Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe

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Today’s feature is the much-maligned film adaptation of the Mattel franchise He-Man: Cannon Group’s Masters of the Universe.

Masters of the Universe was written by David Odell, who also penned such films as Supergirl, The Dark Crystal, and numerous episodes of The Muppet Show.

The director on Masters of the Universe was Gary Goddard, which is to date his only feature film directorial credit. However, he has produced and written a number of shorts and 3D/4D shows for theme parks over the years, if that counts for anything.

The cinematographer for Masters of the Universe was Hanania Baer, who has shot such movies as American Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, The Brotherhood of Justice, and Ernest Scared Stupid.

The editor on the film was Anne V. Coates, who has also cut movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey, Congo, Lawrence of Arabia, Striptease, Erin Brockovich, and The Golden Compass over her career.

The two primary producers of Masters of the Universe were Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the infamous duo behind the flurry of Cannon Group b-movies that dominated the 1980s (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, American Ninja). The other producers included Elliot Schick (Total Recall), Edward Pressman (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Judge Dredd, Street Fighter), and Evzen Kolar (Surf Ninjas).

The makeup effects team for Masters of the Universe included Robin Beauchesne (Killer Workout, Iron Man 2, First Daughter, National Treasure), James Kagel (Stargate, Child’s Play, Big Trouble In Little China), Todd McIntosh (April Fool’s Day), Gerald Quist (Drive, Jonah Hex, Breakfast of Champions, Re-Animator), June Westmore (Sphere), and Michael Westmore (Raging Bull, Capricorn One).

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The Masters of the Universe special effects team was composed of Larry Roberts (Volcano, 3 Ninjas Kick Back), Karl G. Miller (Cat People, The Blues Brothers, Battlestar Galactica), Daniel Hutten (Die Hard, Solarbabies), R.J. Hohman (The Perfect Storm, Cyborg, Popeye, The Two Jakes), and Arthur Brewer (The Hitcher, Swamp Thing, Smokey and The Bandit).

The massive team of visual effects artists on Masters of the Universe included common elements with such productions as Ghostbusters, Volcano, Coneheads, Leonard Part 6, Fright Night, Donnie Darko, Battle Beyond The Stars, Mystery Men, Lawnmower Man 2, Ghost, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The music for Masters of the Universe was composed by Bill Conti, who is best known for his work on the Rocky movies, The Karate Kid, and The Right Stuff.

The cast of Masters of the Universe included Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Dark Angel, The Punisher, Red Scorpion), Frank Langella (The Twelve Chairs, Junior, Cutthroat Island, Small Soldiers, The Ninth Gate), Meg Foster (They Live, Leviathan, Blind Fury, The Lords of Salem), Billy Barty (Willow, Legend), Courteney Cox (Friends, Scream, Cougar Town), Chelsea Field (Death Spa, The Last Boy Scout, Flipper), and James Tolkan (Back To The Future).

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The plot of Masters of the Universe follows a group of resistance fighters from a faraway planet who are transported to Earth through the use of a mysterious scientific device. However, their enemies soon follow, in an effort to exterminate them and solidify their sinister rule. He-Man and his allies have to work with a handful of humans from Earth to defeat the evil Skeletor to save both Earth and the faraway planet of Eternia from the long reach of darkness.

In an interview, director Gary Goddard spoke about the stylistic influence of the works of Jack Kirby on Masters of the Universe, saying:

“the storyline was greatly inspired by the classic Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom epics, The New Gods and a bit of Thor thrown in here and there. I intended the film to be a “motion picture comic book,” though it was a tough proposition to sell to the studio at the time. ‘Comics are just for kids,’ they thought. They would not allow me to hire Jack Kirby who I desperately wanted to be the conceptual artist for the picture”

The costuming for the character of Evil-Lyn caused actor Meg Foster significant bruising in particularly inconvenient locations, and reportedly weighed well over 40 pounds in total. Interestingly, the eerie appearance of her eyes in the movie was completely natural, and required no enhancements or contact lenses.

