The Monster and The Movie

Here is an interesting movie-making question: can a monster alone make or break a monster movie?

During my most recent review of “The Creeping Terror”, I stated:

“I believe that you can make a decent monster movie without a decent monster. You just have to be creative with the shots, build tension with the writing and music, and keep the embarrassing rubber suit off-screen as much as possible.”

I definitely stand by that, but what about the inverse? Can an outstanding monster make an otherwise bad movie good on its own?

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A few examples immediately came to mind. First off, there is “Alien”. I don’t think anyone can argue that the xenomorph isn’t a legendary monster design, but did it make the movie? It certainly contributed to the success, but I would wager that without the masterfully constructed atmospheric tension, it would have been a wash, xenomorph design or no. I mean, just take a look at the lesser entries in the franchise. No amount of design prowess was going to save those AvP films.

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For a better example, take David Decoteau’s “The Killer Eye”. The eponymous Killer Eye is actually pretty impressive for such a low budget flick. However, the movie is so poorly crafted that there is never any shock or tension to be had, so it falls on its face. The decent monster certainly didn’t save it. It is also worth noting that “The Killer Eye” made the common mistake of showing off the monster too often, which, if “Jaws” taught us anything, is best not to do. You want the monster being on screen to mean something. That is a failure on the part of the filmmaker that can’t be rectified by the most impressive of monster designs.

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Speaking of “Jaws”, how about that being a good movie with a bad monster? I know some swear by “Bruce”, the mechanical shark, but I think he looked just damn goofy. And according to everything I’ve read, Bruce was an absolute drag on the movie’s production due to needing constant maintenance. At the time, many thought that Bruce would sink the movie with delays and costs. It turns out though, according to a quote from Peter Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”, that Bruce may have actually saved the movie. The constant mechanical issues with the shark meant that the actors, writers, and Spielberg spent large amounts of time together away from the camera, building up chemistry and inspiring re-writes that turned the film (and initially lack-luster script) into the legendary work it became. So, maybe a bad monster can, in some way, make a good movie?

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IMDb Bottom 100: The Creeping Terror

The Creeping Terror

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Ah, “The Creeping Terror”. This movie has to have one of the worst monsters in cinema history, and that is really saying something.

I’ve already mentioned this flick briefly when I covered the upcoming movie “The Creep Behind the Camera”, based on the bizarre story of how “The Creeping Terror” was made. To be honest, this is one of those rare cases where the story of how the film was made is far more fascinating and entertaining than the film itself. There are some that swear by “The Creeping Terror”, but before I started reading into the back story, I just found it to be another boring, repetitive Corman-esque monster movie. The only things that stood out for me on the first watch were the silly monster design and the inconsistent and perplexing use of narration. However, after learning some more about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that spawned this film, I am way more intrigued by it. I still think the movie is crushingly boring, but there is at least a fraction  of intrigue as well.

First off, take a good, long look at the star of “The Creeping Terror”:

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Yeah, that’s the first problem. Carpets are not very scary, and this thing is about as far from intimidating as you can get. However, I believe that you can make a decent monster movie without a decent monster. You just have to be creative with the shots, build tension with the writing and music, and keep the embarrassing rubber suit off-screen as much as possible. Financial limitations can force artists to be creative to make their film work, and some directors actually work best under those limitations (Robert Rodriguez pops to mind). Or, y’know, they can do none of that at all, and make their film as boring as possible. Just like “The Creeping Terror”.

I would be hard pressed to find anything that was genuinely done well in this movie. I guess the infamous dance hall scene is sort of ok…except for the damn music.

…and, of course, it all goes wrong when the monster shows up.

I am not personally a big fan of “The Creeping Terror” as a bad movie, and don’t recommend it for group viewing. However, if you are interested in the machinations behind the scenes that produce crap movies, then there is perhaps no better tale than the spotty information available about star/director Vic Savage and “The Creeping Terror”. It sounds like a delightful brew of fraud, addiction, sex, bribery, and madness went into the making of this atrocious feature. Seriously, I am incredibly excited to hear what was put together for “The Creep Behind the Camera”. It is sure to be a blast, and I bet the trailer can sell you on it if you aren’t already intrigued.

