ZOMBIES, VAMPIRES & KILLER CARS
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 21, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the return of Chucky to theater screens this weekend and the zombie flick that opened last weekend, it feels like we should be celebrating Halloween instead of summer vacations. Which brought to mind this column, printed under the headline, 'Utah's a pretty great state for horror movies' on Oct. 15, 2010, in the Deseret News, chronicling some of the many fright flicks that have been filmed in Utah over the years. Yes, horror movies! And they’re all available on various video platforms if you want to check any out for yourselves.
Over the summer Michigan gave the boot to a horror movie that was looking for monetary incentives to film there. And the state’s film commissioner cited the script’s gruesome content as a reason.
The flesh-eating cannibals of “The Woman” — a sequel to last year’s Michigan-filmed (but set in Maine) “Offspring” — would be “unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or present or reflect Michigan in a positive light,” according to film commissioner Janet Lockwood.
I would think residents of Maine would be more upset. When a movie is set in one state, does the average moviegoer even realize it might have been filmed in another?
Lockwood added she was put off by the “realistic cannibalism” … and “gruesome and graphically violent depictions” outlined in the screenplay. (Later a “communications consultant” for the Michigan Film Commission said it wasn’t the script’s content but “financing problems” that led to the decision. That’s called “spin,” folks.)
As a result, “The Woman” went to Massachusetts and received money from that state’s tax-incentive program. Apparently Massachusetts isn’t concerned about movie cannibalism affecting tourists’ appetite for Boston chowder. Especially when it’s set in Maine.
Anyway, with Halloween rapidly approaching and the Salt Lake Valley filled with ghoulish decorations, I began to think about all the many horror movies that have been filmed in Utah, and how many actually put the state in a “positive light.”
Here are a few; you be the judge.
— “Carnival of Souls” (1962) is a low-budget, black-and-white cult favorite that has to do with zombie-style ghosts but there is no flesh eating. The bulk of the film is set in Salt Lake City and environs with a lengthy sequence that fills the Saltair pavilion with dancing specters.
— “The Car” (1977), starring James Brolin, is about a killer auto apparently possessed by Satan. The movie arrived 13 years after a similar episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled “You Drive” and six years before “Christine,” the movie based on Stephen King’s novel. Set in rural Utah and unintentionally hilarious.
— “Damnation Alley” (1977), a post-apocalyptic sci-fi road picture, follows a team of soldiers traveling in a tricked-out all-terrain vehicle from California to New York. Along the way they stop in Salt Lake City, which is infested with thousands of oversized armor-plated killer cockroaches. What could better promote tourism?
— “Don’t Go in the Woods” (1981) is a simple-minded splatter film about a crazed mountain man killing hikers in an unspecified state. It was filmed in Brighton, perhaps to encourage hikers to stay on the trails.
— “The Boogins” (1981), bloodthirsty monsters with needle-like teeth and razor-sharp claws on the ends of their tentacles, live in a mine in Caribou Gulch, Colo., where they feed on miners. Not to discourage Sundance Film Festival prospects but it was filmed in Park City.
— “Cujo” (1983), based on Stephen King’s novel, is set in Maine but was partly filmed in Utah (and mostly in California), with Dee Wallace in a stalled car terrorized by a rabid St. Bernard. Where’s AAA when you need them?
— “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (1984) is a notorious film that prompted picketing of both the theaters that played it and its TV ads as parents went ballistic because the killer was dressed up as Santa. The unfortunate result was a publicity boost that pushed it beyond the level of just another low-budget slasher picture, making it a hit and paving the way for a sequel.
— “Warning Sign” (1984) stars Sam Waterston and Kathleen Quinlan in a ridiculous tale of germ-warfare research gone amok as a Utah military-lab experiment kills people who then rise up as zombies. Think “The China Syndrome” meets “Night of the Living Dead.”
— “Nightmare at Noon” (1987) is similar to “Warning Sign,” with Moab filling in for a fictional Utah desert town where contaminated drinking water turns locals into zombies.