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Frank Langella reportedly loved playing the character of Skeletor, and even wrote some of the more memorable lines in the movie himself. He initially took the role because of how much his son loved the franchise, a situation that echoes the similar casting of Raul Julia in the Street Fighter adaptation some years later.

Interestingly, Masters of the Universe is an adaptation specifically from the original line of toys, and not the immensely popular cartoon, which establishes very different backstories for the characters and the plot. This confused many fans of the franchise when the movie initially released, and almost certainly contributed to the negative reception it received.

The failure of Masters of the Universe, coupled with the disappointment of Superman IV, supposedly foiled plans by the Cannon Group to invest in a high budget film adaptation of Spider-Man in the late 1980s, which was to be funded by the profits of those two films.

A sequel to Masters of the Universe was cast and written, but was ultimately scrapped just as the Cannon Group was going under. Very little is known about the abandoned production, other than that it would have been directed by Albert Pyun (Captain America).

A reboot of Masters of the Universe is currently in the works (and has been for a few years), with the latest information that Thor: The Dark World screenwriter Christopher Yost has been attached to keep it moving along. No directors are currently attached to the project, and no clear timeline has been set for shooting or release.

Anthony De Longis, one of the actors in the film, was initially hired as a sword expert, and provided all of the fight choreography for the film. He even filled in as Skeletor in the fight sequences, and trained Dolph Lundgren on how to use a sword.

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Masters of the Universe proved to be a financial failure, bringing in only 17 million at the box office on a budget of 22 million. Likewise, the reviews of the movie were brutal, clocking in at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and 41% from audiences, along with an IMDb rating of 5.3.

One of my biggest issues with the film’s plot is the fact that no bystanders are ever harmed, or even witness the events that take place on Earth. How do no people see an alien army marching through suburban streets, or small aircraft flying over a mid-sized town? At one point, the police finally do show up, but only after they are drug to the scene by another police officer. It is assumed that at no point over the duration of the plot did anyone report suspicious activity, let along openly panic at witnessing an alien invasion.

The story of Masters of the Universe seems to assume previous knowledge of the characters, their relationships, and the basic premise of the story, which is especially confusing given that the adaptation is taken directly from a series of action figures, which are not historically known for establishing plot. The beginning of the movie could even be seen as a follow-up from a previous film given how little backstory is provided.

One unnecessary addition to the cast of Masters of the Universe that particularly got on my nerves was the annoying troll character, Gwildor. While he is crucial to the plot during a handful of moments, his primary purpose is to provide comic relief, which never fails to fall flat. Also, the makeup on the dwarf-like creature is really odd and unsettling, as if he were left out in the sun for too long.

Dolph Lundgren is surprisingly solid enough in this movie, given that he still didn’t have a solid hold on the English language at this point. That said, this certainly wasn’t a dialogue-heavy role for him, which was certainly for the best.

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The most notable aspect of Masters of the Universe is that it feels like a patchwork of better known movies from the time, like Star Wars and Back to The Future. There is not much original to it when all is said and done, and the screenplay is about as basic and no-frills as it could possibly be.

overall, I can certainly see why this movie didn’t resonate with existing He-Man fans. That said, there is a fair amount of fun to be had with this admirably mindless entry into the filmography of the 1980s. Frank Langella absolutely hams it up as Skeletor, and the creature work is all very over the top. There are more lasers and goofy visual effects than you could possibly dream of, and the plot itself centers around a synthesizer with the ability to open dimensional portals.  What more could you possibly ask for?

The value of this movie definitely comes from a combined sense of nostalgia and how poorly the film has aged on the whole. It isn’t an elite good-bad movie for sure, but I think that it is more than worth checking out at least once for the novelty of it.

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Beeper

Beeper

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Today’s flick is a mostly forgotten 2002 thriller that takes its name from an item that is now a technological relic: Beeper.

The writers for Beeper were Gregory Gieras, who has since written the monster movies Big Ass Spider and Centipede, and Michael Cordell, who has no other listed credits on IMDb.

