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Predator 2 (1990)


It came to Earth to hunt. The last one staked out the Central American jungle, but this one seeks out new hunting grounds, searching for the worthiest prey. It has found what it seeks in Los Angeles. The hunt is on. And LAPD Lieutenant Mike Harrigan is definitely getting too old for this shit.

Predator 2 is a sci fi action movie directed by Stephen Hopkins, and is a sequel to the first Predator. It stars Danny Glover, Gary Busey, MarĂ­a Conchita Alonso, Ruben Blades, and Bill Paxton, with Kevin Peter Hall reprising his role as The Dude in the Predator Suit.

The year is 1997. Los Angeles is in the middle of both an oppressive heat wave and a turf war between the Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels. Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Glover) risks his life to rescue two wounded officers and drive the Columbians back into their hideout, unaware that he is being observed by an interested third party until, bolstered with reinforcements, he defies orders and charges into the hideout to clear out the gangbangers once and for all… only to find them all slaughtered and strung up from the skylights. After catching a glimpse of something while pursuing the Columbians’ leader, Harrigan is rebuked for disobeying orders, and introduced to the source of said orders: Agent Peter Keyes (Busey), who tells him to step off, with the cryptic warning: “You do not know what you are dealing with.”

This soon proves to be completely true, when the Feds’ quarry draws Harrigan’s wrath by killing one of his team who was retrieving a speartip left lodged in an air conditioning vent. Harrigan vows to bring down his partner’s killer, but soon finds himself pursuing an alien hunter with weaponry so advanced that the Feds want to capture the thing to study its stuff. Well, if it wants to come to L.A. to find worthy prey to hunt, it is going to find exactly that in this thoroughly pissed-off cop…

I enjoyed this movie when I first saw it, and it’s still thrilling today. Predator 2 offers a bit more insight into the Predator’s motives, as well as its code of honor, by showing how it chooses its prey. It goes after the gangbangers because they’re all armed to the teeth. It slaughters a subway car full of bystanders because they’re all packing heat. It briefly considers a child pointing a plastic gun at it, but disregards him as a threat after perceiving the weapon as a toy. And it spares an armed policewoman when it sees that she is pregnant. It also demonstrates that while the Preds primarily hunt by infrared, their masks are able to help them see in other spectrums (spectra?) as well. Los Angeles is no less a jungle than the Central American setting of the first film, particularly with the gang war going on, and it has its choice of challenging targets, only to find a real thrill in hunting the cop who put seven holes in it – the first Earthling to wound it on this trip.

Danny Glover as Harrigan plays pretty much the polar opposite of Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon. While Murtaugh is a straight-arrow, by-the-books cop, Harrigan is willing to do whatever it takes to get his man, even if that “man” is a seven-foot-tall alien hunter that could easily break him in half. While a very different sort of “chosen prey” than Dutch from the previous film, Harrigan is not stupid, just bullheaded. The supporting cast is decently solid, but the Feds, while they know some of the Pred’s abilities, turn out to serve only as proof of what an efficient hunter the Pred is, with the weeks of observation and planning ending abruptly in a bloodbath in much the same way the Space Marines got fricasseed in Aliens. Bill Paxton as Detective Lambert sits squarely at the “really obnoxious” end of Paxton’s usual spectrum of roles. Unfortunately, Detectives Archuleta (Blades) and Cantrell (Alonso) are not very well fleshed out, and seem to serve only to demonstrate the Pred’s deadliness and code of honor, respectively.

At the end of the day, while the story only narrowly avoids coming off as a retread of the original, Predator 2 adds quite a few details to the mythos of the Predators, and holds up as a decent follow-up to the first. Check it out next time you’re looking for a good action movie.

Cube (1997)


You wake up to the sensation of metal pressing against your cheek. You have a slight headache, and you can’t remember what happened last night.