 

July Hiatus Update: Misan[trope]y on Facebook, Moving to Ohio

Hey! You might notice from the sidebar that Misan[trope]y is now on Facebook!

It turns out that I have a lot of thoughts and musings about movies that aren’t quite detailed or dense enough for an autonomous blog post. Now, these thoughts need not go to waste! I’m going to funnel them through the Misan[trope]y facebook page, where they will both appear here on the sidebar and help me theoretically  increase the awareness / traffic to the site! Isn’t that exciting? Oh yeah, and the FB page means there is now a central, public location for my post updates that isn’t my personal twitter/facebook. That seems important too.

In other news, I am using the July quasi-hiatus to work on some upcoming projects, like a potential on-site “Space Camp” review and starting a sister podcast called “The [Plot]opsy”. I’ve also calculated that despite the July hiatus, I am still on pace to knock out the IMDb Bottom 100 by the end of 2014.  I have a handful of written/recorded Bottom 100 reviews in the wings that should be published over the course of the month, but updates will be spotty until August.


In the meantime, I’m slowly getting to know the film community of my new home: Columbus, OH. It turns out that it is actually quite impressive! Not only are there a ton of excellent Bargain Bin(ge) spots, but Columbus is also home to Ohio State University’s Wexner Arts Center, the gorgeous Gateway Film Center, and the delightful Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse. There is also a spiffy local video rental spot (Video Central) with late hours and an admirable selection of cult / rare DVDs.  So far, Columbus is looking like a delightful new home for the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, with multiple venues offering B-movie screenings and events in addition to everything else.  Just in the next two days, I am slated to check out screenings of the original Godzilla, Alien, and Cabin in the Woods.

So, please like the page on Facebook, and I’ll be back with regular content as soon as I am not living in an extended stay without a working internet connection.

IMDb Bottom 100: Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders

Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders

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“Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” is barely a movie. A lot of people throw that claim around whenever a movie is really poor in quality, but in the case of “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders”, the claim is absolutely true. This perplexing film is a loose stitch-job conjoining a failed television pilot with a previously existing film by the same director (“The Devil’s Gift”). Aside from some lazily added shots of Merlin aimlessly wandering around on a street, there is nothing tying the two halves together. The resulting “movie” is a powerful testament to film-making laziness, but at least it comes out as an entertaining sort of mess.

Most of the acting in “Merlin’s” is astoundingly forgettable, with a couple of exceptions. First off, the opening segment features an amazingly dickish skeptic who threatens to bury Merlin for being a charlatan. The actor has an absolute ball with the role, and is about the only reason that the first half of the movie is watchable at all. Almost all of his lines are pure gold, and his comeuppance is thoroughly satisfying (despite the really crappy effects along the way: including the fakest fire-breathing I have ever seen, and some really embarrassingly bad age makeup ).

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In age makeup, breathing fire onto a possessed cat puppet. Gold.

The only other performance of note is the child actor in the second segment, who is straight-up atrocious. However, he does get the best line in the movie:

I really hope that wasn’t scripted.

One particularly interesting aspect of “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” is that it changes the original ending to “The Devil’s Gift” (again, that’s the original movie where all of the monkey plot line footage came from). “The Devil’s Gift” ends in a very dark manner, with the implication that the family is all killed by the cursed monkey toy. In “Merlin’s”, it seems that writer/director Kenneth J. Berton is correcting his lackluster ending. Instead of the evil monkey ending victorious, Merlin shows up at the last moment to save the day (in footage filmed explicitly to die this jumbled mess of a movie together). It definitely feels strange and tacked-on when Merlin shows up at just the right time, and it certainly doesn’t do the movie any favors from a quality standpoint. Then again, neither does anything else about the movie.

Overall, “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” is surprisingly watchable, despite the confusingly edited together plot(s). There are actually a handful of genuinely good shots interspersed throughout the madness, and plenty of moments of ridiculous fun that make this a great choice for a bad movie night.

“Birdman” Movie?

