CLUE (1985)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Directed by: Jonathan Lynn

Written by: Jonathan Lynn & John Landis

(based on the board game CLUE)

Starring: Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn, Lesley Ann Warren, Eileen Brennan, Michael McKean, Colleen Camp & Lee Ving

Even back in the 80s, Hollywood was trying to turn anything into a movie. 2012’s BATTLESHIP and 2014’s OUIJA were nothing new, because 1985’s CLUE was the first board game to get the big screen treatment. However, this film didn’t fare too well in its original theatrical run. It was considered to be a box office flop and received negative reviews. Still, it has since gone on to become a cult classic. Though this movie has its fans, CLUE is merely an okay comedy.

It’s a dark and stormy night in 1954 New England. A group of six strangers have been invited to a strange mansion. The guests have been instructed to use pseudonyms in order to avoid giving away their real identities. They all have one thing in common and the person holding that secret is the smarmy Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving). As the evening goes on, Mr. Boddy winds up dead and more murders soon follow. Who is the killer?

The titular board game’s cards are brought to life by an ensemble cast. Some of these performers are given more to do than others, but none of them are bland. One of the film’s biggest highlights is Christopher Lloyd as perverted psychiatrist Professor Plum, while Martin Mull is comically over-the-top as Colonel Mustard. Madeline Kahn plays Miss White like a short-haired, widowed Morticia Addams. Eileen Brennan is far more annoying than funny as the loud-mouthed, obnoxious Mrs. Peacock. Lesley Ann Warren is fun as Ms. Scarlet, though she mostly plays off other characters and doesn’t get much of her own time to shine. I’ll mention Michael McKean’s Mr. Green in a moment.

The film’s screenplay also throws two original characters into the mix. These being: Tim Curry’s Wadsworth and Colleen Camp’s Yvette. The latter succeeds at being a sexy French maid, receiving a couple of decent chuckles. However, Tim Curry steals the show as butler Wadsworth. His scene-chewing line delivery and jovial demeanor elevates this film above its sloppily written script. Curry’s best scene lies in the finale, which features him frantically running/yelling through the house to explain the sequence of events that we’ve already seen…all leading up to the reveal of the murderer.

CLUE had a cool gimmick upon its original theatrical release. Different theaters received the movie with one of three possible endings. There were originally four filmed endings, but the director scrapped the last one. The modern cut of the film has all three endings included (tied together with humorous title cards). However, only one of them makes any damn sense, while the others open up gaping plot holes and lapses in logic. I know this movie is primarily a light-hearted comedy, but it also sells itself as a murder-mystery. It’s only marginally successful at being the former and not very good at being the latter.

As a comedy, CLUE’s humor ranges from biting dialogue to macabre silliness. Besides the already-mentioned Tim Curry’s zany antics, Michael McKean’s Mr. Green delivers solid slapstick and gets one of the funniest closing lines in cinema history. Unfortunately, CLUE has a tendency to run its jokes into the ground with repeated punchlines and scenes that drag for far too long. This is evident from a dog crap gag that’s played for a total six(!) possible laughs and only two of them work. More of these overlong moments also occur when characters split up to search the house and pose corpses in positions to fool a snooping police officer. These bits provide a few laughs at first and then become dull through their sheer length.

Don’t get me wrong. CLUE has its merits. I love the characters of Professor Plum, Wadsworth, and Mr. Green. This film has genuinely funny moments and throws a handful of clever twists at the viewer. However, the jokes tend to get milked for far too long and there are also some unnecessary twists that open up a series of plot holes. Only one of the three endings works too and, luckily, it’s the third ending that the film closes out on. CLUE is a fun watch, but suffers from lots of problems that are impossible to ignore.

Grade: B-

ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

AnimalHouse poster

Directed by: John Landis

Written by: Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller & Harold Ramis

Starring: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Thomas Hulce, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes, James Daughton, Mark Metcalf, Kevin Bacon, John Vernon, Donald Sutherland, Karen Allen, Mary Louise Weller & Martha Smith

The 70’s changed the face of cinema in many ways. Graphic violence, on-screen sex, complex anti-heroes, gritty dramas that didn’t have happy endings, and the concept of summer blockbusters became mainstream during this decade. Another kind of film emerged in the 70’s, the hard R-rated sex comedy. 1978’s ANIMAL HOUSE is a classic that holds up perfectly and has often been imitated in many modern comedies. Films like REVENGE OF THE NERDS, SUPERBAD, AMERICAN PIE and many more raunchy flicks wouldn’t exist without ANIMAL HOUSE. This first National Lampoon cinematic outing is well-written, well-acted, well-executed and a hilarious riot the whole way through.