>look

You open your eyes to find yourself in a 14-foot cube crafted of cold metal, lit with blue lighting. There is a door in the center of each face. You see a pamphlet lying on the floor nearby.

>read pamphlet

Cube is a Canadian psychological thriller movie directed by Vincenzo Natali, presenting a Kafka-esque situation: seven strangers separately find themselves trapped in a cubical device made of thousands upon thousands of identical rooms, some of which are rigged with deathtraps. It stars David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Nicole de Boer, and Nick Guadagni. Despite its minimalist plot and simple premise, Cube was a successful product of the Canadian Film Centre’s First Feature Project and achieved minor critical success upon its initial release.

I first saw this movie on the Sci Fi Channel one afternoon, and while I expected the channels usual fare of bad acting, stupid plot, and shitty special effects, Cube was actually a damn good little movie. Its cast was primarily obscure unknowns, through Stargate SG-1 fans will recognize David Hewlitt as a proto-Rodney McKay. (He gets the crap beat out of him. Twice. You’re welcome.) The plot is presented only in its broadest strokes, and while the outside is referred to, it is never shown except as fathomless darkness between the rooms and the outer shell, or as white light when the exit is found. Later installments in the film series do little to clear anything up, and instead the storyline raises more questions than it resolves. Instead, as the movie progresses and their situation starts to look hopeless, the inevitable happens: one of the prisoners snaps out. If you’ve seen any of the Saw films, you will expect this to happen. The acting is decent, given the distinct lack of details they have to work with, though I have some minor issue with Holloway’s non-profanity of “Cats! Holy, holy cats!” Not because I was offended, but because it was a damn goofy way to avoid swearing.

Now for an issue that would be minor were it not a plot point. Leaven, one of the two resident math experts, must figure out whether the room coordinate numbers are prime, indicating “safe” rooms. Some of the numbers are obvious non-primes, like two numbers ending in 5 and 2 – very simple. Also, figuring out powers of primes is apparently not as “astronomical” as Leaven claims, though probably only the bigger math nerds would have known the methods of figuring out three-digit primes or the powers thereof without a calculator on hand. Fortunately, this doesn’t detract too much from the movie.

Cube is an obscure little treasure from Canada that will probably please fans of Kafka-esque plots or sci-fi thrillers. Keep an eye out for this one in your local video store.

Ghost Ship (2002)


In 1962, the cruise liner Antonia Graza was lost at sea, with all its passengers and crew presumed perished. Twenty years later, it has returned, just as mysteriously. And something is still aboard…

Ghost Ship is a horror film directed by Steve Beck and produced by Dark Castle Entertainment, responsible for the recent remakes of Thirteen Ghosts, The House on Haunted Hill, and House of Wax. It stars Julianna Marguiles, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard, Karl Urban, Desmond Harrington, Isiah Washington, and Desmond Washington, plus a bunch of very angry ghosts.

Everyone has heard of the Antonia Graza – she’s like the Holy Grail of ship salvages. So when the crew of the Arctic Warrior is approached about a salvage in the Bering Sea and it turns out to be the vanished cruise liner, everyone is excited about not only the reward for salvaging it but also the bragging rights. However, when they board the ship to prepare to tow it to shore, strange things start happening that suggest that not everything is at rest aboard the derilict. Maureen Epps (Marguiles) sees the spectre of a little girl wandering the decks. Greer (Washington) hears the voice of an unseen songstress crooning a ghostly melody. Epps and their employer, Ferriman (Harrington), find the corpses of previous salvage crews… and a quantity of gold bars in the hold, with the identifying markings filed down. Estimating that the gold by itself is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, they decide to take the gold and leave the ship, but the Arctic Warrior explodes as it is started up, killing a crewman and leaving the rest of them stranded on the Antonia Graza. With no other choice, the salvage crew try to repair the ship, but as more of them are killed by the ghostly forces on the ship, Epps is about to learn some terrifying things about the ship’s history and their helpful employer…