— “Sundown, the Vampire in Retreat” (1988), also filmed in Moab, is a cult favorite for its dark satirical take on vampires living in a colony led by David Carradine and hunted by Bruce Campbell. A subplot about the vampires drinking synthetic blood so they can live among humans would later be co-opted for a number of popular vampire pictures.
— “The Terror Within” (1988) boasts more post-apocalyptic monsters, mutants with knife-like claws and rubber suits that appear to be left over from “The Alligator People.” The setting is unspecified but it’s Utah, folks.
— “Warlock” (1991) has a male witch and a witch hunter transported from 1691 Boston to 20th century Los Angeles. This is a mediocre, occasionally humorous yarn that has a climactic punchline that makes great use of the Bonneville Salt Flats (since salt is, of course, the only thing that can stop a witch).
And there are many more, including four entries in the “Halloween” franchise (with Salt Lake City’s Avenues area subbing for suburban Illinois) and these wonderfully titled efforts: “Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bees” (set in California, not Huntsville), the first of the “Species” movies, “Legion of Fire: Killer Ants,” “Troll 2” (considered an unintentionally funny camp favorite), “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Firestarter: The Next Chapter,” “The Darkling,” “Don’t Look Under the Bed,” Creepers,” “Berserker” and “Bats.”
Who knew Utah could be such a monstrous place?
So if you’re looking for a good horror movie to watch over the next couple weeks … um … you might want to look elsewhere.
YET ANOTHER TALL TOY TALE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 21, 2019
“Toy Story 4” is the big gun this week and all the major studios are holding back their films, anticipating that the Pixar magic will once again dominate the summer box office. But there are other films opening, should you desire to avoid the kid-driven crowds.
“Toy Story 4” (G). The fourth in the beloved animated franchise from Pixar/Disney has Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the other toys befriending Forky (Tony Hale) — a spork that has been made into a makeshift toy by Bonnie. With other voices provided by Annie Potts, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Wallace Shawn and Keanu Reeves.
“Hampstead” (PG-13). True story of an Irishman (Brendan Gleeson) who moved to London and after being evicted from his apartment set up a makeshift camp in a corner of Hampstead Heath, where he claimed squatter’s rights. Diane Keaton co-stars as an American widow who offers help and unexpectedly comes to love him. With James Norton, Lesley Manville and Simon Callow.
“Pavarotti” (PG-13). Ron Howard directed this documentary about the late Italian singer, hailed by many as one of the greatest operatic tenors in history, and who improbably crossed over to popular musical success. With Bono, Nicoletta Mantovani and archival interviews with Spike Lee, Princess Diana, Stevi Wonder, Zubin Mehta, Joan Sutherland and many others. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (R). A young black man (Jimmie Fails) tries to reclaim the Victorian home built by his grandfather in the titular city where gentrification is slowly reshaping the neighborhood. With Danny Glover, Mike Epps and Thora Birch. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“Papi Chulo” (R). A lonely, alienated television weatherman in Los Angeles “hires” a middle-aged Latino migrant (Alejandro Patino) to be his friend in this dark comedy.(Matt Bomer) (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“Anna” (R). Veteran French filmmaker Luc Besson (“Leon: The Professional,” “The Fifth Element”) wrote and directed this thriller that appears to be a variation on one of his earliest films, “La Femme Nikita.” Here, Sasha Luss stars as a mild-mannered model who is transformed into a government assassin. With Helen Mirren, Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy.
“Child’s Play” (R). The seven-film franchise about a child’s doll that comes to life and goes on a killing spree gets a high-tech reboot with Mark Hamill providing the voice of Chucky, the doll. With Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza and Tim Matheson.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 21, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the fourth ‘Toy Story’ movie opening this weekend, let’s take a look back at the film that started the blockbuster franchise nearly 25 years ago and marked a new beginning for Pixar as the first completely digital animated feature, and which (along with the first two sequels) has just been released by Disney on 4K Ultra HD. My review below was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 22, 1995.