AnimalHouse 1

The year is 1962. Faber College has numerous fraternities, but two houses stick out on the campus. Omega Theta Pi is a prestigious snobby institution, while neighboring Delta Tau Chi is a rundown retreat for drunken slobs and sex-crazed jerks. Stuffed-shirt Dean Wormer (John Vernon) isn’t thrilled about Delta’s existence and begins to do everything within his power to expel them from the school. His plan begins with placing Delta house on “Double Secret Probation.” This doesn’t stop the Deltas from partying their asses off, drinking kegs upon kegs of beer, having gratuitous sex, and making a mockery of the college system. It’s all great fun as the movie feels like one big party.

AnimalHouse 2

I’ve summarized the film’s overarching story, but this story is actually made up of smaller plots. We see the Deltas uniting against Dean Wormer, provoking the Omegas, and partying…but the script frequently focuses on individual Delta members. Nice guy Boon (Peter Riegert) is being pressured to grow up by his girlfriend (Karen Allen). This subplot runs on a down-to-earth progression and satisfying climax. Overweight Flounder (Stephen Furst) is frequently abused by ROTC commander Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf). This storyline has one of the funniest scenes in the entire film. New pledge Pinto (Thomas Hulce) has an equally great plot thread involving a fling with a supermarket clerk (Sarah Holcomb). Notably, the character of Otter (Tim Matheson) helped introduce mainstream audiences to the concept of a “MILF” (with obvious help from THE GRADUATE) and grizzled D-Day (Bruce McGill) is a colorful presence in the film.

AnimalHouse 3

ANIMAL HOUSE remains remarkably raunchy today. Audiences in the 70’s were shocked by the onslaught of sexual humor, drunken chaos and rowdy fun…and they obviously loved it, because the film made its budget back 47 times (totally just over 141 million dollars in its theatrical run). Though many SNL cast members (including Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd) turned down roles in the film, John Belushi stars as the scene-stealing Bluto and became one of the biggest comedy stars of the time. Lesser-known performers in the rest of the main roles add an unexpected sense of realism, though Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen went on to have successful film careers. Meanwhile, Donald Sutherland has three great scenes as a down-to-earth English professor who doesn’t adhere to a strict code of conduct.

AnimalHouse 4

The key to ANIMAL HOUSE’s success and charm is that the film is fun from start to finish. The jokes don’t only revolve around profanity, sex and drinking. Instead, the script makes clever choices that come out of left field (I hadn’t seen this film before. Shame on me. I know). An alcohol-fueled toga party, a road trip to a certain bar and Otter’s attempt to pick up a blind date all provide fantastic laughs. The memorable finale is a satisfying sequence of chaos that caps the entire experience off. Besides moving at a rapid pace and bringing a variety of different jokes to the table (ranging from visual gags to great dialogue to uncomfortable situations), ANIMAL HOUSE also has a great soundtrack that perfectly matches its proceedings and adds to the overall jovial tone.

AnimalHouse 5

ANIMAL HOUSE is a fantastic comedy that introduced the R-rated humor frequently seen in the decades following its release. The film has believable characters, great writing that balances a number of different types of humor, goes into raunchy places with hilarious glee, and is 100% pure fun! ANIMAL HOUSE is rude, crude, lewd…and revels in those qualities with talent that easily cements its status as a classic comedy. This film has been celebrated and should remain celebrated for decades to come. If you haven’t seen this film yet, then sit back with a group of a good friends, grab a keg of beer, maybe put on a toga and enjoy a classic that still influences comedies to this day!

Grade: A+

TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Horror Violence throughout, Language and brief Drug Use

THalloween poster

Directed by: Dave Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Paul Solet, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Written by: Dave Parker, Clint Sears, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Andrew Kasch, John Skipp, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin & Neil Marshall

Starring: Barry Bostwick, Lin Shaye, John Savage, Pat Healy, BooBoo Stewart, Grace Phipps, Alex Esso & Kristina Klebe

TALES OF HALLOWEEN is arguably the most ambitious horror film to hit VOD during this spooky season. This Halloween-themed anthology has eleven directors telling ten stories that take place over the course of one night. However, the only real connections between these tales are a radio announcer (Adrienne Barbeau) who occasionally pops in and small lines of dialogue uttered by certain characters. So, an actual flowing wraparound between these segments is virtually nonexistent, but this anthology does give us an excuse to watch ten short films all centered around the scariest holiday of the year. It’s definitely no TRICK ‘R TREAT, but TALES OF HALLOWEEN is a fun flick that’s perfect for this time of year. As with every anthology that I review, I will focus on each short individually before ranking the film as a whole…

1. Sweet Tooth

SWEET TOOTH: Dave Parker (THE HILLS RUN RED) directs and writes this story about a kid who discovers a local urban legend of a candy-eating monster. Seeing that this is a horror anthology, you have a good idea as to whether or not the monster is real. This segment has some creativity to it and a nice set-up, but doesn’t fully come to a satisfying ending. You know where everything is going as soon as it starts and there was room for this short to go a little darker in its finale. B-

