THE EXORCIST (1973)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language and Disturbing Images

Directed by: William Friedkin

Written by: William Peter Blatty

(based on the novel THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty)

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn & Jack MacGowran

Of all the genres to win Academy Awards and be critically acclaimed, horror seems to frequently get dealt a raw deal. The horror genre is often seen as a bit of a black sheep among other cinematic genres, lending itself more towards exploitation and ridicule than its competition. However, there exists a crowning achievement of a horror movie that gained wide critical acclaim, won prestigious awards, and is celebrated as one of the greatest films of all-time. This groundbreaking title is William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST.

After a strange artifact is unearthed at an Iraqi archeological dig, elderly Catholic priest Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) braces himself for an inevitable supernatural struggle between the forces of good and evil. Meanwhile in Georgetown, actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has become deeply concerned over her 12-year-old daughter Regan’s (Linda Blair) increasingly strange behavior. Little Regan has been doing all sorts of crazy things, like: violently cussing out random folks, spider-crawling down the stairs, and masturbating with a crucifix. It appears that Regan has been possessed by a demon…or she might just have a serious mental disorder…but it’s most likely a demon. All the while, boxer-turned-priest Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) looks into the possibility of an exorcism for Regan.

Besides being scary as hell (I’ll get to that in a moment), THE EXORCIST is a very powerful film. The characters are fleshed out in ways that make the viewer feel connected to each of them for different reasons. The mother-daughter relationship between Ellen Burstyn’s Chris and Linda Blair’s Regan is believable and touching. This is the film’s heartfelt center, though it certainly isn’t the only big story arc. Jason Miller’s Karras receives a great storyline as a psychologist-turned-priest who finds his faith tested in big ways. Karras’s journey is a deeply emotional one and arguably has the greatest resolution in this film. Also, there are hints that Max Von Sydow’s briefly seen Father Merrin has encountered this demon before and his entire life has been leading up to his priest-vs-demon confrontation.

Another subplot that weaves its way in and out of the main storylines (Karras’s struggle with faith and Regan’s demonic possession) involves a curious detective looking into a strange death. I don’t want to reveal too much about this subplot because it unexpectedly arrives at a certain point in the film, but this storyline plays a major part in the proceedings as well. Lee J. Cobb (who I mainly know as ON THE WATERFRONT‘s scummy villain) plays Detective William Kinderman. Even though there’s a demon possessing a small child and plenty of horror comes from that alone, Cobb’s curious cop adds an extra layer of suspense to the already tense proceedings. The way he interacts with major characters is entertaining to watch and the stunned look on his face during his final scene is priceless.

THE EXORCIST is beautifully executed in its connected plotlines and complex characters, but this is also a horror film and it’s a very scary one at that. The film utilizes both subtle terror and effects-heavy frights. The more subtle moments come in bits of editing that occasionally flash demon Pazuzu’s pale face across small bits of the film. There’s also a moment involving a Ouija board that sure to creep viewers out, even though the scare is seemingly insignificant. The film’s bigger frights involving shaking furniture, Regan’s spinning head, and (arguably) the film’s scariest visual features a freaky message appearing on Regan’s skin. THE EXORCIST’s best sequence is one of the most famous horror scenes of all-time: a lengthy exorcism that dominates the film’s final third.

THE EXORCIST remains chilling to this day and practically birthed an entire subgenre (though the other films in that subgenre are of a much lower quality). This classic doesn’t simply function as a frightening scary movie though, because there’s plenty of genuine human drama thrown into the mix as well. Like all of the best horror films, THE EXORCIST gets the audience invested in its characters and storyline, and then proceeds to scare the living shit out of them. The film also has an undeniable entertainment factor as the foul-mouthed possessed Regan (overdubbed by radio actress Mercedes McCambridge) utters infinitely quotable, filthy lines of dialogue. With all of these phenomenal qualities taken into account, THE EXORCIST holds its place as a must-see cinematic masterpiece!

Grade: A+

GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

Ghostbust2 poster

Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Written by: Harold Ramis & Dan Aykroyd

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts & Peter MacNicol

GHOSTBUSTERS dominated the 1984 box office. The summer blockbuster’s popularity grew to a point where it spawned a line of toys, a cartoon series that ran for seven seasons, and even an Ecto-Cooler drink. Five years after the original film’s massive success, a sequel was unleashed upon the masses. Within three days, GHOSTBUSTERS II had broken a box office record…that was quickly stolen away by BATMAN. Though the original GHOSTBUSTERS was well-received by critics and made a huge impact upon audiences, this sequel never found that same success. Part of this might be attributed to far too much studio interference, but I’d argue that most of it feels like GHOSTBUSTERS II is simply repeating familiar beats from the first film with far less enthusiasm.