The director for Beeper was Jack Sholder, who also directed such films as Arachnid, Wishmaster 2, Renegades, The Hidden, and A Nightmare On Elm Street 2.

The cinematographer for Beeper was Ajayan Vincent, who also shot Centipede, which was written and directed by Beeper co-writer Gregory Gieras.

Beeper‘s primary editor was Andy Horvitch, who also cut the Stuart Gordon movies Edmond, Stuck, The Pit and The Pendulum, and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, as well as flicks like Arena, American Ninja, Demonic Toys, and Trancers II.

The visual effects team for Beeper included Jim Stewart (Troll, Chopping Mall, School Spirit, Dr. Alien, The Dentist 2, King of the Ants), Brady Hallongren (Scorcher), Sean Hewitt (Alien Hunter, Poolhall Junkies), and Rita Schrag (The Dentist 2, Soccer Dog, King of the Ants).

The musical score for Beeper was composed by J. Peter Robinson, who has also provided music for such movies as Detroit Rock City, Vampire In Brooklyn, New Nightmare, The Wizard, and Blind Fury.

The cast of Beeper is headlined by Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Bad Lieutenant), Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy), Ed Quinn (Starship Troopers 2, House of the Dead 2), and Gulshan Grover (Hera Pheri, I Am Kalam).

beeper2The plot of Beeper centers around the kidnapping of a prestigious doctor’s son while he is traveling in India. He is then given instructions by the child’s captors via an electronic pager, and has to to figure out a way to get his son back from the criminal organization that his holding him hostage.

Beeper was filmed in the city of Hyderabad in India, which features a good deal of photogenic architecture, which can be seen in the background of many shots.

The film was produced by a company called Shoreline Entertainment, which specializes in the production and distribution of b-movies like Ninja Cheerleaders, Parasite, and Voodoo Lagoon, just to name a few.

The reception for Beeper, at least from what I could find, was pretty negative: the film currently holds a 4.4 on IMDb, along with a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 17%.

First off, the lead character (played by Ed Quinn) in Beeper looks and sounds just enough like Christian Bale from American Psycho that throughout the movie I kept expecting him to eventually snap and start murdering people with an axe or a chainsaw. I think this is due to some mixture of his wardrobe, his hair style, and the cadence of his voice, but it was pretty amusingly distracting for me during less exciting moments of the film regardless.

beeper3The production was able to scout out some really inspiring locations for the movie, given the historic architecture throughout Hyderabad. I’m a little surprised more western productions don’t use Indian locations more often, given their impressive visuals and the fact that the country has a significant existing film infrastructure available.

As I kind of suspected, Harvey Keitel isn’t a major player in this movie, despite being highly billed on most of the promotional materials I have seen. He is far and away the biggest and most expensive name in the movie, and I imagine the production kept the amount of time they needed him on set to a minimum for financial reasons.

In general, the beeper itself provides a pretty interesting plot device to move things forward wile maintaining a sense of mystery and vagueness in the riddles and messages. While the plot mostly amounts to a high stakes scavenger hunt, there are certainly worse gimmicks out there.

Overall, Beeper isn’t awful as far as low-budget thrillers go, but it also isn’t particularly outstanding in any way. As much as there were a few things I liked about it, I mostly didn’t have strong feelings about the movie one way or another. I do wish Keitel got to shine a bit more, though I can certainly understand why he was in a limited role. He also was clearly phoning in his performance, as he has with many over the past few years.

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat

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Today’s movie is one of the most famously successful video game film adaptations of all time: 1995’s Mortal Kombat.

The screenplay for Mortal Kombat was written by one Kevin Droney, who only had a few scattered credits writing for television shows like Highlander and Hunter at the time. Since Mortal Kombat, he only wrote one other feature: Wing Commander, also based on a successful video game.

Mortal Kombat was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who has also been behind such movies as Pompeii, Resident Evil, and Event Horizon.

