process.  When Godzilla confronts the creature, known as Biollante, he defeats it, and continues to rampage across Japan.  Thus, the government scrambles to find a way to stop the monster, before it's too late, and worse, they may not have seen the last of Biollante.

Godzilla vs. Biollante is unique from prior entries in that its concepts are ones that haven't touched beforehand; specifically, the idea of science gone awry.  Whereas monsters such as King Ghidorah, Rodan, or Mechagodzilla were either outer-space entities or prehistoric creatures revived by atomic testing, Biollante's creation is the result of a man determined to preserve the legacy of his daughter by any means necessary.  In an essence, Dr. Shirigami is a modern-day Victor Frankenstein, someone who believes his work will break new boundaries for the benefit of mankind, but instead harms society.  Not only that, but Biollante's design is interesting.  When we first see it, the creature is essentially a giant rose with multiple fly-trap tentacles, and it's second form looks like a cross between a crocodile and the plant from Little Shop of Horrors.  The trade-off for having a creative design and immense scale, though, is that Biollante is quite arguably Godzilla's easiest opponent, since it is quickly defeated in both confrontations with a few blasts of atomic breath.

Yet, the film's message of crossing the boundaries of life is muddled by the erratic pacing and numerous tonal shifts throughout the picture.  Indeed, the film's sub-plot about the Americans and Saradians fighting over the Godzilla samples and the bacteria often makes the movie turn into a low-rent spy flick, as a government official and a wisecracking colonel evade double-crosses and chase after the Middle-Eastern hitman in numerous sequences throughout the picture.  It's these moments, combined with non-sequitur comedic scenes that pop out of nowhere from time to time, which take the attention away from the main plot in a way that often detracts from the experience, yet is also unintentionally hilarious because of it.

Of course, a story about espionage and tampering in God's domain wouldn't be complete without characters.  In addition to Shirigami, there's Miki, a young psychic who would become a recurring character for the remainder of the films in the second series.  She's often used to determine where either Godzilla or Biollante currently are, and there's a cool moment in which Miki uses telepathy to try and make Godzilla change his course so as to avoid the destruction of Osaka.  However, the best one, besides the doctor, might be Colonel Gondo (Toru Minegishi), whose free-spirited, wisecracking attitude to every situation he finds himself in makes him a fun watch.  Even when Godzilla kills him later, Gondo manages to get one last one-liner in before the monster takes out the building he's in.

Featuring impressive miniature work and monster costumes, the effects of Godzilla vs. Biollante have held up reasonably well and do a lot to make the combat and destruction scenes even more enjoyable.  There are the occasional wonky effects moments, including a terrible shot of Godzilla swimming underwater that looks like they used an action figure composited onto a green screen, but these are few and far between.   What is generally bad, though, is the dub.  Although the English performances are adequate at best, the audio itself sounds very compressed on the DVD release of this movie, making it seem like the people at Echo Bridge just ripped the sound from a used, beat-up VHS of the picture.  Fortunately, such issues aren't present with the Japanese audio, which just makes the technical quirks of the dub more questionable.

As for the soundtrack, it's an interesting combination of the motifs of Akira Ifukube's iconic compositions and those from American composers such as John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.  The different styles are most noticeable in parts like Godzilla's first encounter with the military vehicle the Super X-II, which has a track that sounds reminiscent of the Superman theme.  Yet, the highlight is the energetic, action-packed remix of the Godzilla theme heard at certain intervals.  The intensity of said composition makes one think they're watching a different film entirely or even an '80's anime whenever the tune is heard.

Godzilla vs. Biollante is an interesting mixture of old and new.  It has everything people come to expect from the series, like giant monster battles, but also some new concepts like the "science gone wrong" origins of Biollante and the espionage the film sports.  It doesn't always work, especially the wannabe James Bond sequences, but it's nevertheless entertaining throughout and is one of the stronger entries in the franchise.

