Stephen King’s It — A Review

The Monster Squad ain't got nothing on us!

The Monster Squad ain’t got nothing on us!

I was never the type who was afraid of clowns. That didn’t stop me from enjoying Stephen King’s novel It, which was a massive (over 1000 pages long) book that could also be used for home protection just by flinging it at a burglar. The central villain in King’s epic book was a clown named Pennywise who stalked and tormented a group of children in the summer of 1960. The book took an interesting slant by actually being two separate stories: the first battle against Pennywise by the kids in the summer of 1960, and the second battle, occurring thirty years later, when the now-grown children reunite to battle Pennywise one last time when he comes back to stalk children in the dingy Maine town of Derry.

C'mere, darling, and give yer old Pennywise a great big hug!

C’mere, darling, and give yer old Pennywise a great big hug!

Stephen King’s It was produced into a two part mini-series that aired on TV back in November of 1990, and this fall of 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the TV version. I wish I could say that it was a superb mini-series. But even while I enjoyed the novel, I always considered It to be one of King’s lesser books, anyway. It was still vastly entertaining, but I was never really scared at any point in the novel. And I have the same problem with the mini-series overall: it’s uneven and just not very scary. But the miniseries has two saving graces: The first half, with the children back in 1960 is riveting, thanks to the superb performances of the kids, who’re led by Jonathan Brandis (SeaQuest: DSV). The other saving grace is the actor who they hired to play Pennywise, Tim Curry.

What bedtime story shall Pennywise read for ya, huh? C'mon, don't be shy....

What bedtime story shall Pennywise read for ya, huh? C’mon, don’t be shy….

Yes, Doctor Frank ‘N’ Footer from The Rocky Horror Picture show was cast as the central villain here, and his performance is one of the best things about this film. Curry, with his large, bulbous eyes, is visually striking as Pennywise the Clown, but he also employs a darkly comic savage streak in the character that always livens up the dull surroundings. Curry is one of the main reasons to watch It, for his gleefully maniacal performance is very welcome–especially within the oddly listless and bland second half of the mini-series (and as good as Curry is in this, it’s ironic to note that, when first offered Pennywise, Curry turned it down, not wanting to deal with the make up process. It was only when the director, Tommy Lee Wallace, promised to simplify the make up that Curry signed on).

Never should have left the Walton's farm, nope. Big mistake there....

Never should have left the Walton’s farm, nope. Big mistake there….

But despite solid actors like Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Tim Reid, and Annette O’Toole playing the adult cast, you never feel any real sense of them being in danger, which drags down the second half. When Curry terrorizes them, I enjoy these scenes more for Curry’s performance, and he easily steals every scene he’s in. But we’re ultimately denied a showdown with Pennywise, thanks to King’s rationale for the character, which is that he winds up being some weird, huge alien spider that uses the clown persona as a mask of sorts. So we’re reduced to watching the adult cast battle a giant alien spider puppet, which looks just as silly as it sounds.

Still, horror movie buffs, as well as Stephen King fans, may enjoy this version, as well as some interesting trivia. The director, Tommy Lee Wallace, worked with John Carpenter back in the day. Specifically, Wallace worked on Carpenter’s original Halloween, where he played the villain (he was uncredited). So what this basically means, my children, is that Stephen King’s It was directed by none other than Michael Meyers. Cue the Halloween music. –SF

Supergirl — a review of the pilot

Up, up and away....

Up, up and away….

Supergirl is back! Melissa Benoist stars as Kara Danvers/Supergirl who comes to Earth as the protector of little baby Kal-El (who would grow up to be Superman). The pilot explains that Kara was actually older than the baby; she’s about twelve when she’s launched into space in a single occupant rocket right after Kal-El. Why couldn’t they just sent them both to Earth in a single ship? Well that’s because the plot requires Kara’s ship to get lost in the Phantom Zone, first. This allows baby Kal-El to arrive at Earth and grow up to become Superman (we never actually see Supes, mind you; this is strictly Supergirl’s show).

When Kara finally arrives, having been mysteriously freed from the Phantom Zone (the how and why she escaped is a story thread that will probably be picked up later in the season) she’s now younger than Superman, who sends her to live with the nice Danvers family (in a great bit of casting, they’re played by Helen Slater, who played Supergirl in the 1984 film, and Dean Cain, the Man of Steel in Lois & Clark: the Adventures of Superman). When she grows up, Kara gets a crappy job working for super cranky Cat Grant (well-played to cheekily humorous effect by Calista Flockhart in another bit of inspired casting).

Listen, I'm married to the guy who plays Han Solo and Indiana Jones, so you can just consider me unimpressed.

Listen, I’m married to the guy who plays Han Solo and Indiana Jones, so you can just consider me unimpressed.