2. Night Billy Raised Hell

THE NIGHT BILLY RAISED HELL: Darren Lynn Bousman’s contribution to this film is the first solid segment. This one follows a little boy who finds himself committing horrible “pranks” on Halloween under the guidance of a creepy old man. This segment is definitely more comedic than I was expecting, but I quickly warmed up to its dark sense of humor and cheesy sound effects. Also, the ending was a nice touch! B+

TRICK: A group of adults find themselves terrorized by some particularly violent trick-or-treaters. This segment had a lot of potential, especially seeing how one legitimately shocking moment occurs near the beginning. It quickly turns into a simple cat-and-mouse game that, while effective and to the point, doesn’t pack nearly enough of a punch as it should have. B

4. Weak and Wicked

THE WEAK AND THE WICKED: Paul Solet (who previously penned 2009’s brilliantly bloody GRACE) sadly underwhelms with this fourth segment. The story revolves around some violent bullies who find themselves confronted by a would-be vigilante. Though the effects are cool during the final minutes, the story is pretty silly and never really had me engaged. You’ve seen this sort of short film before and I’d guess that you’ve seen it in many different ways. C

5. Grim Grinning Ghost

GRIM GRINNING GHOST: Director/writer Axelle Carolyn makes up for Solet’s disappointing short with this highly effective and atmospheric one. A young woman hears a spooky ghost story at a Halloween party and soon finds herself on edge as she walks home through dark, fog-laden streets. It’s not exactly hard to guess where this short will eventually end up, but I really enjoyed the whole execution of it. This segment actually got two solid jumps out of me with its scares and playfully thwarted potentially cheap moments. Though it’s not exactly original, this short is extremely well-done and scary nonetheless. A-

6. Ding Dong

DING DONG: Lucky McKee is one of the most well-known directors of this anthology (with MAY and THE WOMAN in his filmography) and that’s why this sixth segment is so very disappointing. The plot revolves around an odd couple and I don’t really want to say more for fear of spoiling some of the few redeeming factors. Pollyanna McIntosh was brilliant in THE WOMAN and I just don’t know what the hell she’s doing here. Meanwhile, Marc Senter (who’s been fantastic in THE LOST and RED, WHITE & BLUE) makes the most of the material he’s given. There’s definitely an interesting idea at the center of this short, but the execution feels cheap and far from fully developed. C-

7. This Means War

THIS MEANS WAR: The best short of this entire anthology belongs to Andrew Kasch and John Skipp! Combining a great sense of humor with horror, this story focuses on an erupting battle between two neighbors with very different tastes in Halloween decorations. The segment plays out like a really nasty piece of dark comedy and I absolutely loved it. It also helps that production values are rock solid (that’s true of the next two shorts as well) and it’s all very fast-paced. Though I guessed the ending before it actually happened, that didn’t make it any less satisfying. This is easily my favorite segment of this anthology! A

8. Friday the 31st

FRIDAY THE 31ST: The award for most bizarre entry in this anthology goes to Mike Mendez (director of the appropriately titled BIG ASS SPIDER!). This segment starts out as a slasher-esque bit that turns into something else entirely. I won’t say what because a lot of the fun comes from the goofy “what the hell am I watching?!?” tone in this segment. I haven’t seen any of Mendez’s other work, but this short strikes me as the work of someone who could potentially become the next Sam Raimi. In other words, this short is cheesy, goofy and a friggin’ blast! B+

THE RANSOM OF RUSTY REX: This segment stands out as my second favorite of the film. Two kidnappers find their plan falling apart after one horrible mistake. That’s all I’ll say, because this segment is really fun to watch. An over-the-top sense of humor is combined with creepy horror, but this story leans slightly more on the scary side than THIS MEANS WAR did. The two performances of the leads as well as one well-placed cameo and some stellar make-up effects make this into the second-best of these ten shorts. Also, I would easily watch a feature-length horror-comedy centered around this premise. A

10. Bad Seed

BAD SEED: Neill Marshall has brought us enjoyable flicks in the past, such as THE DESCENT, DOOMSDAY, and CENTURION. Now, he brings us a short about a killer pumpkin. That’s right. A cop is investigating a killer pumpkin on Halloween night and we see this occur for about 10 minutes. Think of this short as a Halloween-centered version of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES…but with pumpkins. I really wanted to enjoy this short and there were a couple of goofy moments that worked. However, I felt that this segment was a weak way to close out the film, especially given how it ends. At least, the always enjoyable Pat Healy shows up for a few minutes. C+

11. Overall

TALES is the second horror anthology to come out this year that’s based around a holiday and features a radio host as the main connection between the stories (the first is A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY). Like that other holiday anthology, TALES OF HALLOWEEN has a mixed bag of segments. There are bad ones (Lucky McKee’s and Paul Solet’s), so-so ones (Neil Marshall’s and Dave Parker’s) as well as some good ones (Mike Mendez’s and Darren Lynn Bousman’s) and fantastic ones (Ryan Schifrin’s, Andrew Kasch’s and John Skipp’s). The good far outweighs the bad though! If you’re looking for a fun anthology that’s perfect for this time of year, then TALES OF HALLOWEEN won’t disappoint.