Final Score: 8/10

Friday, August 11, 2017

Cubed3 Exclusive Review: This Is the Police (PS4)

It's been a long time coming, but the free-lancing adventures with a great video-game website continue with a look at the unique title This Is the Police.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Super Mario Bros. (1993) Review

Over the course of this century, film adaptations of comic books and novels have exponentially grown in both quantity and popularity.  Video game-based movies, however, have yet to achieve that same status, and what should be a simple and easily profitable concept has shown time and time again to be a disappointing endeavor as many of them are of poor quality and usually deviate from the source material in a way that is both alienating to fans and confusing to general audiences.  The history of video-game movies is a troubled one, and it all started in 1993 when Hollywood took its first stab at the medium through Super Mario Bros.

In the bustling metropolis of New York City, a pair of brothers, Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo), maintain a plumbing business that has found itself in trouble recently due to the rise of the Scapelli Construction Company.  On their way to a job, their van breaks down, and when Mario goes to get water for the radiator, Luigi finds himself in a conversation with a woman named Daisy (Samantha Mathis), who is trying to keep her archaeological site open but faces the threat of closure from none other than Scapelli.  After offering her a ride back to her work-place, Luigi works up the guts to ask her out on a date, to which she agrees.

At dinner, the two are accompanied by Mario and his girlfriend Daniella (Dana Kaminski), but unbeknownst to them, they are being watched by a pair of men, Iggy (Fisher Stevens) and Spike (Richard Edson).  The duo came from a dimension where dinosaurs evolved into humans, and the ruler, King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), is looking for Daisy as she is the long-lost heir to the throne and holds a rock capable of merging his world with that of ours.  Once finished, Iggy and Spike mistakenly follow Mario and Daniella back to her place, and when Mario leaves, they sneak in and capture her, while Luigi and Daisy head back to the dig site.  As they examine some of the findings, pipes burst as the result of sabotage by the Scapelli Company, so Luigi gets Mario's help to close off the leak.

Having just returned from delivering Daniella to Koopa, Iggy and Spike seize the opportunity and grab Daisy, leaving the brothers to chase after them.  Their pursuit leads them beyond Earth and into the world of the dinosaurs, known as Dinohattan.  To Koopa's pleasure, the princess has been captured, but they lack the rock, so a search is issued to find a pair of plumbers.  What they don't know is that while navigating this strange world where beat-up cars ride on electric rails and crime is rampant, the stone is taken from Mario and Luigi by a bouncer named Big Bertha (Francesca Roberts), so when the brothers are captured and jailed sans rock, the king is furious.  Luckily for the duo, they manage to break out, but not before pinning Koopa in a device that de-evolves humans, which causes the ruler to gradually morph into a T-rex as the film progresses.

As one can tell by the vivid summarization, the film drastically deviates from the source material in a way that anything people know about the games, whether it be the characters, setting, items, etc., is either present in name only, has been radically altered, or, in rare cases, is true to the source material.  At its core, Super Mario Bros. does follow the set-up of the games, a princess is captured by an evil ruler, and Mario and Luigi must go and rescue her, but instead of taking place in the colorful world of the Mushroom Kingdom, its set in a sprawling, gritty metropolis that is more Blade Runner and Mad Max than a cheery Nintendo game.  However, the city does play host to a multitude of references from the franchise.

For example, several buildings in the downtown section of Dinohattan are named after creatures from the games including Hammer Bros., Thwomp, Bullet Bill, and Wiggler.  There are also appearances by Toad (Mojo Nixon), which is the name of an activist who spends his time singing anti-Koopa songs and not referring to the race of little people with mushroom heads, Yoshi, the little dinosaur capable of swallowing its prey whole, and the Goombas, Koopa's army of big, reptilian creatures with tiny heads and low intelligence.

One could spend all day listing off the number of stark contrasts between this movie and the games it is based off, but what about the quality of the film itself?  Sadly, Super Mario Bros. is not a good movie, while the look of the flick is interesting, if bizarre, and it is entertaining for how off-the-wall the picture is, its biggest issues are a lack of commitment to a single tone, and dull characters.  When the film begins, it starts off as a buddy comedy with Mario and Luigi trying to keep their business afloat, in fact, unlike the games, which don't really play up the plumbing angle of the brothers, the film makes it a major aspect of their characters, which is commendable.  Regardless, when the two arrive at Dinohattan to save Daisy, Super Mario Bros. tries to make the situation as serious as possible, but instead finds itself floundering back-and-forth between comedic and dramatic to no success.