Ghostbust2 1

Set five years after the first film, the Ghostbusters have turned into washed up has-beens. For some reason, New Yorkers have forgotten about a giant marshmallow man and ghost exterminators saving the day. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) have become children’s party performers, while wise-cracking Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a psychic television show and sociopathic scientist Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) conducts social experiments. The Ghostbusters are pulled out of retirement when they discover a pink stream of paranormally charged ectoplasm in New York’s sewer system. With another apocalypse-level event on the horizon and Venkman’s love-interest Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) back in town, the Ghostbusters reunite to uncover a mystery and save the day!

M8DGHTW EC003

GHOSTBUSTERS II had a slightly bigger budget than its predecessor and it’s clear that almost all of this extra cash went to the undeniably impressive special effects! There are many more apparitions this time around, besides a brief cameo from Slimer. Most of these ghosts are shown in a comedic montage that features the Ghostbusters doing what they do best and others are showcased around the massive stream of ectoplasm underneath the city. This sequel mostly opts for a more light-hearted atmosphere than the first film, featuring an over-the-top goofy Slimer, some brief comic relief spirits, and some cartoony prisoner ghosts. Still, it has a couple of creepy visuals in a famous ship finally arriving at port (probably my favorite scene in the film) and a floating nanny from hell.

Ghostbust2 3

Vigo the Carpathian (physically played by German wrestler Wilhelm von Homburg and voiced by Max von Sydow) serves as a solid antagonist…even if he’s defeated rather easily during an anti-climactic finale. His plans of world domination are quite similar to Gozer the Gozerian in the first film. In fact, GHOSTBUSTERS II seems to repeat a lot of beats from its predecessor to a slightly annoying degree. This is complete with the dumb plot hole of the Ghostbusters being forgotten at the beginning of the film and having to work their way back into the public eye once again. The plot plays out in a familiar fashion as they encounter a disbelieving dickhead official trying to stand in their way and there’s even a giant creature parading through the streets of New York City (though in this case, it’s eye-rolling and sappy).

Ghostbust2 4

Out of the returning cast members, nearly everyone seems dull or tired. Bill Murray is a comedic highlight, though he’s usually the highlight of any comedy. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis look bored, even though they wrote the screenplay. I’d be lying if I said that Ramis’s sociopathic scientist didn’t get a few giggles out of me though, especially in his introduction. Ernie Hudson also returns…to do absolutely nothing. Hudson’s character had more development in the predecessor, which is saying something because he hardly received any memorable moments the first time around. Sigourney Weaver seems to be appearing out of a contractual obligation and her chemistry with Murray is damn near non-existent in this second outing. Rick Moranis is still amusing as the nebbish accountant, but newcomer Peter MacNicol seems to be having a blast as villainous Vigo’s awkward assistant.

Ghostbust2 5

GHOSTBUSTERS II hits the typical pitfalls that plague many sequels. It simply repeats the formula that made the first film work and doesn’t add much new material to the mix. Even though the movie has a handful of solid moments and cool 80’s special effects, most of the cast looks bored and there aren’t as many laughs as one might hope. The energy that made the 1984 horror-comedy into a classic has noticeably decreased in this sequel. In only its second outing, the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise suffered from fatigue. As far as I’m concerned, this film is the biggest reason that GHOSTBUSTERS III was shelved.

Grade: C+

STAR WARS Episode VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

ForceAwakens poster

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams & Michael Arndt

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson & Max Von Sydow

More than a year after its teaser trailer and announcement excited fans everywhere, STAR WARS Episode VII has finally arrived! What better way to get into my review of this first entry in a brand new trilogy than by briefly recapping the past Episodes. Regarding the original trilogy, A NEW HOPE is great, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is perfect and RETURN OF THE JEDI is where the series began to reveal noticeable weaknesses. From 1999 to 2005, Lucas managed to piss off diehard fans with an underwhelming prequel trilogy that spent way too much time on stale romance, over-the-top humor, and useless plot details, than it did on having much fun with its space opera material. PHANTOM MENACE was a massive disappointment, while ATTACK OF THE CLONES was okay and REVENGE OF THE SITH was the best of the prequel trilogy (faint praise, I know). 32 years after the original trilogy concluded and a decade after the prequel trilogy annoyed, THE FORCE AWAKENS has emerged as a hugely entertaining opening chapter to a whole new era of STAR WARS.