The cinematographer for Mortal Kombat was John R. Leonetti, who also shot movies like The Conjuring, Insidious, I Know Who Killed Me, Joe Dirt, The Scorpion King, The Mask, and Child’s Play 3.

kombat1The editor for the film was Martin Hunter, who has cut such films as Event Horizon, The Chronicles of Riddick, and Full Metal Jacket.

The music for Mortal Kombat was composed by George S. Clinton, who has also worked on such films as The Love Guru, Beverly Hills Ninja, American Ninja 2, and American Ninja 3.

The makeup effects for Mortal Kombat were provided by a team that included Moni Mansano (Hook, Ninja III: The Domination, Revenge of the Ninja), Thomas Floutz (Face/Off, Critters, From Beyond), Eileen Kastner-Delago (Thor, Cliffhanger), and Raqueli Dahan (True Detective, Kingpin, The Usual Suspects).

The special effects team for the film was composed of Joanne Bloomfield (Tremors II, Galaxy Quest), Duncan Capp (Troy, The Brothers Grimm), Michael Dawson (A View to a Kill, Judge Dredd), Michel Gagne (Space Jam, Vampire in Brooklyn, Demolition Man), Patrick Gerrety (Red Planet, Con Air, Theodore Rex), Alec Gillis (Leviathan, Wolf), David Hoehn (Space Truckers, Wolf, Anaconda), Tom Woodruff, Jr. (Wolf, Leviathan), Patricia Villalobos (Leprechaun 3, Slither), Ron Trost (The Omega Code), Kirk Skodis (Small Soldiers, Prehysteria), and Alison Savitch (Simon Sez).

kombat4The Mortal Kombat visual effects team included common elements with such films as Life of Pi, Batman & Robin, Minority Report, Congo, Daredevil, Red Planet, Theodore Rex, Predator 2, Super Mario Bros, Captain America, Bordello of Blood, and TRON.

The team of producers for Mortal Kombat included Lawrence Kasanoff (Foodfight!, Class of 1999, Blood Diner, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud) and Robert Engelman (Mystery Men, Kazaam, Blade, Shocker, From Justin To Kelly).

The cast of Mortal Kombat includes Christopher Lambert (Highlander 2, Fortress, The Gaul), Robin Shou (Death Race, Beverly Hills Ninja), Linden Ashby (Teen Wolf, Melrose Place), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Vampires, License To Kill), Bridgette Wilson (Billy Madison), and Talisa Soto (License To Kill).

kombat5The plot of Mortal Kombat centers on an extreme, supernatural martial arts tournament, where the finest fighters from multiple dimensions fight to the death for the ultimate claim of glory.

The production of Mortal Kombat was plagued with casting difficulties from the onset. First,  Brandon Lee (Laser Mission) was selected to be Johnny Cage, but tragically died during the filming of The Crow. Then, Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the role to star in a rival video game movie adaptation: Street Fighter. Rumors have also circulated that Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp were both approached for the role, but turned it down. Adding to the troubles, Cameron Diaz was apparently at one point set to play the part of Sonya Blade, but had to back out due to an injury before filming began.

The soundtrack to Mortal Kombat was particularly huge, going platinum in less than two weeks after its release. The music was a mix of techno and dance, integrating clips from the the original game audio, which proved to resonate with fans.

Steven Spielberg, a fan of the video game, was apparently supposed to appear in a cameo role during the introductory Johnny Cage scene, but scheduling conflicts ultimately prevented him from doing so.

Mortal Kombat was of course a massively controversial video game due to its violent and graphic fatalities, leading to significant public outcry against it. The film, on the other hand, is not particularly gory, and even received a PG-13 rating by the MPAA.

kombat2Not only did Mortal Kombat receive a sequel in Moral Kombat Annihilation, but a number of attempts have popped up over the years to reboot the franchise on film. Currently, James Wan (Saw, Furious 7) is reportedly attached to an upcoming adaptation by Warner Brothers, which is set tentatively set to release sometime in 2016. There is also an ongoing web series based on the game called Mortal Kombat Legacy, which was created after the positive reception to the short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.