Yet, for as much as the movie struggles to keep a focus throughout its one hour and forty-minute runtime, one aspect it does get right is Mario and Luigi's partnership.  Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo do a good job at portraying the titular duo, with Mario being the tough yet protective big brother and Luigi the active but reckless one, and there's some fun banter between the two.  On that note, the film deserves credit, to a certain degree, for addressing the matter of what their last name is, as in one scene in the police station, it's revealed that it's none other than "Mario."  Besides the heroic plumbers, Dennis Hopper's manic performance as King Koopa is great to watch.  Even though he's not portraying a giant, fire-breathing turtle and instead a man who dresses like Donald Trump and sounds like Dr. Evil, Hopper does a lot to bring the character to life.

It's a shame that the remainder of the cast lacks that same spark those three actors have, but they do.  As Daisy, Samantha Mathis spends most of the film looking and sounding bored, while Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson fail to deliver any laughs as the bumbling duo of Iggy and Spike.  In fact, Daisy herself is one of the movie's other weak links.  Her character is painted out to be a tragic figure, since her mother was killed after she abandoned her daughter at a church, and her father (Lance Henriksen in a five-second cameo near the end) was de-evolved by Koopa into fungus that has spread all over the city.  Thus, whenever she does have a scene or is in conversation with Koopa or his assistant Leena (Fiona Shaw), it's supposed to be taken seriously, but as an audience, we don't buy it since those moments are often followed up by scenes where Mario and Luigi get into hectic car chases or try to get the rock while evading the Goombas or receiving assistance from unlikely sources.

Of course, the movie's puzzling attitude is the result of a troubled production, as the studio, Lightmotive Pictures, wanted a light-hearted family picture, so much so that the initial script was reminiscent of the games.  However, when directors were found in the form of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jenkel, a married couple best known for the cult TV series Max Headroom, they envisioned a product that was a dark, cyberpunk thriller with a dinosaur twist.  The result was a production littered with constant rewrites of the script and a crew and cast who were less than fond of the people making this picture.  Many of them have expressed their disappointment with the movie, most notably Bob Hoskins.  In an interview with The Guardian in 2007, Hoskins expressed the following:
"The worst thing I ever did?  Super Mario Brothers.  It was a f---in nightmare.  The whole experience was a nightmare.  It had a husband and wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent.  After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set.  F---in nightmare.  F---in idiots.

Looking past the behind-the-scenes drama and confusing nature of the writing and characters, the effects and aesthetics of the world created are well-done and are an interesting sight to look at.  The visual effects for when someone is de-evolved or the sequence where Mario is sent through the space between dimensions stand out as the most unique, although some of the animatronic work, particularly for the Goomba minions and tiny dinosaurs scattered about Dinohattan look primitive by today's standards.  Meanwhile, the soundtrack, composed by Alan Silvestri, is solid, with the best track being the upbeat, jazzy theme that is heard whenever Mario and Luigi are onscreen.  Though there are times when the score does sound reminiscent of Silvestri's earlier work, such as Predator and the Back to the Future trilogy.

One part dystopic, science-fiction action-adventure, one part dramatic tragedy, and one part slapstick comedy, Super Mario Bros. is a textbook example of how to not properly do an adaptation, yet also a fascinating watch because of it.  Is it bad?  Yes, but when compared to future video-game movies such as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, the Resident Evil movie series, and more, it's certainly nowhere near as terrible as those other products.  It's a mess, but an entertaining one.

Final Score: 4/10

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (Xbox 360) Review

Whenever a beloved individual passes away or a recognizable place closes, there is much grief and disappointment amongst the community, as well as numerous tributes and payments of respect for what they did when they still existed.  In 2009, Pandemic Studios, a company best known for creating the original Star Wars: Battlefront series and the first two Destroy All Humans games, was shut down when the company that owned them, Electronic Arts, laid off several of their own employees and development teams.  The year prior, Pandemic released Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, a sequel to 2004's Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction.  Whereas the original game took the open-world style of Grand Theft Auto and set it in war-torn North Korea, the sequel shifts the focus to sunny Venezuela, a place rife with destructive opportunity.