ForceAwakens 1

Thirty years after Episode VI, Luke Skywalker has vanished. The only clue to finding Luke is a map stored inside the adorable little droid BB-8. A tyrannical new enemy, the First Order, has risen out of the Empire’s ashes and is viciously attempting to track down the map contained within BB-8. The masked Kylo Ren and his many stormtroopers encounter resistance as scavenger Rey, stormtrooper-turned-good-guy Finn, and X-wing pilot Poe try to safely get BB-8 (and the map) to rebel forces. Along for the ride are a couple of very familiar faces from the past.

ForceAwakens 2

Props to J.J. Abrams for capturing the tone of the original trilogy so perfectly. Many fans will be relieved to find that the prequels and THE FORCE AWAKENS are night and day. Abrams picks up in the decades-old remnants of Episode VI and it feels like almost no time has passed at all. Tonally, this is the same STAR WARS that original fans grew up with and kicked off the cultural phenomenon. The plot is simple and doesn’t feel the need to overcomplicate proceedings with unnecessary politics (e.g. conversations about taxes, diplomacy, and trade routes). This to-the-point screenplay allows room for the characters to grow and what great characters they are!

ForceAwakens 3

Obviously, everyone is excited that Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca are back. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher (who receives significantly less screen time than Ford) jump right back into the roles that made them famous as if not a second has passed them by. Even more impressive is the new blood that’s come into the series. Daisy Ridley is a bad-ass heroine for the ages (up there with Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Furiosa) as scavenger-turned-rebel Rey. John Boyega is wonderful as a stormtrooper who’s been given a second chance at life and delivers some of the best comic relief in the film. Oscar Isaac is great (though underused) as skilled pilot Poe, while Domhnall Gleeson (who starred alongside Isaac in EX MACHINA earlier this year) fills the shoes of an evil commander quite well. Adam Driver is a stand-out as the complicatedly evil Kylo Ren. I don’t want to tell you why his performance is so great (no spoilers), so I’ll leave it at that.

ForceAwakens 4

As fun, fast paced, and highly entertaining as THE FORCE AWAKENS is, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of faults that kept the movie from being perfect or amazing to me. One of which is some spotty CGI that’s employed mainly in two characters: a big eyed alien and the Supreme Leader Snoke, the new stand-in for the Emperor. The latter of these characters was done via motion capture with Andy Serkis and it just isn’t quite up to the level that we’ve seen Serkis work with before in other huge blockbusters (Gollum in LORD OF THE RINGS and Cesar in PLANET OF THE APES). These are two silly looking characters in an otherwise effects extravaganza as the rest of the aliens (mainly done through practical puppetry and costumes) look fantastic. There’s also one sequence involving a giant beastie or two (made entirely of CG) that look Lovecraftian in design and I loved that!

ForceAwakens 5

My second (and last) problem with Episode VII comes primarily from an overwhelming amount of hype and Abrams doing everything in his power to stick to a certain formula. As enjoyable as the plot of FORCE AWAKENS is, the story also hits many familiar beats that seemed to be put in purely for fan service. We get revised versions of a few scenes that have already occurred (multiple times) throughout the series, the key difference being that new characters are now placed in these well-worn scenarios. To say anything more would be giving away spoilers and I’m not about to do that, so I’ll leave my gripe intentionally vague. This isn’t a huge complaint though as I still had a blast watching this film, but it definitely leaves me hoping that Episodes VIII and IX will be more creative.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

Overall, Episode VII will likely satisfy legions of STAR WARS fanatics and ecstatic movie lovers alike. The film is constantly moving, packs in many exciting set pieces, and has stellar characters. Though it’s not perfect, I had a great time watching THE FORCE AWAKENS and many rewatches definitely lie in the future. A new chapter of a beloved, decades-old film series has arrived. It is going to please many old-school fans of the original trilogy, millennials who were brought in by the prequels, and an entirely new generation of movie goers. That in itself is a hugely remarkable feat. Well done!

Grade: B+

My 10 Favorite Cinematic Villains

List by Derrick Carter

There are tons and tons of great villains in film. In fact, this year alone I can already think of ten off the top of my head that stood out. What makes an awesome bad guy? Is it something that plays to our personal preferences, like many different qualities in cinema? Are there always universal themes in each great bad guy that are just so damned believable and (sometimes) relatable that we almost fall in love with watching their evil deeds? When is it okay to root for the villain, be terrified of them or a little of both? I decided since All Hallows Eve is only a few hours away, I would ponder over my 10 personal favorite baddies.

Now, I must get this out-of-the-way. This is ALL OPINION. I’m not claiming these are the best bad guys out there, far from it. You probably already know fantastic antagonists that range from Heath Ledger’s Joker to Hopkins’ Hannibal to the well-known classics. I’m just counting down my favorite bad guys and listing the reasons why I love to hate them so much or just plain enjoy watching them. Without further ado…

10. Ratigan

10. RATIGAN (from THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE)

Nothing kicks off a villains list better than an animated rat from Disney. GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE is a take on Sherlock Holmes with mice, rats, and other talking animals filling in as characters. It’s actually a really solid movie and one I plan on reviewing in the future. However, the best part of the film is the nefarious Ratigan! Voiced by the always-great Vincent Price, Ratigan is a sort of Moriarty figure with a tail. He tries to act civilized and uses his pet cat (how’s that for a unique weapon?) to cover his vicious side, which does come out in the film’s intense finale. Want another justification of why he’s on this list? Did I mention he sings too? Good luck trying to get his two ultra-catchy tunes out of your head.

9. Drexl Spivey

9. DREXL SPIVEY (from TRUE ROMANCE)

Gary Oldman can do bad so good! Leave it to this chameleon to turn a laughable stereotype into something out of a nightmare. Drexl Spivey is a pimp and also a “wigger.” Whereas this sounds funny and possibly comedic, it’s not at all. Drexl is the best part of TRUE ROMANCE and he’s only in for a short time of the film. After he’s gone, the story goes down a couple of notches. The stand-out scene is in an intense conversation with Christian Slater. Having already seen Drexl go friggin’ crazy on two people and brutally murder them up to this point, it makes the tension that much scarier. Also this isn’t the last time you’ll be seeing Oldman on this list.

8. Aaron The Moor

8. AARON THE MOOR (from TITUS)

Shakespeare writes fantastic villains who delight in their evil ways. It was a tough choice between Aaron The Moor and Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Seeing as Richard isn’t exactly as chilling as Aaron is, this choice was decided on that factor. Aaron (played by Harry Lennix in this version) is purely and simply bad-to-the-bone. He absolutely loves corrupting those around him and has no real friends to speak of. Even his so-called accomplices vicariously become his victims by the play/film’s end. Adding a slightly comical tone to the role too is how Aaron will occasionally turn to the camera and directly address the viewer, thus letting them in on how much fun he’s having committing horrible sins. It should say enough that his only dying regret is that he didn’t do more evil.

7. Dino Velvet

7. DINO VELVET, EDDIE POOLE, & MACHINE (from 8MM)

Another underrated flick has a three-way-tie between some of the nastiest deviants you’ll come across on-screen. 8MM is a thriller about a detective (played by an unusually good Nicolas Cage) trying to prove a supposed snuff film is authentic. We’d have a pretty boring and underwhelming movie if said snuff film was a fake, so Cage does indeed come across the creators (and a surviving star) of the small reel of murder footage. Eddie Poole (a scummy James Gandolfini) proves to get the most satisfying comeuppance of the trio. Dino Velvet (an awesome Peter Stormare) is the flamboyant “director” who has chilling pieces of dialogue. It’s the bondage-masked Machine who delivers one of the bleakest explanations of why there are evil people in the world in a haunting scene near the end. 8MM contains a three-for-one delivery of memorable baddies.

6. Dr Josef

6. DR. JOSEF MENGELE (from THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL)

Let’s face it. It’s really not that difficult to make anyone hate a Nazi. All you have to do is throw the swastika on their shoulder and you’ve got yourself instant bad guy. In this fantastic 1978 thriller, a group of war criminals are trying to clone a new Hitler (it’s not remotely as silly as it sounds). As if that wasn’t interesting enough already, the leader of the group is played by the one and only Gregory Peck (that’s right, Atticus Finch). Peck pretty much plays the Fuhrer without actually being called the Fuhrer. Adopting a flawless German accent, a vicious temper, and a nasty talent for deforming people with science, Peck gives what I’d argue is the most creative Nazi ever shown on-screen (I’m counting zombies, Fiennes, and Hans Landau). If you haven’t seen this flick, then strap yourself in and give it a watch. This is another one that’s definitely getting a review from me down the line.

5. Cesar

5. CESAR (from SLEEP TIGHT)

This is a fun entry. Unlike the majority of bad guys on this list, Cesar doesn’t have a body count to his name. This main character in the Jaume Balaguero’s Spanish thriller is a doorman who has made it his goal to cause misery to everyone around him. He cannot feel happiness, so why should anybody else? He mainly sets his sights on a young woman who isn’t cracking under his pressure. When the villain has keys to every apartment in the building and takes to poisoning your make-up, infesting your apartment with roaches, and escalating things from there, its safe to say that you might sleep with one eye open. Don’t worry, because that’s why Cesar keeps a bottle of chloroform handy. The dark sense of humor around this character is off the charts too. One of the best scenes is a conversation with an older apartment dweller who tries to be polite and gets owned in the most emotionally demolishing way possible. Cesar may not be a serial killer or a criminal mastermind, but he’s a dickhead. He also happens to be a dangerous dickhead with keys to your apartment and a whole lot of patience.

4. Leland Gaunt

4. LELAND GAUNT (from NEEDFUL THINGS)

There have been plenty of portrayals of Satan on the big screen, but Max Von Sydow’s performance in this Stephen King adaptation takes the cake. Armed with a slimy sense of humor (he claims he’s from Ohio), an upbeat attitude (offering people good things in return for small favors), and a kindly old grandfather demeanor, you’d never think this shop owner is actually the Devil incarnate. That’s exactly who he is though and he’s quite good at using people to destroy each other. How can you beat a Satan with the balls to say “You can’t win. I’ve got God on my side.” Enough said…

3. Dolores Umbridge

3. DOLORES UMBRIDGE (from the HARRY POTTER series)

Let me tell you why this bitch is on here instead of Voldemort. Not once during the entire HARRY POTTER saga did I ever want to jump through the screen and strangle Voldemort with my bare hands, no matter how many people he killed. The same cannot be said of this sickly sweet witch with a penchant for cats and truly nasty punishments. I think part of the reason I hate her so much is because I had a teacher in Junior High who was pretty much an exact doppelgänger of Umbridge. This educator emotionally battered the entire eighth grade class on a daily basis and acted like a sweet little lady at parent-teacher conference. We’ve all met people like Umbridge and we all hate them for obvious reasons. Props to J.K. Rowling for including such a despicable character in her series. Voldemort is a saint compared to her.

Leon poster

2. NORMAN STANSFIELD (from LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL)

This pill-popping, gun-totting, certifiable nutjob is my favorite Oldman performance….ever! Stansfield is the best corrupt cop to grace cinema! He’ll make you laugh one minute and piss your pants out of sheer fear in the next. He can switch at the drop of a hat and is evil to his core. At one point, this villain corners a little girl in the restroom and asks her if she appreciates her life. When she answers yes, he calmly responds “Good, because I could never take a life from someone who didn’t appreciate it.” That’s straight-up cold! It’s also highly ironic that the movie featuring a hitman and an assassin-in-training as likable protagonists manages to show someone who’s even more of a lunatic than hired killers. Props to Oldman. This is the role that I’ll remember him for!

1. Milton Dammers

1. MILTON DAMMERS (from THE FRIGHTENERS)

My favorite villain of all-time. Jeffrey Combs absolutely cracks me up through this entire film. In a movie riddled with many threats from different sides (ghosts and serial killers), this drastically misguided FBI agent manages to be the stand-out baddie of the bunch. Sporting a slicked Hitler haircut, nervous mannerisms, and a side of crazy that keeps escalating as the film goes on, Jeffrey Combs is amazing in this role! He also has my favorite villain demise of all-time. His dialogue is absolutely hilarious too! Dammers is a self-described asshole, but he’s such an entertaining one! That’s why Milton Dammers is my favorite villain of all-time!

Have any personal favorite villains of your own that don’t get enough recognition? Leave them in the comments below!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