The entire audience will feel like the veritable "kid in a toy store" while watching Disney's new fully computer-animated feature "Toy Story."
The plot, about the rivalry between a pull-string cowboy and a space-age action figure, is deceptively simple, filled out by startling, three-dimensional technical virtuosity.
But what really gives the film its oomph is the fact that it's loaded with sight gags, one-liners and amusing visual and verbal references. In fact, there isn't a funnier, faster-paced movie around, nor one that is more visually arresting.
Young suburbanite Andy is about to have a birthday, and since his family is moving to a new home, Mom decides to celebrate early. This sends Andy's favorite toy, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), an old-fashioned, wooden cowboy with a voice activated by a pull-string, into a panic. In fact, all the toys in Andy's room are concerned that they may be replaced by whatever Andy gets for his birthday.
Toys, of course, are quite neurotic. And why not? After all, they can come to life only after humans leave the room.
Woody, right, meets Buzz Lightyear in the original 'Toy Story' (1995).
So, whenever Andy shuts his bedroom door, Woody and friends — Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), whose facial features keep falling off; a Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), who is stretched to his limit; an angst-ridden dinosaur named Rex (Wallace Shawn), a wise-acre piggy bank called Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and even a Little Bo Peep doll (Annie Potts), among others — interact with each other.
As the birthday party gets going, a reconnaissance mission (little green toy soldiers, who move awkwardly because their feet are stuck to platforms) is sent out to report on what new toys will be joining them.
To Woody's dismay, the major gift is a Buzz Lightyear doll (Tim Allen), an action figure he fears will displace him in Andy's affections. (The big joke with Buzz is that he doesn't know he's a toy — he thinks he's a real, space-traveling superhero on an interplanetary mission.)
Eventually, through a series of convoluted events, Woody and Buzz find themselves in the hands of vicious Sid, a neighbor kid who gets his kicks out of mutilating (and mutating) toys — and they plot their escape.
From left, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Hamm and Troll in 'Toy Story' (1995).
Story aside, however, what makes the movie jump are the wall-to-wall gags. As Andy's presents are being unwrapped, Mr. Potato Head begins his mantra: "Mrs. Potato Head," "Mrs. Potato Head," "Mrs. Potato Head." When Woody pulls his gun from his holster and says to the Etch-A-Sketch, "Draw," a drawing of a gun appears on its screen. And there are also inside gags referring to "The Lion King" and Tim Allen's TV series "Home Improvement."
One could argue that using brand-name toys is little more than blatant product placement, but it was the right decision here, as it lends an air of authenticity — and for parents, nostalgia. (Seeing the Barrel of Monkeys, the fortune-telling Magic-8-Ball and the Troll certainly took me back.)
The voice performances are all terrific, and the artists have outdone themselves, making each toy an amazingly expressive, distinctive character. Oddly, the human characters do not fare so well, as computer animation can't quite deal with shapes that are not geometric. The result is that kids and adults portrayed here look as plastic as the toys. (It might have been wiser to keep human faces off-camera, instead just showing legs and arms, like the old Tom & Jerry cartoons used to do.)
But that's a minor complaint for a film as richly rewarding as this one. If ever there was a movie designed to lure audiences back again and again, this is it.
"Toy Story" is rated G.
Hi. I'm Chris Hicks.
But if you're looking for Chris Hicks the Australian rugby player or the American recording-industry executive or the Major League Baseball player or the author of "Think" or the singer-songwriter or the former basketball player, you're in the wrong place.
I'm Chris Hicks the movie guy from Salt Lake City. If that's who you're looking for, welcome to my website as I enter the 21st century … a little late (May 2013).
This site is all about movies, well mostly, and it's also about me, I guess, but I'll try to keep my ego in check.
My goal, my hope, is that you will be able to browse the pages here and be alerted to or reminded of some great movie you've never heard of or forgotten about. In other words, something that might enhance your movie-watching experience, whether it's by Alfred Hitchcock or Joss Whedon, or stars Audrey Hepburn or Jennifer Lawrence or someone you never heard of. And I've also tried to make it fun.