After selecting from one of three mercenaries, including Matthias Nilsson, Jennifer Mui, and Chris Jacobs, the story begins proper when your selected soldier-for-hire arrives at the mansion of businessman Ramon Solano, who has asked the mercenary to find and locate a rogue general named Carmona, who is hiding on a remote island off the coast of Maracaibo.  Once he's captured, the mercenary returns to Solano to claim their pay.  Instead, the man reveals to the protagonist that by capturing Carmona, he can carry out his plan to take over Venezuela and rule it with an iron fist.  After escaping the madman's mansion, the mercenary decides to enact revenge on Solano, first by working with different groups to gather intel, and then finding and eliminating him.

Featuring a plot so basic you could simplify it down to one word, revenge, as well as characters who are defined more by their stereotypes than actual personality traits, Mercenaries 2 provides players with a reason for the ensuing wanton destruction, and not much else.  Regardless of who is chosen, the narrative unfolds the same way every time, with the only significant difference being that you'll hear a new batch of repetitive one-liners from your selected character.

To free Venezuela from the grip of a tyrannical businessman and achieve payback for being betrayed and not paid, the mercenary will formulate their own base of operations from the ruins of Solano's mansion and in turn, work with a multitude of groups, each of whom has their own agenda.  The five organizations, whether it be a petroleum company, a resistance movement, the U.S. army, or China, will give the player contracts to carry out and numerous side tasks to accomplish in one's spare time.  By working with them, cash can be earned and new items will become available for purchase as the game progresses.  The contracts are varied in their objectives, and involve doing things such as rescuing hostages, liberating towns from the Venezuelan army, and blowing up targets to kingdom come.

Not all missions are a total cakewalk as later assignments can be challenging affairs due to the amount of heavy firepower one will encounter, but by amassing a healthy stockpile of weapons, vehicles, and airstrikes to order for delivery, you can even the odds.  Meanwhile, the list of things to do outside of contracts is staggering; from freeing outposts of Venezuelan control to completing races to taking out high-valued targets and capturing people of interest, the game is loaded to the brim with things to do.  Additionally, a wide selection of firearms and other goods encourages the player to experiment with how to approach combat situations, and when in doubt, a good, old-fashioned artillery strike can easily clear a blockade of tanks.

Yet, as a mercenary, your ties to those you align yourself with are tenuous at best, so each faction has a meter dictating the strength of their partnership.  If you start attacking allies or hurting civilians within their line of sight, nearby soldiers will attack and attempt to call their boss to let them know about the mercenary's actions.  Such a factor plays an important role in regards to the high-valued targets you can find and eliminate, as many of them are often individuals from one of the factions the mercenary is helping.  If one of them becomes hostile, you can gain back their respect by paying a hefty fee.  Luckily, the inconsistent AI will result in plenty of cases where you're more than capable of murdering comrades or blowing up a building of theirs and getting away scot free for it.

At its best, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is a frenetic, action-packed experience that gladly revels in its anarchic mayhem through massive explosions and state-of-the-art firepower, but the multitude of bugs and insipid behavior of civilians, allies, and enemies alike often sours the fun one might be having in a play session.  The glitches can be minor, such as vehicles or NPC's getting stuck in the environment or objects randomly floating in mid-air.  Then there are the more criminal ones, like calling in a supply delivery and the helicopter pilot doesn't show up, or destroying a building, only to witness a bizarre implosion that takes place as the structure collapses.