I basically picked up Ghost Ship on a whim. I enjoy ghost stories, almost as much as I enjoy finding hidden treasures (as I had with Pitch Black). I’d previously seen how Gabriel Byrne did supernatural horror in End of Days, and Julianna Marguiles had proven her acting chops in her stint in ER. The rest were unknowns at the time, and I thought they did well. This spooky little horror tale did a lot with a little, offering glimpses and hints rather than beating the viewer over the head with OMG GHOSTS, and on the whole the spooks are not obvious or in your face about it. The sequence where Greer witnesses the ruined ballroon reconstituting itself around him was impressive, as well as the fact that most of the special effects had been done practically, favoring models and prosthetics over CGI.

In addition, while the setup appeared to be a standard haunting, the writers took it and made it their own, offering an explanation for why the ghosts are trapped there instead of saying “just because”, while also giving the otherwise marooned salvagers (well, one of them) a possible solution. The story was engaging as it unfolded, with the ghostly Katie guiding Epps to the answers she would need to survive the darker forces at work on the wreck, and the explanation for why that ghost alone, out of the hundreds bound to the vessel, was able to help was satisfying and made sense within the context of the story. While the rest of Dark Castle’s movies have been largely hit or miss (mainly miss), this one was enjoyable and spooky.

If you like ghost stories and you’re looking for a movie that’s slightly off the beaten path, try Ghost Ship. It’s not flashy, just a beautiful, atmospheric tale of a tragic haunting, and the outsiders who find themselves drawn into the darkness of a decades-old tragedy.

Saw II (2005)


This is the story of eight strangers… picked to be trapped in a house that is slowly filling with nerve gas… forced to work with each other to escape and have their experience taped… to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start freaking the hell out.

Sounds like the premise for a new reality TV show, right? Wrong.

Saw II is a horror film and (obviously) the first sequel to Saw. It was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Bousman and Leigh Whannell (writer of the first movie). It starts Tobin “I want to play a game” Bell, Shawnee “Didn’t you already escape one of his traps?” Smith, Donnie “The Sixth Sense” Wahlberg, Frankie “The Italian Job” G, Glenn E. “Speed” Plummer, Beverley “7th Heaven” Mitchell, Dina “Starship Troopers” Meyer, Emmanuelle “Secondhand Lions” Vaugier, and Erik “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” Knudsen.

A police informant wakes with an iron maiden-like device around his head; a videotape informs him that the key to unlock the trap has been surgically implanted behind his left eye, and he is given a scalpel with which he must retrieve the key before time runs out. Naturally, he can’t, and his head gets crunched when the traps springs shut. Detective Eric Matthews (Wahlberg) is called to the scene after police find a message addressed to him. He follows a SWAT team to an abandoned steel factory, where they find John Kramer (Bell), a.k.a. Jigsaw, waiting for them, weakened by cancer. Nearby, monitors show a group of eight people trapped in a large house – and among them is Daniel (Knudsen), Eric’s son, and Amanda (Smith), the only known survivor of a Jigsaw trap. The victims have two hours to figure out how to escape the house before the nerve gas slowly filling the structure kills them, but Jigsaw assures Eric that he will see his son “in a safe, secure state” if Eric just talks to Jigsaw for a while. Eric reluctantly agrees, hoping to buy time for the tech guys to trace where the video signal is coming from.