I recently caught wind of an upcoming movie called “Birdman”, starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and a plethora of other recognizable faces. It even has a Academy Award nominated director attached (Alejandro González Iñárritu), which sure surprised me.

birdman4Now, I was a fan of the solar-powered Hanna-Barbera hero long before he famously became a Juris Doctor. I can guarantee you that there are embarrassing pictures of me as a child in a homemade Birdman costume for Halloween. So, of course, my first question when I heard about this movie was “…is it ‘that’ Birdman?”

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When I asked that question of my friend who informed me about the film, he told me that he had absolutely no idea, but that I had to watch the trailer. Watch the trailer I did, and I can now understand his confusion.

This…is a strange trailer. First off, it feels like there is an odd attempt at comedy in there, particularly with that last shot between Norton and Keaton. What that most came to mind there was the dark, twisted humorous moments in 2010’s “Super” (the most experimental hero movie, until now?), but this even seems more dry and dark than the content found in that film. I’m certainly not anticipating gut laughs or guffaws from the director who gave us “Babel” and “21 Grams”, but it sure seems to be playing at an uncomfortable style of humor with the tone. And, like my friend, I have no idea if Keaton is supposed to be ‘that’ Birdman. Obviously, the story is not about the character itself, but about an actor who portrays him (a meta-statement about Keaton’s career?). Still, are we going to see Michael Keaton deal with a crippling addiction to tanning cream? Or perhaps get a Stephen Colbert cameo as Falcon Seven? Almost certainly not. But I can dream.

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I am definitely curious to see how this movie plays out. There is clearly some money in it given some of the teased effects and the cast, but the tone is definitely off-the-wall and experimental. Can a movie like this be financially successful? It seems to me like the big comic book movie players don’t think so, given the recent Edgar Wright / Ant Man kerfuffle. However, I’m glad to see that Fox Searchlight is taking a risk on this (along with a number of other production companies, notably). If this kind of interesting take on the hero movie concept proves financially viable, it could mean good news for the future of blockbusters. Who wouldn’t like to see more interesting takes on superhero movies at this point?

I know this guy would
I know this guy would

Honestly, and I hate to say this, but I am anticipating this movie to be a financial failure. The tone is just too strange, and it is going to be impossible to market to the general audiences who are accustomed to feeding from the trough of Marvel features. Nothing about this film strikes me as easily digestible so far.

That said, I will be shocked if this film is not a critical success. I’m hoping this gets Keaton more heavily back onto people’s radars, and gives Galifianakis an opportunity to impress in a more dramatic role at the very least. That is a lot to draw from just a trailer, but Iñárritu has a solid reputation, and this looks to be a loaded cast on top of an interesting concept.

The current release date is set for October 17 of this year. I know I will be eagerly awaiting it.

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Bargain Bin(ge): The Exchange

Ah, The Exchange. This is yet another one of my local Huntsville, AL haunts for digging up used DVDs, and boy is it a doozy.

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The Exchange isn’t nearly as pretty, as friendly, or as cheap as MovieStop, but it does have a peculiar charm to it. I have found some truly off the wall movies here, including most of Hulk Hogan’s filmography (including that one time he played Zeus).  It also has an unparalleled ambiance, wedged between a dollar store and a sex shop in a run down Wal-Mart parking lot. This is the place you picture when you think of bargain DVD spots, and it lives up to its appearance.

exchange5As opposed to MovieStop, The Exchange does not deal exclusively in movies. However, they only carry used DVDs, so almost their entire stock is bargain bin in price and quality (in this context, that’s a good thing).

exchange2The Exchange doesn’t quite have the dirt prices of MovieStop either (at least in the bargain bins), but it is a rarity to find anything priced over 10 dollars in the entire selection of DVDs available.

exchange4In general, I choose MovieStop over The Exchange when I go hunting for movies. However, The Exchange is no pushover in regards to pricing and the obscurity of their collection, and I do find myself dropping by there pretty often because of it.

If you happen to be in Huntsville and are looking for something horrible to watch, this is a place to look. They also have some really dreadful posters on the wall from notoriously flopped movies such as “It’s Pat!” and “Red Tails” that are for sale, in case you are into that kind of thing. I can’t image who would be though.

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