After suppressing her superpowers for all her life, Kara finally dives into action in an extraordinary sequence where she saves a stricken airliner that her sister happens to be on board. From this point on, the show only gains even more momentum as Kara decides to go all-in with the super-heroics, by enlisting her friend-blocked boy buddy Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) for help with figuring out her costume. Supergirl is a blast of fresh air, a light and airy show with an enchanting lead actress whose winsome performance is so picture perfect that you starting rooting for her from the moment she shows up on screen.

This looks like a job for Supergirl!

This looks like a job for Supergirl!

Produced by the same team who gave us Arrow and The Flash on the CW, Supergirl thankfully eschews the dark and gritty tone that worked so well for the cinematic Batman, but not for other superheroes (such as the recent Man of Steel). At first Kara shies away from using her powers to help people, because her cousin Superman is already out there. But she steps up to the plate willingly, and is genuinely eager to help people however she can, and the world winds up being a better place for her efforts. No angst, no whiny drama, just plenty of high-soaring fun, and a wonderful series for little girls (as well as children of all ages) to enjoy. –SF

A Blast From The Past: Space Academy

Lo and behold! It’s Space Academy! This science fiction series first aired on CBS back in the fall of 1977–the year of Star Wars! Actually, science fiction in both TV and movies owed a debt to Star Wars back then for showing that there’s a ready and willing audience for the genre.

Space Academy starred Jonathan Harris, best known as Doctor Smith on Lost in Space, as the leader of a space academy that’s built into an asteroid. Under his command were a group of fresh-faced space cadets who were so hopped up they all looked like they consumed way too much energy drinks.

Despite the fact that the spaceships that ferried our stalwart heroes to and from danger looked a lot like the land rover from Ark II (another super ’70s sci-fi series that I watched religiously as a kid), I thought this was a really cool show! Of course, I was just a kid then, so cut me some slack. 😉

After witnessing the glorious cheesiness in its first episode, I have to say that I still enjoy it now–only for completely different reasons. Space Academy only ran for fifteen episodes before being cancelled, making it just a blip on the pop culture radar. Still, it’s fun in its own way, and it’s worth a look for Lost in Space fans who want to see Harris in something different. I just like watching it again for the flood of nostalgia it provides. 🙂 –SF

Man Of Steel’s Amy Adams on Smallville

I just saw this while surfing the web. Actress Amy Adams, who played Lois Lane in Man Of Steel (and who is a superb actress in other films like Big Eyes and The Master), has appeared on an episode of Smallville, the infamous “no tights, no flights” version of Superman starring Tom Welling.

So now we know that Adams has acted against two versions of Superman.

Curse of Chucky — a review

Heeerree's Chucky!

Heeerree’s Chucky!

Chucky’s back! Looks like you can’t keep a good doll down, not as long as studio accountants keep informing the brass that they need more dough. And voila, another Chucky adventure is cranked out. If Jason and Freddy were the Frankenstein and Dracula equivalent of 80’s horror, then Chucky must be their version of The Creature From The Black Lagoon: the very last classic movie monster of his era to stalk across movie screens of the 1980s. The first Chucky movie (known as Child’s Play, directed by Tom Holland) came out in 1988, and I saw it in the theater, just like the first Nightmare on Elm Street film. And just like the Nightmare series that came afterwards, I avoided the Chucky sequels, waiting until they hit video/cable, because they posted diminishing returns with each entry.

Pssstt, behind you....

Pssstt, behind you….

Curse of Chucky was released in 2013, the 25th anniversary of the release of the original film, and it deals with a disabled woman named Nica (Fiona Dourif) who lives in a spacious house with her mother. They receive a package containing the Chucky doll, with no indication of who sent it to them or why. Not having seen the previous films, Nica’s mother merely throws out the doll in the garbage. Big mistake. After hearing her mother let out a blood-curdling scream, Nica finds her mom dead on the floor, with Chucky mysteriously back inside the house, acting all doll-like. Nica’s sister–along with her husband, daughter, and nanny–comes over to help Nica, and inadvertently offering Chucky more fresh meat.

That doll is well named--he makes me want to upchuck.

That doll is well named–he makes me want to upchuck.

It’s the same basic story, with Chucky acting like a regular doll long enough to be able to kill his victim in various gory ways (all gleefully shown as graphically gory as possible). One interesting fact about this production is that Fiona Dourif, who plays the wheelchair-bound Nica, is the daughter of veteran actor Brad Dourif, who has provided the voice of Chucky over the course of his (so far) six film career. Fiona is very good, and extremely sympathetic; her performance was what drew me into the film. But the entire cast here is superb, and they’re working with a smart script that manages to throw in a twist or two that I couldn’t see coming.

This is a neat trick...really! Just let me set it up for you right here. Don't move, OK?

This is a neat trick…really! Just let me set it up for you right here. Don’t move, OK?

While I admit to not being a big fan of this series, I still enjoyed this one. But the folks who are major fans of Chucky might really get a kick out of this entry, because it refers to many aspects of the earlier movies (including having a cameo from a past star). But because this film is very tightly paced, and filled with scenes of nerve-wracking suspense as Chucky plays cat and mouse with Nica, Curse of Chucky manages to stand on its own. Even if you’re not a big fan of the series and have never seen any of the previous films, (and assuming you don’t mind gore-filled kill scenes), Curse of Chucky may still be a fun Halloween entry for you. –SF

Insidious Chapter Three — a review

Excuse me, did somebody just burp back there? At least I hope it was a burp....

Excuse me, did somebody just burp back there? At least I hope it was a burp….

“If you call out to one of the dead, all of them can hear you.”

The dead must use a party line or something. You’d think they’d upgrade, but maybe the cell service is pretty bad on the other side, which is why we need to contact the dead through psychics like Elise Rainier (Lynn Shayne). But she’s been retired for many years when young Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) shows up at her door, hoping to hire Elise to contact her deceased mother. Elise at first refuses, but considering the kid had traveled far to see her, she decides to give a reading. But whoever–or whatever–she contacts isn’t Quinn’s mother, and with a feeling of dread, Elise tells Quinn that she’s unable to connect with mom, and that it might be a good idea to stop trying to contact her, citing the line that I’ve opened this review with.

The other side sure ain't very well lit.

The other side sure ain’t very well lit.

Fans of the earlier Insidious films may be wondering what Elise is doing back at this point, but writer/director Leigh Whannell (who once again plays Specs) had set this third film in the Insidious series a few years before the haunting of the Lambert family in the first two films. Chapter 3 of the saga seems to be getting off to a slow start until Whannell literally broadsides us with a shocker of a scene where Quinn nearly gets killed. She survives, just barely, but when she returns home several weeks later, the strange goings-on only increase as something begins stalking her in the dark.

Maybe it'll go away if I keep pretending to be listening for oncoming trains!

Maybe it’ll go away if I keep pretending to be listening for oncoming trains!

It’s basically Insidious meets Rear Window as the hapless Quinn must now fend off the supernatural creepy-crawlies while stuck with two broken legs. And you know what? It works very well. By setting the events several years before the first film Whannell has created an ’origin’ film showing how the ghost hunting team from the first film meet. But more importantly than that is the fact that all of the characters in this film are fully fleshed out, with Elise having a character arc that renders her a fully dimensional human being.

Uh...you're not my regular nurse back there, are you?

Uh…you’re not my regular nurse back there, are you?

The scares are very intense, coming at you just when you least expect them, and they’re bloodless–Whannell thankfully continues the ’no gore’ rule that made the first film so much fun. But he also creates a new villain in the same creepy vein as the demonic entity seen in the first film. Just when most film series start showing signs of age, Insidious keeps rolling right on with its third entry, that’s just as enjoyable as the first two. And, taking place as it does before the first movie, Insidious 3 serves as a great introduction to this series. –SF

It Follows — a review

P...N...X...this has got to be the weirdest eye exam I've ever taken!

P…N…X…this has got to be the weirdest eye exam I’ve ever taken!

It’s rare that a horror movie these days tries to go for a creepy feel. Doing a creepy vibe is hard, especially when so many horror movie fans would rather the filmmakers just get to the ‘meat’ of the story right away. It seems as if some horror fans won’t be satisfied unless somebody is gorily killed off within the first five minutes of a movie. Well, It Follows has that perquisite in that a young woman is seen being stalked in the opening minutes of the film. But we’re never shown who or what she’s running from exactly, and when she’s killed, we see a shot of her horribly mangled body well after the fact.

But that opening scene serves its purpose: thanks to its stylish, continuous single take shot showing a young woman losing her shit on an upscale suburban street, to the shot showing her grisly demise (without showing you how she wound up being so badly mangled), you’re hooked. I was pulled right into writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s fascinating and compelling story of teenagers who wind up being haunted by some kind of ’thing’ after they have sex. To say it serves as a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease is pretty obvious, but It Follows also stands very tall as a well-made horror film.

This looks like a job for the Scooby Gang!

This looks like a job for the Scooby Gang!

Maika Monroe stars as Jay, who has been dating a really nice guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). But Hugh is not what he appears to be. In a nice twist from the teenage guy who loves a girl and then dumps her, Hugh proceeds to explain the unique post coital situation that Jay finds herself in by showing her the dreadful creature that arrives to do her in. The thing has no name, but it changes form at the blink of an eye and only its prey can see it. Think of it as being a supernatural version of the Terminator robots where it just keeps on coming, no matter what.

Why's everybody's running away? Oh, wait, it's behind me again, isn't it?

Why’s everybody’s running away? Oh, wait, it’s behind me again, isn’t it?

Shot in a great, low-key, slow burn manner, It Follows depicts its horror scenes with the same bluntness as its everyday moments, and that makes it even more creepier. You’re forced to look through a crowd for the thing, and after a few seconds, you spot it coming right at you, and in that instant, you have a good idea of what Jay feels in that moment. If you prefer a non-gory horror film that builds up its scares slowly through its fully fleshed out characters and rich atmosphere, then give It Follows a shot. –SF