Inside the house, the prisoners are told that there are antidotes scattered throughout the place to save them from the nerve gas, but each one is in a deadly puzzle-trap that must be solved to retrieve the prize within. As the people in the house race to find and unlock these precious antidotes, we learn that they have a connection: they are all people that Detective Matthews has had jailed, meaning Daniel could be in real danger if this detail were uncovered. Meanwhile, Jigsaw engages the detective in apparently meaningless small-talk, during the course of which we learn about his backstory and how he came to test people’s will to survive. And all the while, traps and betrayals are whittling down the number of players in his sadistic game…

I found Saw II to be a worthy follow-up to the original Saw, and Jigsaw’s brief biography was engaging as a study of the making of a madman. The main story within the trapped house also had me on the edge of my seat, knowing from the first movie that not everyone would get out alive, despite Jigsaw’s reassurances. Rather than keeping Jigsaw as a faceless entity, here he is established as a real person, with real motivations beyond being a sadistic bastard, and while I don’t agree with his methods, I could see how he can to settle on them. The ending gave me whiplash, as it had in the first movie, and only provides further proof of Jigsaw’s status as the ultimate chessmaster – he plans for every eventuality.

The traps were as diabolical as those in the first, but some of the house victims seemed mainly to get snared by their own stupidity, like in the razorblade trap. A few of them could be chalked up to desperation and a keep knowledge of human nature, though, like the peephole trap, but many of them appeared to be pure sadism, knowing that people wouldn’t be thinking straight with the threat of death by nerve gas hanging over their heads. One trap that is definitely worth noting for the sheer cringe factor, though – the needle pit. I don’t like needles anyway, even in a safe, sterile environment at the doctor’s office – and here Amanda gets shoved into a pit FILLED with used syringes! ARGHHHHHJJHYMNQMBDTRD…

In total, Saw II continues in the tradition of its predecessor, with a decently engaging story coupled with diabolical traps. Fans of the first will not be disappointed.

Predator (1987)


It started as a joke about Rocky’s fifth movie being about him fighting E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. This eventually evolved into an idea about a team of commandos in the Central American jungle on a rescue mission, who discover that something is hunting them back, something not native to Central America… or even planet Earth. You knew Stan Winston would get involved eventually, and, hey, there he was. The result wasn’t brilliant. It wasn’t deep or philosophical. It just kicked all kinds of ass.

Predator is a science fiction action film directed by John McTiernan and written by Jim and John Thomas. It stars Arnold “GET TO DA CHOPPA” Schwarzenegger, Carl “Rocky” Weathers, Elpidia “You mean she’s been in other stuff besides this?” Carillo, Bill “Commando” Duke, Jesse “The governor of Minnesota” Ventura, and Kevin Peter “The tall dude in the monster suit” Hall.

An alien spacecraft flies past Earth, jettisoning a pod, which heads for Central America. This will be important later. Sometime later, Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) arrives in Guatemala with his elite team of mercenaries on a rescue mission: three members of the presidental cabinet have been captured by rebels. Dutch’s old military buddy George Dillon (Weathers) steps in as a liaison and joins the team, and they are dropped off in the jungle via helecopter. They find the wreckage of a downed helicopter and later the skinned bodies of what they later discover was a Special Forces unit, the presence of whom mystifies Dutch. The team tracks the guerillas to a heavily defended camp, blow shit up, and kill everyon expect for a woman named Anna (Carillo), whom they take as a prisoner. Dillon confesses that their actual mission had been to destroy the camp (which they did magnificently), and that the skinned corpses they’d found were part of a failed mission to rescue some C.I.A. agents. Dutch is pissed and starts moving his team to the extraction point, not knowing that they are being watched by something that is clearly impressed by their combat expertise, and is about to put them all to a more challenging test…

Okay, admit it: This is the point where the real plot starts. A nearly-invisible alien hunter with elaborate technology at its clawed fingertips starts hunting down the soldiers and picking them off one by one, until one man is left with the cojones and the skills to really go toe-to-toe with the thing. The whole movie is flooded with testosterone and action-packed and intense, and the “real” plot doesn’t matter. Stan Winston’s creature effects are brilliant as always, and the finished Predator looks perfectly inhuman and dangerous, but intelligent in a way that you can figure out his motivations: he is an honorable warrior, out for the challenge rather than random bloodshed just for the hell of it. The code of honor for Predators is elaborated upon in the franchise’s expanded universe, but one catches glimpses of it here – he doesn’t go after unarmed combatants, he strategized brilliantly even when out numbered, and he is able to use mind-games (like mimicking the voice of Dutch’s known-dead teammate) to spook his prey and keep them off-balance. Unlike his franchise rival, the alien Xenomorph, the Predator’s motivations can be parsed out, making him a believable member of an intelligent race.