The reception to Mortal Kombat was generally pretty poor: it currently holds a 5.8 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 33% (critics) and 58% (audiences). In spite of the negative reviews, the movie managed to rake in a whole lot of money: it grossed $122 million worldwide in theaters on a budget of $18 million.

Personally, I feel like Mortal Kombat is one of the more loyal video game movie adaptations out there, with the exception of the lack of gore (which is notable). However, the character designs and fighting arenas all look like they could be pulled straight out of the games, and the fighting sequences aren’t too shabby. While the lack of gore is a huge issue for this movie, I can’t imagine a more faithful adaptation under a PG-13 rating.

kombat3All of that said, just because a movie is accurate to the game doesn’t make it a good film. The game Mortal Kombat is more or less plotless, and doesn’t really connect one fight scene to the next. That means that the screenplay for the movie was on its own in regards to connective tissue to string the fights together, and it didn’t do a particularly good job of it. When a fight scene isn’t in progress, this movie is just…dull. The characters and plot, while fine and good for the purposes of a fighting game, are really boring when applied to a movie that requires progress and character development.

It is worth noting that the very idea of a PG-13 Mortal Kombat movie is a bit bizarre and soulless to start with. Clearly, the only reason to make the movie PG-13 was so that it could be marketed to a younger audience, and thus increase its potential at the box office. However, the game is intentionally violent and catered to an adult audience, so making the movie sanitized for the purpose of reaching out to early teens (and younger) is just kind of icky. I personally think an R-rated movie with more realistic and brutal violence is more appropriate than the cartoonish and bloodless affair in this film. Realistically, which one of those is setting a worse understanding of the consequence of violence at the end of the day? Also, and more importantly, an R-rated Mortal Kombat would be way more entertaining.

Overall, Mortal Kombat isn’t an absolutely awful movie, at least when put side-to-side with other video game adaptations (like its sequel, or the many Uwe Boll features). I do think most of its value at this point comes from nostalgia more than anything else, though I am always a big fan of Christopher Lambert hamming it up in a campy movie. I feel about the same way about this movie as I do about Super Mario Bros: I’ll watch it and enjoy it out of a sense of nostalgia, but there isn’t really any doubt that this qualifies as a bad movie. I think its reputation is worse than it deserves from fans due to the lack of gore, but it also isn’t deserving of any props.

If you are going on a 90s kick and are looking for a way to extend your nostalgia trip, pop in Mortal Kombat. It can serve that purpose well enough.

Ghost Dad

Ghost Dad

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Today’s feature is a 1990 Bill Cosby vehicle: Ghost Dad.

The team of writers for Ghost Dad included Brent Maddock (Heart and Souls, Short Circuit 2, Tremors 2), S.S. Wilson (Tremors, Wild Wild West, Short Circuit), and Chris Reese (The Chamber).

Ghost Dad was directed by famed actor Sidney Poitier, of films such as Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and The Jackal. To date, Ghost Dad has been his last directorial feature, but it wasn’t his first: he earlier worked with Bill Cosby on the features A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, and Let’s Do It Again, and also directed the Gene Wilder comedies Stir Crazy and Hanky Panky.

The editor for Ghost Dad was Pembroke J. Herring, who also cut Groundhog Day, Johnny Dangerously, European Vacation, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Out of Africa. The cinematographer for the film was Andrew Laszlo, who also cut Innerspace, First Blood, The Warriors, and Poltergeist II.

The musical score for Ghost Dad was composed by Henry Mancini, an Academy Award and Grammy-winning composer who was behind the scores for such movies as The Pink Panther and Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

The team of producers for Ghost Dad included Terence Nelson (Xanadu), David Wisnievitz (Training Day, A Civil Action), and Stan Robertson (Men of Honor).

The makeup effects on Ghost Dad were provided by Stephanie Cozart Burton, who has extensively worked on a number of television shows, and has credits on In Living Color and White Men Can’t Jump.