In addition to those and freeze-ups that can occur, the incompetent intelligence found here ranks up with the likes of the original Dead Rising and Aliens: Colonial Marines with how terrible it is.  Although life in a war-torn country would be a bad experience for anyone, apparently, for many civilians, it's too much.  The mercenary may be freely cruising on the open road or weaving through the streets in the city, only for a pedestrian to spontaneously run out in the middle of the road and become roadkill.  Meanwhile, the soldiers, both good and bad, should all be sent back to boot camp since they often miss more than they hit, and do other inane actions such as throw a grenade, only for it to bounce on a wall and explode in their face.  Additionally, if an ally is on a turret, chances are they will gladly shoot up a vehicle, even when the people inside are long dead and it's now on fire and on the verge of exploding.

Despite the numerous technical inequalities, the visual quality of the title is good, with varied environmental designs and impressive destruction/particle effects.  Sound, though, is uneven.  The guns sound visceral and the soundtrack combines a classical orchestra with Latin music motifs to create a unique and memorable mixture.  The same can't be said for the voice acting, which is average at best, and get ready to hear twenty variations of lines including "It's the mercenary!"  "Is that our vehicle?"  "The mercenary is here, attack!", as you progress through the game.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is a game with many ups, yet just as many downs.  The core gameplay is the title's biggest strength, with onscreen mayhem that is a sight to behold and a wealth of content that will keep players coming back for more.  On the flip side, the lack of polish evident through the bugs and other faults do a lot to try and derail one's enjoyment.  Like an action flick from the 80's, its ridiculous nature and high levels of adrenaline keep the experience entertaining, but there's no denying that it's not perfect.

Final Score: 6/10

Friday, June 30, 2017

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) Review

In life, people struggle with finding an effective way of balancing different things which occupy their time, be it jobs, school, or hobbies.  When we do settle into the right groove, there's a strong sense of satisfaction knowing that what seemed impossible has become achievable.  The analogy might seem odd, but it is reflective of the tonal shifts in Return of the Living Dead Part II.  Since the first film made a decent profit on its release, it seemed inevitable that the dead would return for a sequel.  However, writer/director Ken Wiederhorn tips the scale and fills this follow-up with more laughs than frights, but does it work?

On a stormy night in a small town, a convoy of trucks are in route to an unknown destination, and their package is a batch of barrels containing the chemical 245 Trioxin.  One of the drivers, while smoking a joint and listening to music, is too distracted to notice some of the barrels falling out from the vehicle after hitting a bump in the road, which is then followed by one canister managing to roll off the road and into the river below.  The next day, a young boy named Jesse (Michael Kenworthy) is given the chance to visit a clubhouse which belongs to a pair of neighborhood bullies.  Said clubhouse is in the nearby cemetery, and when Jesse tries to flee and hide, the three find the container in a storm drain.

Seeing the number on the drum, Jesse insists that they should call it, but the two roughnecks have better ideas, and lock the kid in the mausoleum.  While this is happening, a trio of graverobbers arrive to dig up and obtain the skulls buried within.  The two men, Ed (James Karen) and Joey (Thom Matthews), head into the graveyard, while Joey's girlfriend Brenda (Suzanne Snyder) stays behind to watch the car.  Jesse escapes and makes a mad dash home, while the two kids investigate the barrel and unwittingly release the gas from within, causing them to develop coughing fits and leave while the gas gets into the atmosphere and causes a storm.  Jesse decides to head back to the cemetery to try and get the number, along the way, he visits the house of Billy (Thor Van Lingen), who is looking much more pale than before.  He returns to the drain and gets the number, only to be confronted by the corpse from the barrel, which he easily dispatches of.

Unfortunately for Jesse, the dead are starting to rise from the grave, and the ensuing mist caused by the rain has seeped into the mausoleum Ed and Joey are at, causing them to get ill.  Once he has returned home, Jesse tries to call the number, but is halted by his older sister (Marsha Dietlin) and a cable repairman (Dana Ashbrook).  One activation of the fire-alarm gives him enough time to run into the parents' bedroom and call the army, who are currently disposing of the other barrels.  However, the calls is cut short as the graverobbers had fled the cemetery and reached the neighborhood in search of help, but in the process, disabled the phone box.  With the dead running loose, Jesse, his sister, the cable guy, the graverobbers, and a neighbor, Dr. Mandel (Philip Bruns), try to seek a way out of town, unaware that Ed and Joey are gradually worsening in their condition.

