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PRE-GORE FRIGHT FLICKS
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: For Halloween-movie consideration, last week’s vintage column looked at Universal’s gallery of monsters from the 1930s-1950s, from Frankenstein and Dracula to The Phantom of the Opera and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This week we’ll broaden our horizons a bit and look at scary flicks from the 1930s-1980s, but no slasher flicks, please. These are fun choices for movie buffs, and for young people who have not yet been turned away from black-and-white movies. Some are a bit hokey by today’s standards but the admittedly old guy that I am still thinks these are fun. This ‘Hicks On Flicks’ column was published in the Deseret News back in the era of VHS videotape, on Oct. 30, 1988. (It’s interesting in 2020 to look at this list and realize how many of them have been subjected to remakes — some of them to several remakes!)
OK, all you Halloween video watchers — got your scary movie picked out for Oct. 31 yet?
Some wonderfully scary movies can be rented from Iggy’s shelves at Humongous-BigMonster Video — or whatever rental store you frequent— and since I get the same phone calls every year at this time asking about good, solid horror movies that can be shared with the kids without embarrassing the parents, here’s a list of a few of my personal favorites.
House of Usher (1960)/The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) — These two Roger Corman films are arguably the best of his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, both starring Vincent Price, and both in color. Great stuff.
The Black Cat (1934)/The Raven (1935) — These are Poe-oriented films, but only nominally. Both star Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi at the peak of their popularity and the films come on one videocassette tape, since each feature is only slightly over an hour long. Very scary old black-and-white thrillers.
The Thing (1951) — This black-and-white film about a flying saucer discovered under the Arctic ice, and the thawed-out monster from within tracking down and butchering his rescuers. James Arness is the monster.
The Fly (1958) — This color 1958 original is not as technically refined as the recent remake (nor as gloppy and gooey), but it builds suspense very well in a story about a scientist inadvertently switching his head and arm with a tiny fly, then searching desperately for the insect to try and switch back.
The Haunting (1963) — A fine British cast and great atmosphere make this haunted-house yarn one of the best of its kind; another black-and-white chiller.
Poltergeist (1982) — Forget the two sequels. How long has it been since you’ve watched this one? Steven Spielberg’s haunted-house-in-the-suburbs is one of the most frightening contemporary ghost stories around.
Forbidden Planet (1956) — Technically a science-fiction film, this is as much a horror yarn as “Alien,” with the monster from the id killing a rescue team on a nearly deserted planet. Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis. In color.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/1978) — The one I prefer is the black-and-white 1956 classic, simply one of the greatest scare films ever made, but the ’70s color remake is a good one too. Both are very scary sci-fi/horror yarns about seed pods from space taking over the human race.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925/1943) — While the Claude Rains ’40s color version is entertaining enough, I opt for the silent original with Lon Chaney in one of the great horror classics.
Nosferatu (1922/1979) — The silent classic is a good old-fashioned “Dracula” yarn but the German remake with Klaus Kinski is also excellent, a wonderfully moody look at the world’s most misunderstood monster.
Psycho (1960) — Alfred Hitchcock’s black-and-white masterpiece prompted people take baths instead of showers for years afterward and it still holds up as a terrifying film of great power.
Westworld (1973)/Futureworld (1976) – Both the original and its sequel are frightening sci-fi/horror yarns set in futuristic theme parks that may make you think twice about your next trip to Disneyland.
There are others, of course, but this will give you a good start.
But when you’re watching one don’t get so involved you forget to open the door for the trick-or-treaters — otherwise the trick may be on you.
HORROR, ACTION, CARTOONS
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020
Fewer new movies open this weekend but it’s a real mix, with dark comedy, horror, animation and fantasy at the forefront. Be safe as you venture out to local theaters, all employing Covid-19 restrictions.
“Honest Thief” (PG-13). Liam Neeson is a wealthy longtime thief who decides to go straight for the love of a woman. But when he attempts to return all the money he stole to make a deal with the FBI, two agents double-cross him and take the dough for themselves. Bad idea. With Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan and Robert Patrick.