The special effects team included Eric Rylander (Gangster Squad, Battleship), Bruce Minkus (Van Helsing, Steel), Richard Helmer (Burlesque, Alligator, Men At Work), Richard Buckler (Blade), and Noel Butcher (Tremors).

ghostdad4The significant visual effects team behind Ghost Dad included common elements with films like Blade Runner, TRON, RoboCop, The Abyss, Last Action Hero, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, among many others.

The cast for Ghost Dad includes Bill Cosby (Leonard Part 6), Kimberly Russell (The Game, Precious), Denise Nicholas (Blacula, Capricorn One), Ian Bannen (Flight of the Phoenix), Christine Ebersole (The Wolf Of Wall Street), Arnold Stang (Hercules in New York), and Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure).

The plot of Ghost Dad centers on a middle-aged father who is apparently killed in a car accident, but continues living as a disembodied spirit. He slowly learns the quirks and rules of his new state of being, while trying to continue his daily life with his job and his family as if nothing had happened.

ghostdad2Reportedly, Steve Martin was originally set to star in Ghost Dad, when the picture was supposed to be directed by John Badham. Once those plans fell apart, the project fell to the team of Cosby and Poitier.

Interestingly, the Patrick Swayze hit Ghost released shortly after Ghost Dad in the same year, and was received much better by the general public.

Ghost Dad was the first movie for Bill Cosby since the disastrous Leonard Part 6, a film so bad that he publicly denounced it and allegedly bought the television rights specifically in order to bury it. That movie still holds a spot in the IMDb’s Bottom 100.

The reception to Ghost Dad was overwhelmingly poor: it currently has a  4.3 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of  7% (critics) and 32% (audience).

The rules for the afterlife are bizarre, and aren’t fully explained or followed consistently. Even worse, the plot in general manages to sidestep the serious implications of death with a story twist revealing that Cosby’s character isn’t actually dead, which also negates the very title of the movie.

A lot of the gags throughout the movie are based more on Cosby’s conditional invisibility than his status as a ghost, which brings up a lot of questions as to how the writing process for this movie went. Given his death is negated, why not just make this an invisible dad movie? It allows for most of the same jokes, but avoids the immensely depressing undertones that sap all of the potential humor out of what is theoretically a family comedy.

GHOST DAD, Kimberly Russell, Bill Cosby, 1990, (c)UniversalThe failure of Ghost Dad was the coffin nail for the potential film career of Bill Cosby, which, given what has come to light about his behavior and character, is almost certainly for the best. It is hard to imagine how much bigger Cosby might have gotten if his movie career took off, and how difficult it would have been to expose him if he had even more power. So, I guess we can thank the failures of Ghost Dad and Leonard Part 6 for keeping the beast from growing too large to slay?

Personally, I think that this is a far worse movie than Leonard Part 6, though that film is almost certainly more loathed in the public consciousness of moviegoers. However, there is some weird charm to that flick that is totally absent in Ghost Dad, which is just wrong all the way down to its foundation and premise. That said, it is certainly a spectacle to sit through this confused mess of a movie, so I recommend giving it a shot if you happen to find it laying around somewhere. Also, there is something to be said for watching both Ghost Dad and Leonard Part 6 explicitly because Bill Cosby doesn’t want you to.

How To Make A Monster

How To Make A Monster

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Today’s feature is a television movie from 2001: How To Make A Monster.

How To Make A Monster was written and directed by George Huang, who is best known for Trojan War and the Kevin Spacey dark comedy Swimming With Sharks.

The cinematographer for How To Make A Monster was Steven Finestone, who also shot Swimming With Sharks for George Huang, and worked as a camera operator on films like The Philadelphia Experiment, Saturday the 14th, Battle Beyond The Stars, and Humanoids From The Deep.

The editors on How To Make A Monster were Daniel T. Cahn (The Young and The Restless, Darkman II) and Kristina Trirogoff, who was an assistant editor on Phone Booth, Collateral, Heat, McHale’s Navy, and Gone Fishin’.

The musical score for How To Make A Monster was composed by David Reynolds, who has worked in the music departments for such movies as Rounders, The Big Kahuna, Species, Entrapment, and Wanted.