With multiple jokes and gags that see the undead stumbling on one another as they come out of the ground, among others, it immediately becomes clear to the viewer during the sequence of the dead rising that this is a goofier affair than the original.  In fact, the zombies' mischievous behavior calls to mind the Gremlins rather than a terrifying enemy that seems virtually unstoppable.  In addition to an army of slapstick-fueled ghouls, there are people caught in the middle of it all; unfortunately, the characters, save for a few, are either forgettable or obnoxious.  Jesse, the young boy trying to stop the undead menace from spreading, is very likeable simply because of his resourceful nature.  Whereas the protagonists of the first one waited until the very end to call the army for help, Jesse, upon discovering the barrel with the two boys, makes an active effort to get the number and let the military know about the barrel.  Another favorite is the doctor; although some of his lines are cringe-inducing, his off-the-wall drunken behavior makes him fun to watch, as he's more concerned with finding a bottle of booze than a way to defeat the zombies.

Yet, the rest of the cast is a different story.  Tom, the cable-man, is your standard every-man who finds himself becoming a hero as he works with the others to save the day, a notion which also applies to Jesse's older sister.  Then, there are the trio of graverobbers, who's only purpose is to scream and act like nitwits.  Joey and Ed are nothing more than a carbon-copy of Freddy and Frank, right down to them getting sick from the gas and becoming zombies later.  They may be played by the same cast members from before, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should also go through the same motions and use dialogue they had in the first one as well.  Besides, their contributions to the story, along with Brenda's, are minimal, and if you removed them, the only thing that would change would be the run-time.

Speaking of which, Brenda, Joey's girlfriend, is a textbook example of people who make bad decisions in horror movies, since everything she does jeopardizes the situation even more.  Examples include but are not limited to the following:
  1. Refusing to listen to Dr. Mandel's suggestion of leaving Ed and Joey quarantined at the hospital they're at.
  2. Being the one responsible for the phone getting disabled.
  3. Distracting a soldier long enough for the now-zombified Ed to move in and get a bite.
With such "smart" moves as those, combined with a scream so piercing I'm surprised it doesn't kill the zombies, and you have a woman who's like Willie from Temple of Doom, but more obnoxious and a lot less helpful.

Return of the Living Dead Part II's biggest problem, though, is that it plays it safe, often recycling plot points and moments from the first.  The change of location from a small portion of town to an entire city offers potential, and one can see how its idea of zombies on the loose in the suburbs influenced the SNES game Zombies Ate My Neighbors.  Unfortunately, it doesn't take enough chances with its creative potential, especially considering that the place is a ghost town since the entire population was evacuated off-screen.  The only major new addition is that the undead now have a clear weakness, electricity, which does lead to a thrilling climax as the surviving heroes round-up the zombies, lure them into an electric power-plant, and fry them all.  It's just a shame you must wade through eighty-five minutes of mediocrity and hit-and-miss humor just to reach it.

Effects-wise, the movie boasts well-done zombie make-up and features some inventive effects, such as a severed hand that runs amok in Dr. Mandel's car.  Although the designs of the undead look more cartoony and the recreation of the barrel zombie is rubbery and not as grotesque, they get the job done.  The music is an interesting scenario; when the film was released on DVD and digital media, the original soundtrack and certain licensed tracks were removed and replaced with compositions that sound like a synthesizer farting.  The original score, which can only be heard via a VHS copy, is fine, if a little too dramatic, and the licensed songs are enjoyable, including "Spacehopper," "Bad Case of Loving You," and an incredibly cheesy cover of "Monster Mash," but it lacks the memorability of the original film's score, a notion which applies to everything else regarding this sequel.

Return of the Living Dead Part II is an uninspired retread of the first movie that has its moments, but leaves a lot to be desired.  The film is at its best when it revels in its over-the-top, comedic nature of events, such as zombies driving a commandeered jeep or a Michael Jackson-look-alike zombie getting electrocuted with the others, but it's afraid to commit to that tone.  Instead, the movie offers serviceable, but extremely by-the-numbers undead entertainment.