This acting is about par for an action movie – not Shakespeare, but clearly conveying the fact that this unknown hunter is freaking them all right the hell out. Anna, as Ms. Exposition regarding the Predator, is nothing to write home about, but as a frightened civilian woman she gets the job done. Arnold is Action Hero Guy, as usual, long before he even dreamed of trying comedy, and he utterly succeeds at being Action Hero Guy, the only guy with the balls to stand up to this towering, muscular monster. Hall, the guy in the Pred suit, is 7’2 and towers over Arnold like few humans can, and (literally) wears his role very well.

So. Action. Suspense. Monsters. Shit blowing up. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you like all these, see Predator. It is a simple movie, with a simple premise and complicated special effects that would go on to form the other half of the Alien vs. Predator interfranchise rivalry. I highly recommend this film.

The Crazies (2010)

02/02/2011 2 comments

Things to be scared of in a horror movie:

  • Dolls
  • Clowns
  • Power tools
  • Your house
  • Cars
  • Dead people

Now, thanks to George Romero, the master of the modern zombie movie, we can add one more item to this list: Your friends and neighbors.

The Crazies is the 2010 remake of the George Romero science fiction horror film of the same name about a town that becomes infected with the “trixie” virus, designed by the military to destabilize the population by turning them psychotic and murderous. It stars Timothy “Scream 2” Olyphant, Radha “Pitch Black” Mitchell, Joe “I am not Kurt Cobain” Anderson, Danielle “Mr. Brooks” Panabaker, Preston “Dexter” Bailey, John “Armageddon” Aylward, and Larry “Pinocchio’s Revenge” Cedar.

It starts fairly simply. In Ogden County, the local sheriff, David (Olyphant), is watching a baseball game when his deputy, Russell (Anderson), spots Rory Hamill, a local resident and town drunk, walking into the field bearing a shotgun. David confronts Rory, but is forced to shoot him. David and his wife Judy (Mitchell) start to notice strange behavior in the other residents, usually some variation of staring blankly into space and repeating a phrase or sentence, but eventually escalating into violence, as with a local farmer who locks his wife and son in a closet and torches their house. When David and Russell investigate a local’s story about a plane crashing in a nearby swamp, they soon discover that whatever the cause is, it is likely military, and their worst fears are proven true when the military moves in to quarantine the town. Now, caught between the military and his own neighbors turned psychotic, David tries to get himself and Judy out of what is quickly turning into a Crazy-infested warzone.

There is a certain level of low-grade terror in the idea that your neighbors and family – people that you’ve known your entire life – could suddenly snap out and go on a rampage. Add to this the threat of a disease that anyone can catch, plus the fact that it was deliberately created by the military (another group we are taught to trust) as a weapon, and you’ve got some high octane paranoia fuel. On the bright side, the military are swiftly taking responsibility for the outbreaks, but on the dark side this means (like it usually does) eliminating absolutely everyone in the area. How do you escape? How can you tell healthy friends from infected Crazies? Add to this the fact that a loved one has been unfairly marked as infected, and you get a pretty nerve-wracking little horror movie.

The acting was… decent. While zombie movies are not known for attracting Grade-A acting talent, I think the cast did well with the material they were given. I haven’t seen the original (but plan to), so I can’t compare whether the remake was an improvement or not. The makeup effects were well-done as well, having been developed with real-life diseases in mind, with the ultimate goal of making it look “real”, like something that you could actually catch from the Crazies. The final result combined elements of rabies, tetanus, and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The makeup studio used, Almost Human, previously did work in films like Quarantine, Franken Fish, and Prom Night, and aimed for a “hyper alive” look rather than the listless tenacity of traditional walking dead.