The special effects on How To Make A Monster were provided by the Stan Winston Studios, and the creature design is credited to Stan Winston himself (Jurassic Park, Small Soldiers, Congo, Lake Placid, Predator 2, Leviathan, Terminator 2).

makeamonster1The cast of How To Make A Monster includes Clea DuVall (Argo, The Faculty, She’s All That, But I’m A Cheerleader), Steven Culp (Bosch, JAG), voice actor Jason Marsden, Tyler Mane (X-Men, Troy), Karim Prince (Power Rangers Zeo), and Danny Masterson (That ’70s Show).

The plot of How To Make A Monster centers on a video game development team who is hired to revamp a horror game that has been panned by test audiences. They are given four weeks to create a new monster and overhaul the game, with a $1 million bonus on the line for whoever makes the game the scariest. However, the monster AI they develop proves to be a little more effective than they had planned.

How To Make A Monster features a cameo by b-movie actress Julie Strain as herself, doing motion capture for the fictitious video game featured in the movie. She is best known for such movies as Heavy Metal 2000, Sorceress, and Out For Justice.

One of the monsters depicted in the game featured in the movie is clearly modeled after pikachu, the popular species of electric mouse from Pokemon. However, the adorable icon is re-imagined as a monster worth of Doom.

makeamonster4The reception to How To Make A Monster was pretty negative: it currently holds a 4.4 rating on IMDb, and a 30% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The monster itself in How To Make A Monster actually looks pretty cool, and becomes more of a gory patchwork of slain characters as the movie progresses.

As you would imagine, all of the sequences that take place “in game” have aged pretty poorly, given how quickly graphic technologies for video games have developed over the years. However, I think it is kind of charming, and feels like a sort of period piece as a result. For video game fans, there are certainly enough nods to the audience and ample nostalgia for them get a kick out of re-watching this movie now.

makeamonster3However, there are certainly some huge drawbacks to this movie. The characters are all very simple stereotypes that are far from flattering to the population of gamers, and people in the tech industry in general. Even worse, the resulting tone as a whole is at best bluntly misanthropic. The conclusion of the story dives that home even further, as it is very downbeat and depressing (and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is). Interestingly enough, it reminded me a lot of the mediocre ending of Swimming With Sharks, an earlier work by the same writer/director, which has the same sort of tone and resolution.

On the whole, I am pretty conflicted about How To Make A Monster. The creature is definitely the reason to watch, but the writing and characters that surround it can’t really be avoided, and they are all some combination of creepy, disgusting, or vile. The preachy message about greed and corporatism isn’t necessarily wrong by any means, but the way it is executed is far overblown. You’ll also probably figure out that the title of the film has a double meaning as the soon as all of the characters are established, or at least by the end of the first act.

If you really like Stan Winston effects or early horror PC games, I think this is worth checking out. For everyone else, I think it is a toss-up. The writing isn’t any worse than most slasher movies at the end of the day, and this is probably a tad better than Evolver when it comes to killer video game movies. However, Evolver is way more fun in my opinion, which is what this movie is missing most overall.

Bargain Bin(ge): The Music Box (Pensacola, FL)

Pensacola, FL is a top-notch beach-going destination for the southeastern United States, and is perhaps the gem of the Florida panhandle. Not only that, but it is also home to the acrobatic airplane team The Blue Angels! Unfortunately for the pasty and nerdy of us, that is about all there is to the city.

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This is pretty much all of Pensacola in one image. This is even from the city website.

Lucky for you fellow film geeks, there is some DVD hunting to be had in Pensacola! Specifically, there is a little record shop called The Music Box with a significant selection of eclectic films (interestingly set aside in a glass-cased room), as well as a ton of soundtracks on vinyl. I honestly lost count of how many rare flicks and IMDb Bottom 100 entries this place had copies of, because most of them were things I personally already own. That said, I still came out with a nice little haul to round out my collection.

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The DVD chamber

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Bad Taste

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For those who don’t know, Peter Jackson’s origins are a bit…strange. