THAT GUY DICK MILLER (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Elijah Drenner

Written by: Elijah Drenner

Starring: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Steve Carver, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Leonard Maltin & William Sadler

If you watch a lot of movies, then you’ve likely noticed small recurring actors. You may drive yourself crazy trying to remember what you’ve seen them in before and ultimately realize that they’ve been side characters in a ton of movies. These performers are what some people refer as “That Guy” as in “Oh that guy. He’s in everything.” Some modern examples of “That Guy” include Brian Cox and Dylan Baker. However, there’s one “That Guy” who trumps them all. From the mid-1950’s to the present, Dick Miller has acquired nearly 200 credits to his name. Though he’s only received the leading role in two of his films, you’re more than likely to recognize Dick Miller from somewhere. He’s the neighbor in GREMLINS. He’s the psycho-killer in A BUCKET OF BLOOD. Now, he’s the subject of this remarkably entertaining and insightful documentary.

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THAT GUY DICK MILLER takes the viewer through Dick Miller’s career in the film industry. The documentary weaves together interviews with co-workers and friends as well as tons of clips from Miller’s bit parts in various films. We are also given details about his personal life that you would never have any clue about. For example, Dick wasn’t planning on becoming an actor and originally wanted to be a screenwriter. He has a full drawer of screenplays that were never made into movies and has officially written three films (two of which he seems to be embarrassed by).

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This documentary will definitely play big for genre buffs who are more than a little familiar with who Dick Miller is, but should also serve as a fascinating experience for newbies who had no idea about this actor’s many roles. Through one-on-one interviews, you get the sense that Miller always injects a little of himself into each performance (as small as that performance might be). He’s such a unique individual that you can’t help but love the man. That spirit and sense of enjoyment is omnipresent through this entire documentary. Miller discussing the many problems that occur on various sets is especially entertaining. One piece about how money was tight during spots of his career (even though he had filmed five movies in one year) and him constantly waiting by the phone for his livelihood is a bit of brutal honesty that you don’t hear a lot of in Hollywood. I felt like giving the man a round of applause, because he very much seems like a dedicated individual.

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Besides examining Dick Miller’s career, the movie simultaneously sheds light on how very different the filmmaking scene was during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Miller thrived in the world of exploitation cinema and B-movies. They were his bread and butter. Though he’s also appeared in THE TERMINATOR and was sadly cut out of PULP FICTION, Miller serves as a bit of a genre icon for many. I would love to see a documentary examining the rise of exploitation movies and B-flicks in the Hollywood scene as well (though I’m sure a handful have already been made) from director Elijah Drenner because he clearly has a solid grasp on what he’s doing and how to present this information. If there is one complaint to be had from me, it comes in a 5-minute segment focusing on Miller’s friendship with Joe Dante that seems to lean a tad too much on Dante’s filmography as opposed to Miller’s role in it. At any rate, it’s a minor gripe and is still interesting nonetheless.

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Overall, THAT GUY DICK MILLER is a fascinating, oddly heartwarming documentary that highlights a significant piece of genre filmmaking history. That piece being the recurring character actor with nearly 200 credits to his name. Much like BEST WORST MOVIE and SPINE TINGLER!, THAT GUY DICK MILLER should serve as a hugely enjoyable time for genre buffs and equally fascinating for people who don’t necessarily know a lot about exploitation cinema. This comes highly recommended!

Grade: A

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence throughout, and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau & Ben Kingsley

IRON MAN 3 is the first major release from Marvel since THE AVENGERS reigned in May 2012. It also marks a few daring moves for the studio that seemed content to play it safe with their superheroes in the past. It’s Marvel’s darkest movie and consequently the best IRON MAN film yet! This almost doesn’t feel like a superhero film and I mean that in the best possible way. IRON MAN 3 feels like a James Bond film crossed paths with a Marvel production and this is the result.

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Following fresh off the events of THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD. After al, he did witness other worlds, demigods and aliens (let alone fought against them with other superheroes to save the world). In order to cope with these new revelations, Stark has taken to long sleepless periods (up to three full days worth of time) creating new Iron Man suits and inventions. This puts extra stress on Pepper, his significant other, who was already putting up with his erratic narcissistic lifestyle. A new foe emerges in the Mandarin, a formidable terrorist issuing random attacks in different parts of the USA and Pakistan. After one of his friends in injured in an attack, Tony Stark finds himself being targeted by the Mandarin and it appears that there is far more at work than what appears at first.

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IRON MAN was a good origin story for this superhero. IRON MAN 2 was an okay sequel, but seemed like too much set up for THE AVENGERS and not enough Iron Man. However, IRON MAN 3 delivers the sequel that the second installment should have been. There are references to what happened in New York in THE AVENGERS, but this movie seemed almost like a self-contained story that focused on the battle between Iron Man and a cunning villain. The plot is smart and has a few twists, but also knows when and where to place the action scenes and humor. There are a good amount of laughs to be had in parts of IRON MAN 3 and the fight scenes are just plain cool.

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Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are back in the roles they played so well before. Rebecca Hall (THE PRESTIGE, DORIAN GRAY) shows up as one of Stark’s former lovers and Guy Pearce plays a rival scientist who may be hiding more than a few skeletons in his closet very well. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley shows up as the Mandarin. If there’s any performance to be ridiculed in this film, it belongs to Ben Kingsley. You’ll know why when you see it, but it’s not bad per se, just wasn’t what I was expecting at all from the character.

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IRON MAN 3 takes some unexpected turns along the way (one of which is clearly owed to BATMAN BEGINS). This is the most obvious twist of the bunch too and the film spent a little too much time spelling out (in case some of the audience members didn’t get it from the first two times it’s shown). Some of the logic used in this world seems a bit silly when one tries to analyze it, but the viewer should also consider that we are watching a story in a world filled with frozen patriots, demigods, and aliens. So you kind of have to erase a bit of logic from your mind when entering this film.

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With these criticisms in mind, the film is still a “superhero vs. villain” story and it marks the first time Iron Man has faced off alone against someone with actual powers. The movie never loses its speed and even though it’s the longest running IRON MAN film thus far (a bit over two hours), it felt like it went by at a perfect pace. It seems that since Marvel has gotten all of the origin stories over with for each of its main heroes, they are now willing to shake things up in their universe and take some risks. This benefits both the film and the cast greatly. The ending of IRON MAN 3 makes some bold moves and I can’t wait to see where the character of Tony Stark goes from here on. Color me officially excited for the upcoming THOR sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel and the second AVENGERS movie. It’s looking to be a brave new direction of Marvel Studios and I like what I’m seeing a lot.

Grade: B+

THE HILLS RUN RED (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Horror Violence and Torture, Grisly Images, Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and Some Drug Use

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Directed by: Dave Parker

Written by: John Dombrow

Starring: Sophie Monk, Tad Hilgenbrinck, Janet Montgomery, Alex Wyndham, William Sadler

THE HILLS RUN RED is a direct-to-video gem that winds up being the most self-aware slasher since the original SCREAM. Just because the movie is meta, doesn’t mean it can’t be a gritty or dark time. In fact, this movie gets downright nasty when it wants to. The killer is the creepiest villain to grace a slasher film in years. The script is also diabolically clever and constantly throws the viewer off-balance. However, the movie also comes with the baggage that most other films of this kind come with. Do the pros outweigh the cons though? Does THE HILLS RUN RED wind up being a memorable experience or will it fade into obscurity, much like the fake film that the story is set around?

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The SCREAM series had the SLASH films that played in the background of the story. ANGUISH was set in a movie theater that was playing THE MOMMY. Now, THE HILLS RUN RED is based around a “lost film” titled THE HILLS RUN RED (of course). Tyler is a film student obsessed with this lost “blood and guts flick” from the early 80’s. The film was pulled from theaters shortly being released and has never been found in a complete print. Tyler, Sabrina (his girlfriend), and his best friend, Lalo, trek out to the original shooting location with the director’s strung-out daughter, Alexa, in tow. Upon arriving, they discover the horrible truth. THE HILLS RUN RED never stopped shooting and the murders are real. The director and the intimidating killer, Babyface, are still offing victims on camera and this group of four young people have found themselves cast in the film, so to speak!

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The opening credits are disturbing enough, giving us a look into the origin of Babyface, with plenty of gore to boot. The production values are professional looking for the most part, but even with the professional camera work, you can tell when gore has been digitally added. The difference is crystal clear and the CGI is iffy, to say the least. Some potentially awesome kills are ruined by some fake looking post-production effects work. The practical stuff is awesome though. The kills aren’t what this movie is based purely around though, they’re just icing on the gory cake.

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Without a doubt, the script is the best thing about the movie. It has a whole lot of twists and one moment that is nothing short of absolutely chilling (you’ll spot it when it happens). The ending is also super freaky and well-done, make sure you stay for the scene hidden in the first two minutes of the credits. The build up to Babyface’s first appearance is steadily paced, which makes for a nice change, especially in the slasher subgenre where everything is thrown up in your face to begin with.

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Then there are the pitfalls in the movie. These mainly come in the frenetic fake scares edited into the film. You’ll have an interview with one of the students captured on camera and suddenly, for no reason other than trying to startle you, the film will cut to a random bit involving Babyface jumping out. This serves no purpose at all and feels a bit amateur. The acting from everything, save for two actors, is pretty iffy. William Sadler is having a blast as the film’s director and the guy playing Babyface is certainly scary. Everyone else does an okay enough job, but it definitely shows that they aren’t particularly good.

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I can appreciate that THE HILLS RUN RED goes out of its way to stray from the conventions typically associated with slasher films, but it also unintentionally falls victim to the bad acting and unnecessary editing. The cliché of cell phones not having service is completely reversed. A character brings a gun just in case. The young people are also very aware of how these types of films play out and make the smarter decisions throughout. THE HILLS RUN RED would make for a good double-bill with BEHIND THE MASK. Both films have their faults, but they also toy with the concepts of the slasher film being twisted for the viewer’s entertainment. THE HILLS RUN RED comes recommended, but your should know before watching it that this is pretty much just a clever take on the average dead teenager flick.

Grade: B

DEMON KNIGHT (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Gore, Horror Violence, Sexuality and Language

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Directed by: Ernest Dickerson

Written by: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop

Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Thomas Haden Church, John Kassir, Dick Miller

In the 1950’s, William Gaines took over his father’s comic book business and began a line of well-known horror comics. Eventually, parents, an idiot child psychologist, and church leaders got on the company’s ass about this so-called form of fun, stating that comic books were the cause of juvenile delinquency (because the excuse of blaming the media was being used way back then). The joke was on them though when the generation reading those morbid illustrated stories turned out just as well as anybody else did. In fact, a HBO series was constructed around these horror comics. Spawning seven seasons of memorable episodes and a ghoulish host with the most, TALES FROM THE CRYPT was a smashing success. So much so, that two big screen movies were produced out of this series. While I have not seen the second film, DEMON KNIGHT pretty much plays out like a feature-length episode from the hit anthology series. This is both a blessing and a curse.

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The film opens with the essential introduction of going through the Cryptkeeper’s haunted home and a lot of bad puns from the decaying puppet. The story being told follows two men on a chase that will decide the fate of humanity. Frank (played by William Sadler, who starred in the very first episodes of TALES) is carrying an artifact that The Collector (played in a delightfully scene-stealing role by Billy Zane) wants. After making his way into a former church turned hotel, Frank is found by the cops and The Collector, who reveals himself to actually be a demonic presence. The residents of the hotel, a cop, and Frank find themselves fighting for their lives against the forces of Hell that are trying to make their way inside the newly condemned hotel.

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From the show’s introduction to the credits done in the exact same way that an episode of TALES would have presented them, this feels like it would be right at home playing as a Halloween special for the series on HBO. This being said, it does deliver what fans enjoyed about the show, just done for about triple the time-length that an episode of the show ran. I really don’t know how I would have felt if I had paid money to see it on the big screen though. I would probably expect something a little more big and grand than what HBO was giving every week. The budget may have been bigger, but everything still seems at about the same level as a regular episode of TALES.

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The effects are cheesy and the look of the demons themselves almost seems like someone took the Cryptkeeper and tried to make him a little more….well, demonic. I enjoyed William Sadler’s performance as the hero, which was a nice change of pace from his last appearance in TALES as an insane electric chair operator. Billy Zane chews the scenery like it’s going out of style. He was clearly having a blast playing this goofy demonic force that spouts one-liners and is constantly going over-the-top. This could have come off as annoying, but for the most part, Zane is a lot of fun to watch. Genre vet Dick Miller (who appeared in BUCKET OF BLOOD, which I reviewed earlier this month) shows up as the obligatory drunk. Thomas Haden Church (Sandman from SPIDER-MAN 3 and Ansel from KILLER JOE) plays a good redneck scumbag too.

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There are multiple times where it feels like DEMON KNIGHT is padded for time. It is also surprising how much the film feels like it would have been a solid hour-long special of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, especially when you consider that the script was floating around (passing from the likes of Tom Holland to Mary Lambert) before the HBO program even existed. The effects are mostly practical and cheesy, much like one would expect from the series. The macabre sense of humor and fun is a constant too. I just feel like the movie was really stretching itself out to make a feature far too many times.

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It’s cheesy, fun, and silly. This everything one might expect from a standard episode of TALES, but it just goes on for an hour longer. Worth a watch on a late night when you’ve got nothing to do, which is not meant as a huge insult to the film either. It’s just like an episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT. If you’re a fan of the series (like I am), you’ll dig it for the most part. If you’re not, then it’s probably not for you. Make of that what you will.

Grade: B-

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