The bulk of stories and reviews here are gleaned (with permission) from my 40 years of writing about film for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City, with side trips here and there to other entertainment forms.
I'm no longer writing for the D-News so this is mostly archival stuff, primarily from the Deseret News but also from my 13 years with KSL Television and Radio, as well as other sundry freelance things I occasionaly come across in my deteriorating hard-copy files.
Hope you enjoy my little site. If you do, tell your friends. If you don't, just say you couldn't find it.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 21, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: After ‘The Elephant Man’ but before ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Twin Peaks,’ David Lynch tackled his first and only big-budget, studio-restrictive work, an epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi work, ‘Dune.’ The film was a major flop and Lynch cited studio interference as the reason, since it was taken from him before the final cut. Several recut versions now exist and a cult following has developed but the film remains controversial among sci-fi and especially Herbert fans, and even among Lynch-philes. Now, ‘Dune is being revived on the big screen as part of the Salt Lake Film Society’s ‘Summer Late Nights’ series at the Tower Theater this weekend, Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m., and Sunday at noon. My review below was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 14, 1984.
There’s little doubt that “Dune” is one of the most eagerly awaited movies in many a moon, but how well you take to it may have a lot to do with whether you have read the nearly 20-year-old novel, which has spawned several sequels and devoted cult following.
And though it is well-documented by now that “Star Wars” owes much to “Dune” in terms of plot turns and its pseudo-religious mysticism, moviegoers unfamiliar with “Dune” may simply feel too familiar with some of the material here.
But where “Star Wars” was really little more than a simple shoot-’em-up adventure yarn, laced with outer space, other-worldly trappings, “Dune” is a much more complex parable with much stronger religious parallels.
And the film’s writer-director, David Lynch (“The Elephant Man”), has obviously taken pains to make his movie quite different stylistically than the “Star Wars” trilogy.
Kyle McLachlan, left, is engaged in battle by Sting as Patrick Stewart looks on in 'Dune' (1984).
This is a moody, dark and very violent drama about a young man destined to become a messiah to the universe, who must first undergo a series of torturous rituals before he and his rebel army can overthrow the evil tyrants who rule.
The effects, the acting and direction are all interestingly laid out, but there is a major problem here that dogs the entire production. Lynch has simply filmed too much, then apparently tried to edit it down to a reasonable running time (2 hours, 10 minutes), which makes for underdeveloped characters, confusing plot juxtapositions and in the end, an emptiness that left me rather cold.
Characters come and go so speedily that those who have been introduced with a flourish, which would seem to promise major dramatic moments from them later on (i.e. Sting, Linda Hunt, Max Von Sydow), have their onscreen time cut all too short.
In addition, the language used here — that is, the complicated names for planets, people and creatures — is so foreign that it’s hard to keep it all straight. For that reason there is a voice-over narration that clumsily repeats the same information so often it becomes irritating.
“Dune” the movie is just so lumbering and cumbersome that it reveals its rough edges. Although, if you are a fan of the novel, you will no doubt have an advantage, filling in the gaps with your prior knowledge of people and events in this complicated, multi-leveled story.
The special effects are all quite good, although when the enormous sandworms are shown they just look like giant worms — nothing particularly special about that. Some of the other creatures are much more imaginative, such as a bizarre, embryonic-like being called the Spacing Guild Navigator.
Filmmaker David Lynch, left, is greeted by author Frank Herbert on the set of 'Dune' in 1983.
For some reason, Lynch chooses to take an oddly claustrophobic approach in certain scenes, as when a ship is lifting a machine from a sand pit. We see it from the point of view of those in the ship, with no long shots to give us a frame of reference.