Grade: B

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

TZone poster

Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

Starring: Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd, Vic Morrow, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Martin Gamer, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy & John Lithgow

From 1959 until 1964, Rod Serling made a splash on the small screen with a hugely influential and acclaimed anthology series called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The episodes could range from scary to heartfelt and almost always had an otherworldly edge around them. During the early 80’s, four influential directors became attached to a big screen adaptation of Serling’s small screen series. Drawing inspiration from original episodes and turning them into four distinct segments of this movie, each director delivers their signature style in a TWILIGHT ZONE story of their own. What results is a sometimes mixed bag, but mostly quality horror/sci-fi anthology. Now, onto the stories themselves…

MCDTWZO EC001

PROLOGUE: This opening segment (running at just under 10 minutes) follows two men driving along a desolated road. When the radio breaks, the pair entertain themselves through casual conversation and little road games, but this all takes a dark turn when one man asks the other if he wants to see something “really scary.” This opening runs a bit too long as it’s just one big set-up for a jump scare that is tame by today’s standards. This brief prologue is not particularly great, but still has its charming qualities. B-

MSDTWZO EC010

TIME OUT: Bill Connor is an ill-tempered bigot. After getting drunk at a bar and going on a verbal insult spree against black people, Asians, and Jews, Bill finds himself stuck in a shifting timeline of hatred as he runs for his life from Nazis, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the KKK. This segment gave the film notoriety after a fatal on-stage accident claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors. That tragedy and legal trial overshadow what is a fairly good story with a grim moral message. In spite of never actually completing this segment (which originally had a far more uplifting ending), the continuity blends together well. It’s a dark segment with great acting from Vic Morrow as a hate-filled man forced to sympathize with those he despises. Good moral, good ending, but a horrible on-stage accident casts a shadow over the whole film. A-

MSDTWZO EC006

KICK THE CAN: It’s pretty easy to identify the worst story in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Ironically enough, it comes from the biggest name out of the four directors. Steven Spielberg strays from the dark and eerie tone of the rest of the anthology to tell a charming/cheesy story about old folks in a retirement home recovering their youth in a magical game of Kick the Can. This segment starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into an overly sappy, melodramatic mess. Besides the story going far too over-the-top and not tonally blending in with the rest of the film, the child actors are really bad. It seems that Spielberg had the kids try to imitate elderly people as opposed to just being kids and it doesn’t work at all. C-

MCDTWZO EC003

IT’S A GOOD LIFE: Based on one of the TWILIGHT ZONE’s best episodes, this story follows a schoolteacher who befriends a young child named Anthony. After she driving Anthony to his home, it becomes quickly clear that his living situation is abnormal to say the least. The teacher quickly learns the frightening truth that the saying “If you can dream it, you can do it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Anthony. This second best installment of the bunch manages to nail down the right balance of over-the-top and scary. It starts off a little slow, but quickly gains momentum with impressive visuals and a crazy storyline. Honestly, I think director Joe Dante would have been right at home doing a whole TWILIGHT ZONE anthology all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have this film’s closing segment (more on that in a moment). A

MSDTWZO EC003

NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET: Talk about going out on a high (no pun intended), NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET is an adaptation that’s actually better than the iconic episode that inspired it. A nervous passenger on an airplane is flying through a turbulent storm. He’s scared out of his wits, but tries to maintain a positive attitude that the plane will land in once piece…that is, until he sees something on the wing of the plane. This story truly is the best this film has to offer. Directed by George Miller (the same man who brought us the MAD MAX series), NIGHMARE AT 20,000 FEET literally feels like a nightmare put onto the screen. To merely call this story intense or creepy would be doing a disservice to the material. Aided by John Lithgow’s stellar performance, Miller manages to capture a sense of claustrophobic chaos that will have you on the edge of your seat through the whole story. Also, there’s a nice call-back to an early segment that will at least get a chuckle out of you (if not a shiver down your spine as well). A+

MSDTWZO EC009

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is, like most anthologies, a bit of a mixed bag. There’s only one really disappointing story (ironically enough, it happens to be from the most accomplished director attached to this project), a decent prologue, and three tales that measure up to varying degrees of greatness. This film is worth seeing if only for the last two segments. Overall, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an anthology film that’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