As zombie movies go, The Crazies took a traditional concept and sent it in the direction only recently being explored by filmmakers: the non-undead rage zombie. As a contribution to this subtype, it doesn’t add anything new, but it does well enough for what it is. I would rent this again in a heartbeat.

Saw (2004)


Hello. I want to play a game.

What would you do to survive? If you had to kill a complete stranger or mutilate yourself to save yourself or a loved one from a horrible fate, would you? How much do you value your life? How willing are you to survive?

Jigsaw wants to know. And he’s willing to put you to the ultimate test.

Saw is an Australian-American horror movie directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, based on an idea by Wan. It stars Cary “Dread Pirate Roberts” Elwes, Danny “I’m getting too old for this shit” Glover, Tobin “Mississippi Burning” Bell, Shawnee “The Desperate Hours” Smith, and Leigh “The Matrix Reloaded” Whannell.

The primary plot revolves around two men, photographer Adam Stanheight (Whannell) and oncologist Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Elwes), who wake up in a dilapidated bathroom, each man chained by the ankle to a pipe at opposite ends of the bathroom. Lying between them is a corpse in a pool of blood, with a revolver in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. Adam and Dr. Gordon each have a cassette tape in their pocket; using the tape recorder, they learn that Adam has been tasked with escaping the bathroom, while Dr. Gordon must kill Adam before six o’clock or his wife and daughter will be killed. Congratulations, guys, you’ve been taken by the Jigsaw Killer… you’re both screwed.

As the movie progresses, we learn more about the mysterious Jigsaw Killer. Believing that people don’t truly appreciate their lives, Jigsaw places them in elaborate, poetic deathtraps and challenges them to escape. The only known survivor of one of these traps is Amanda Young (Smith), a heroin addict who had to cut open her dealer’s stomach to retrieve the key to a device locked onto her head, designed to tear her lower jaw off when time ran out; in her statement to police she asserted that the experience “helped” her. Jigsaw would frequently observe these games, directly or otherwise, apparently enjoying having a front row seat. Dr. Gordon’s heard of him, having briefly been accused of being him when his penlight was found at the scene of one of the traps.

Meanwhile, Gordon’s family is being guarded in their home by a man who is watching the prisoners’ plight through a camera behind one of the bathroom mirrors. The Gordon house in turn is being watched by Detective Tapp (Glover), who became obsessed with finding Jigsaw after viewing Amanda’s testimony, but an illegal raid on one of Jigsaw’s hideouts left his partner dead from a shotgun trap and Tapp himself discharged from the force. As Adam and Gordon learn what their connection is to each other and to the mysterious Jigsaw, they are forced to come to a dire conclusion: Play Jigsaw’s game, or suffer the consequences.

While Saw has been credited with inspiring the “torture porn” subgenre of movies that subsequently became popular, this first movie actually contains very little gore, and most of the violence is offscreen. Others have compared Saw to other psychological thrillers like Se7en, both favorably and unfavorably. I found Saw to be a tight little suspense movie that gave you every reason to sympathize with the subjects of Jigsaw’s experiments. They are real, flawed people who may have made a single mistake that landed them in this mess, but none of them seemed unrealistically whiny about it.

The traps themselves are cruel and efficient, and the traps were often “real” devices: the reverse beartrap of Amanda’s test, for example, was made of metal and fully functional. The gritty, rusted appearance of all the traps, as well as the used, “abandoned” look of the rooms made them look inherently more dangerous than a sterile setting with clean, polished traps might have been.

Saw holds a special place in my dark little heart. While the rest of the franchise has become largely hit-and-miss, the original introduced me to a truly demented villain in Jigsaw, and I enjoyed putting the pieces together as the ending came from a surprising direction. By all means, see this movie. You won’t be sorry.