“2 Hearts” (PG-13). This sort-of mystery romance follows two couples falling in love in two different timelines — the 1970s and the present day. And they will eventually converge. Based on a true story. With Radha Mitchell.
“Don’t Look Back” (Not Rated). Karma as horror, with bystanders who decline to take action when they witness a brutal beating that kills a man, suddenly dying by some supernatural form of revenge.
“The Kid Detective” (R). Adam Brody is the title character in this dark comedy-mystery about a former child detective who earned some renown as a kid but as a post-30-year-old adult is flop. Until a young woman asks him to help her learn who killed her boyfriend by stabbing him 17 times.
“The Devil Has a Name” (R). Edward James Olmos directed and has a supporting role in this true comedy-drama about a farmer (David Strathairn) that fights back when his land and water are polluted by oil exploration. With Kate Bosworth, Alfred Molina, Haley Joel Osment and Martin Sheen.
“Love and Monsters” (PG-13). When giant creatures take over the Earth, humans move underground to form a new society. But a pair of teenagers living 80 miles apart and communicating via radio decide to risk going above ground to reconnect. An action horror-comedy. With Dylan O’Brien and Michael Rooker.
“Over the Moon” (PG). This Chinese animated musical is about a girl who builds a rocket so she can travel to the moon and meet a mythical goddess. Dubbed in English with voices by Sandra Oh, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Margaret Cho, among others.
Added to the “classic” revivals this weekend are “The Shining,” the 2018 “Halloween” sequel, and for the younger set, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the 2019 animated version of “The Addams Family” and “The Croods."
THE DEAD ZONE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Although my review below comes off as a bit lukewarm, ‘The Dead Zone’ has grown on me over the years. Strangely, reading this again, I don’t disagree with my specific assessments made some 37 years ago, but the overall film has risen to be one of my favorites in this genre and of Stephen King’s oeuvre. It’s interesting to note that since this film’s early ’80s release, David Cronenberg has become a director of many controversial films, King has had several very good movies made from his books and Sheen went on to play — quite wonderfully — the President of the United States in the excellent TV series ‘The West Wing’ (it’s on Netflix and is well worth checking out). Not to mention my naïveté about the possibility of our country electing an American president as portrayed in this film … well before the era of Trump. Oh well. Although ‘The Dead Zone’ has been on DVD for many years, this new Paramount release marks its Blu-ray debut as part of the ‘Stephen King 5-Movie Collection’ (with ‘The Stand,’ ‘Silver Bullet’ and the two 30-years apart versions of ‘Pet Sematary’). My ‘Dead Zone’ review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 23, 1983.
Stephen King’s novels have not fared well on the silver screen, which seems odd to me since his books have such a visual flair. Whenever I’ve read one of his tales of terror it has always seemed to be material that would adapt easily to cinematic translation.
Aside from “Carrie,” however, they’ve all been disappointments. “Salem’s Lot” (originally made-for-TV), “The Shining” and especially this year’s miserable “Cujo.”
Now comes “The Dead Zone,” and though the film suffers from some problems this one isn’t too bad. Part of that has to do with Canadian director David Cronenberg’s interesting visual style and a lot of it has to do with some very well cast actors.
Christopher Walken is excellent in the lead, as Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who has a major auto accident and remains comatose in a hospital bed for five years. When he awakens, he finds he has the power of clairvoyance. When he touches people, he sees into their past or future — and with the latter, he finds he has the power to change it.
Christopher Walken has a vision inventively portrayed by director David Cronenberg for 'The Dead Zone.' (1983).
The premise is fascinating and Cronenberg presents these flashbacks and flashforwards with some great cinematic tricks. He’s not quite as slick as Brian De Palma (who gave us some great telepathic scenes in “The Fury”) but that actually works to his advantage, giving the film a more gritty style. (Cronenberg is the guy who gave us the exploding heads in “Scanners” and some other extremely gory films, but this one is relatively tame in that regard.)
“The Dead Zone” is told in episodic fashion, almost like a series of short stories with one continuing character. Smith discovers his power when a nurse touches him and he sees her daughter trapped in a fire. Later he helps the local sheriff (Tom Skerritt) track down a killer. Ultimately, he discovers the terrifying future of a local Senate candidate (Martin Sheen), a wild-eyed politician who’s more of a thug than the common man depicted in his campaign.
In the opening sequences, the film establishes a love-match between Smith and Sarah (Brooke Adams), who also teaches at the same school. When he awakens from his coma, she has been married for some time and has a child. This storyline points up the film’s major weakness, which is the inability to deal with the human drama as effectively as the horror.
There are all kinds of plot holes here, questions that arise about their relationship and Sarah’s seeming independence, which is contradicted by her campaigning for a politician who is so overbearingly slick. Saddest of all, though, is the opportunity for a strong probing of these two characters on an emotional level, which is passed over in favor of superficial meetings between the two.
Worse, though, is the segment that deals with Sheen, as it tends to stack the deck too heavily against his character. Sheen is such a total madman, complete with his own personal goon, a Mafia-style hit man/bodyguard at his side, that one wonders how he could get this far into his campaign without someone pointing out what a hypocrite he is.
This especially comes to mind in a rather silly scene in a newspaper editor’s office that is extremely contrived. How much better all of this would have been if Sheen had been allowed to be a more realistic human character whose motivations were merely misguided, rather than an over-the-edge maniac.
On the plus side, however, Walken is excellent, looking pallid and sickly, never overplaying the shocking revelations that come to him. Adams is also good, though given little to do.
And there is a nice centerpiece to the film, dealing with a wealthy man (Anthony Zerbe) who hires Smith to work with his young son as a tutor. That segment ends rather abruptly, though, where Zerbe’s character might have come into the Sheen story to redeem himself.
Sheen overacts ridiculously but in the process creates a funny, campy character that, in an odd way, seems to fit into the proceedings here. Herbert Lom is much better, reminding us of the fine dramatic actor he is when away from his twitching “Pink Panther” role — he plays Walken’s devoted doctor. Tom Skerritt and Anthony Zerbe are also very good in their supporting roles. Colleen Dewhurst is utterly wasted, though, in a good part that is just too small to be effective.
On the whole, though problematic in its structure and execution, the film offers quite a few chills and some very good isolated moments. But I’m still waiting for a King novel to become a film that fulfills all it promises.
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, Oct. 16, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Director Kenny Ortega went on from this film to helm the ‘High School Musical’ trilogy, among many other projects, but despite the renewed popularity of ‘Hocus Pocus,’ thanks to home video and the Disney Channel, it was a deserved theatrical flop in the early 1990s. Yet, here it is as a ‘Comeback Classic’ in local theaters, so let’s take a look back at my Deseret News review, published on July 16, 1993. You can still catch it a various Cinemark and Megaplex theaters around town.
Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker make like Moe, Larry and Curly in "Hocus Pocus," a horror-comedy that spoofs witches, zombies and teen angst — all equally horrifying prospects.
Unfortunately, all their hammy mugging makes the Three Stooges seem downright subtle. A little goes a long way — and there's way too much here.
There are also some "scary" moments that may upset small children, so despite the PG rating and the Walt Disney Pictures logo, parents should know that a zombie has his head lopped off (twice), as well as the fingers of one hand.
Kathy Najimy, left, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
"Hocus Pocus" begins in 17th-century Salem, Mass., with the Sanderson sisters, Winnie, Mary and Sarah (Midler, Najimy and Parker, respectively) practicing their witchcraft ways, attempting to drain the life out of a young girl (shown less graphically than last year's "Sleepwalkers," which had a similar premise).
The girl's older brother attempts to rescue her, only to be turned into a black cat that is cursed to live forever. But he has also brought the townfolk with him, and they break down the door and lynch the sisters — but not before Winnie curses the town, promising to return one Halloween night when a virgin lights the black-flame candle in their shack.
Cut to modern-day Salem — 300 years later on Halloween — as Max, the new kid in town (Omri Katz), learns the legend of the Sanderson sisters for the first time. And later that night, as he's taking his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch) on her trick-or-treat rounds, they link up with Allison (Vinessa Shaw) and visit the old rundown Sanderson home, which has been preserved as a museum.
There, Max takes up the challenge and lights the black-flame candle. And sure enough, the Sanderson hags return. Much of the rest of the film is taken up with predictable fish-out-of-water gags as the trio tries to cope with modern inventions and conventions (though this element is decidedly inconsistent).
Some amusing ideas have been conjured up by the three screenwriters (led by Mick Garris, director of "Sleepwalkers"), such as the three witches' individual eccentricities, a subplot about a zombie who rises from the dead to do their bidding (but who walks more like the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz") and the eternal black cat — a talking cat, no less.
The elaborate sets, costumes and special effects are notable. But director Kenny Ortega ("Newsies"), who was previously a choreographer ("Dirty Dancing"), has everything racing chaotically at such a fever pitch that it becomes annoying after a while. (Even the musical punctuations in John Debney's score are ridiculously over the top.)
Similarly, the goofy tics each of the lead actresses display — buck teeth and affected speech for Midler, a twisted mouth and Boris Karloff lisp for Najimy and Parker's airhead-style prancing around — grow quickly tiresome.
All in all, "Hocus Pocus" simply tries too hard and wears out its welcome in the process.
The film is rated PG for a couple of mild profanities, some vulgar jokes (primarily about women's breasts) and a fair amount of violence (most of it comic in nature).
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: With its recent Shout! Factory reissue in a Blu-ray ‘Collector’s Edition’ with copious new bonus features, ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ — a real change of pace for director John Carpenter, of ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Thing’ fame — is worth looking back at again. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 4, 1986.
“Big Trouble In Little China” is very funny, in an oddball “Buckaroo Banzai” kind of way, with Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun as gambling buddies who team up to take on an evil ghost, the spirit of a 2,000-year-old sorcerer. That ghost is searching for a green-eyed woman to sacrifice so he can once again become flesh and bone.
Russell is truck driver Jack Burton who is drawn into the adventure by his friend Wang Chi (Dun). Initially all Burton wants is a gambling debt Chi owes him, but when his truck is stolen, and his livelihood along with it, Burton is forced to join in.
Burton and Dun trade quips and battle the bad guys together, but while Dun is revealed to be a full-fledged hero (in a deadpan spoof of Bruce Lee martial arts pictures), Burton is little more than a good-natured oaf.
Kim Cattrall, left, Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Suzee Pai, 'Big Trouble in Little China' (1986)
The plot is complex and more than a little ridiculous, but director John Carpenter (who also did the music) keeps the pace moving so fast you won’t notice until it’s all over. And by then you probably won’t care.
W.D. Richter, who gave us “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” is credited here with “story adaptation,” and some of the dialogue has that “Buckaroo Banzai” ring to it. When the chief heroine, for example, is told the evil ghost’s victim is a woman with green eyes, she says with a straight face, “That’s like patent-leather bucket seats; it doubles the price.”
Probably the most interesting aspect of “Big Trouble in Little China” is that it appears to be the first flat-out spoof of “Rambo,” as well as an obvious Indiana Jones knock-off. With his John Wayne swagger and his Inspector Clouseau klutziness, Russell’s character is also something of a variation on Tom Selleck’s “Magnum, P.I.,” though more of a male chauvinist. Despite Russell’s macho, redneck attitudes, however, he gives Jack Burton a warmth that belies his outward facade.
Dennis Dun’s Wang Chi could have been little more than just another “sidekick” character but Carpenter and Dun have made him an equal partner to Jack Burton, in laughs and heroics — and in fact, he repeatedly surpasses Burton in the latter, beating up the bad guys while Burton bumbles along.
Kim Cattrall’s character, a hard-nosed attorney, is not very well developed but she does get a few laughs and provides Russell with some romance. Victor Wong (also in the current “Dim Sum”) fares much better as the good-guy sorcerer, who drives a Chinatown tour bus on the side. Wong is something of a Chinese Wilford Brimley, excellent in everything he does.
“Big Trouble in Little China” which is quite violent for its PG-13 rating, isn’t going to win any awards. But during a summer when there is no “Indiana Jones” movie, a pseudo-Indiana Jones will do.