Final Score: 4/10

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Return of the Living Dead (1985) Review

In 1968, writers George Romero and John Russo crafted a script about the dead coming back to life to devour the living, which would become Night of the Living Dead.  Upon release, the movie was a hit, and set the standard for zombie movies to come; however, legal issues arose over who owned the rights to the picture, since the film-makers had forgotten to put a copyright notice on it.  The result was that Romero could continue making zombie pictures, including Russo, so long as the phrase "Living Dead" wasn't used in the title.  Meanwhile, Russo got control of the moniker, and he wrote a novel called Return of the Living Dead, with the hopes of turning it into a feature film.  Years later, in 1985, writer Dan O'Bannon, best known for writing the script to Alien, got the chance to make the movie, but in the process, he changed what Russo had written and created a zombie picture with more style and flair than the films of Romero.

On a hot, summer day in Louisville, Kentucky, a young man named Freddy (Thom Matthews) has gotten a job working as a shipping clerk in a medical warehouse.  The boss, Burt Wilson (Clu Gulager), is leaving for the weekend, and has left his assistant, Frank (James Karen), along with Freddy to close the place.  While filling out forms in the office, Freddy asks Frank what's the strangest thing that has been in the place.  Frank tells him how years ago in Pennsylvania, the army was conducting experiments when a chemical spill happened, causing the substance to drain down pipes that ran over a morgue.  The leaky pipes allowed the substance to fall onto the bodies below, and they came to life; therefore, the incident was quarantined and the chemicals and corpses were loaded into barrels that were sent off to be researched by a chemical company.  Unfortunately, the shipping forms got mixed up, and they ended up at the warehouse, where they are being held in the basement.

Therefore, the two of them go to check the containers out, but upon checking the durability of one of them, Frank unwittingly releases the gas, which knocks them both out, and the chemical then seeps into the vents, bringing to life a cadaver held in the freezer.  While this is going on, Freddy's friends are heading to where he's working to pick him up and go partying, even though his girlfriend, Tina (Beverly Randolph), just wants to go out with him on a date, away from the presence of the others.  To kill time and have fun, they go into the cemetery across from the warehouse.  When Frank and Freddy wake up, they feel ill, but also realize that the previously dead body in cold storage is now alive, so they call Burt to come over.

Once Burt arrives, the three decide that they're going to open the door and let the cadaver free, then pin it down and kill it by impaling it in the head.  It's released, but it makes a beeline towards Burt, and when they have the body under their control, a pickaxe is lobbed into its head, but it still lives.  Therefore, the corpse is sliced up, with the intent of taking it over into the funeral home, where a man named Ernie (Don Calfa) runs the mortuary, complete with a crematorium.  After negotiating a deal with Ernie, along with explaining what's going on, the body is burned, but as the smoke rises into the air, it kick-starts a rainstorm, and the resulting rain falls onto the cemetery that Freddy's pals are at.  Tina, who went to the medical facility earlier, finds herself trapped in a room with the now-living body from the barrel.  Her friends arrive, but one of them, a punk named Suicide (Mark Venturini), is killed while rescuing her, and when they head back to the cemetery to find Freddy, they notice the dead rising from the graves, ready to eat the living.

Whereas the likes of Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead were grim and dramatic in their depictions of people trying to survive the hordes of the undead, Return of the Living Dead, while serious in tone, also adds an underlying element of comedy and fun into the mix.  The over-the-top nature of many of the events, combined with the terrified reactions of the characters, ends up making the audience laugh at the foibles of the people caught up in the situation.  A headless cadaver running around like a chicken might seem terrifying, but given how ridiculous it looks, one can't help but laugh at such a sight.  Like Gremlins and The Evil Dead, it's a movie that strikes a fine balance between laughs and frights, yet there's the notion that if such an incident did occur, everybody would probably react in a similar manner to Frank and Freddy.