The performances are also quite good generally, though, as mentioned, too many actors disappear far too quickly. The lead actor, Kyle MacLachlan, is personable enough as the fresh-faced boy who must become a man, but most notable in the very large cast are Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica and Kenneth McMillan, excellent as one of the most despicable villains the screen as ever produced, the Baron Vladmir Harkonnen. In fact, McMillan may be too good. His hideous, slobbering, deformed, blatantly homosexual and perhaps incestuous character, a fiend with an insatiable bloodlust, is so repulsive you may find yourself cringing every time he comes on the screen.
Working with color for the first time, Lynch has chosen a rather muddy, brown look, which, despite its being in keeping with the murky themes of the film, becomes less atmospheric than it is simply hard to watch.
In general, “Dune” is a brave attempt at something different, replete with bizarre, dreamlike imagery that will be somewhat familiar to those who have seen Lynch’s two other films — “Eraserhead” and “The Elephant Man.”
But as a whole, “Dune,” rated PG-13 for some extreme violence, along with some brief partial nudity and a couple of brief sex scenes, is just too empty and uninvolving to be the epic that was obviously intended.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 21, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: With ‘First Blood’ and ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ under his belt, Sylvester Stallone made it a trilogy with this one, another hit for the actor-filmmaker (the 16th biggest moneymaker of 1988). Now, each of the first three ‘Rambo’ movies has earned a new 4K release from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, so here’s my review of the third film in the franchise, ‘Rambo III,’ which was originally published in the Deseret News on May 25, 1988. (A fourth film was added to the series in 2008, the simply titled ‘Rambo,’ which Stallone also directed, and a fifth, the cryptically titled ‘Rambo: Last Blood,’ is scheduled for release in September. And perhaps it should be noted that Stallone also wrote or co-wrote all five films.)
Do you find that while you’re watching movies that star Arnold Schwarzenegger or Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone that you are anticipating the moment when you’ll hear the latest memorable tagline?
Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back!” Eastwood’s “Make my day!” Stallone’s “You’re the disease; I’m the cure!”
Watching “Rambo III” I realized that the Sly ironic remark has become as expected as Rambo blowing up a helicopter with a crossbow (what would he do without explosive-tip arrows?).
And, true to form, in “Rambo III” there are a couple:
Rambo himself tells the evil Russian colonel “(I’m) your worst nightmare!” And at one point, captured Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna) is asked by the same evil Russian if he thinks Rambo is God. Trautman replies, “No. God would have mercy. Rambo won’t!”
Sylvester Stallone, left, Richard Crenna, 'Rambo III'
But dialogue doesn’t matter. Indeed there isn’t much — Stallone probably says fewer words in “Rambo III” than any movie star since Charlie Chaplin.
Those who go to “Rambo” movies go for action. And “Rambo III” delivers the goods, no question about it.
Here’s Rambo shooting at a Russian helicopter with a machine gun. Here’s Rambo setting explosive devices all over the Russian compound. Here’s Rambo in a Russian tank playing chicken with a Russian chopper.
Well, you get the idea. And the most talked about single scene is sure to be the one where Rambo cauterizes a wound by becoming a human incendiary device. Or maybe the one where he blows up a Soviet soldier with the guy’s own grenade.
Indeed, Rambo is almost Indiana Jones on occasion here, and the only guy who carries a bigger knife is “Crocodile Dundee.”
But wait. The review’s almost over and I haven’t given any details about the storyline in “Rambo III.”
There was a story. I think.
Oh, yes. The film opens with John Rambo working in a monastery in Thailand, almost as if he’s in “Lilies of the Field” by mistake. Trautman asks Rambo to go into Afghanistan with him to stop a crazed Soviet colonel from torturing innocents. Rambo refuses.
But when Trautman goes it alone and is captured by the crazed colonel, Rambo decides to pay Afghanistan a visit after all.
From there on it’s action sequence after action sequence — and as ridiculous as many of them are, the movie manages to be violent cartoon fun. Some of the stunts are pretty spectacular and Stallone is obviously doing most of his own stunt work.
Fans will love it. Others won’t go anyway.
What more do you need to know?
“Rambo III” is rated R for expected violence and some profanity.