Characters are a strong point; Dan O'Bannon has a way of developing characters through small-talk and their interactions with the environment, as seen through the crew of the Nostromo in Alien.  This tradition continues as the sizeable cast is all fleshed out through their interactions with one another and what they do, which does provide the viewer with concern over whether they will live or not once the dead rise.  For instance, Frank and Freddy, despite gradually turning into zombies over the course of the picture, do come off as sympathetic yet also ignorant for their accidental behavior and not knowing about the dangers that lurked within, but their panicked screams of fear and agony over their illness also makes them a delight to watch.  Yet, out of all the characters, Burt Wilson stands out as the highlight since he takes responsibility for the incident and formulates most of the plans he thinks will help everyone, but they tend to make things worse.

In addition to Ernie, the mortician that becomes befuddled yet fascinated by what's going on, but the people who make up Freddy's group are an interesting bunch.  When first viewing the film, one might wonder why these individuals, each of whom represents a different clique, are hanging out together in the first place, but it's clear from their introduction that they are united by one goal, which is they're desire to party.  From the nerdy Chuck (John Philbin) to the preppy Tina to the punk-rockers Trash (Linnea Quigley), Scuz (Brian Peck), and Suicide, they are each memorable for certain characteristics.  For example, Suicide is a large, burly man who is convinced that his leather-and-chains get-up is representative of his thuggish status, which he believes to be a lifestyle.  The previously mentioned Chuck is nothing more than a geek who handles the boom-box and tries his best to be cool, but more than often fails.  Of the gang, the only "normal" members, besides Chuck, would be Tina, Spider (Miguel Nunez Jr.), Casey (Jewel Shepard), and even Freddy, who are only there for the comradery, or in the case of Tina, her boyfriend.

As a zombie movie, Return of the Living Dead sets up new ideas that would become standard for the genre, while also flipping the notion on many of the established concepts.  They may shuffle, but these zombies tend to run and pounce on their targets to eat brains, which has since been recognized as the primary choice of meat the undead prefer.  These creatures are also intelligent, to a certain degree; while they never drive vehicles in the movie, they are capable of operating machinery and can talk, which they use to bait those who wander into the cemetery.  However, one major shake-up from what we perceive about zombies is how they are killed.  As mentioned before, destroying the head doesn't kill them, not even total dismemberment.  Even if burning does eliminate them, for a price, you immediately recognize that there's a strong probability none of the characters might survive the entire picture.

For all the right this movie does, it does fall prey to some of the dumb clich├ęs horror films are known for.  Throughout the film, characters make plenty of bad moves; for example, after unleashing the gas in the warehouse, Frank and Freddy don't immediately call the number written on the barrel, thinking that bringing the army to the place might jeopardize Burt's business and reputation.  If they had done this early one, the two might have saved a lot of lives and prevented a small nuke from being dropped at the end of the film.  Also, the Louisville Police dispatch is quite easily duped by a moaning, undead voice asking for more paramedics and cops to show up at the graveyard.  What is probably the stupidest moment, though, is Tina's insistence that she stay in the chapel with Freddy even though him and Frank are clearly on the verge of total zombification, so it comes as no surprise to the viewer when he starts attacking Tina, trying to get her brain.

Despite being made on a small budget of four million dollars, the make-up and practical effects have aged relatively well, mostly.  At times, the limited amount of cash does show, namely with how most of the zombies are clearly regular people covered with pale face-paint or mud, but there are other effects that are quite the show-stoppers.  The best example is the corpse in the barrel, who is nothing more than a skeleton being held together by the melting, dripping flesh on his body, resulting in movement that makes him an unsettling sight to watch.  Then there's the soundtrack, which features songs that fit the punk-rock, B-movie tone of the picture.  Even if one doesn't like punk music, there's no denying that the tracks set the mood right, especially the song "Partytime" by 45 Grave, which is heard when the dead begin to rise in masse.

Stylish, scary, delightful; these are words that best summarize Return of the Living Dead.  Like the punk-rockers in the film, it's a picture that strays from the norms of the zombie genre to create an experience that is harrowing, but also fun.  It's not perfect, but for those that want to kick back and relax, alone or with others, and enjoy a riotous time, this is a good choice.

Final Score: 8/10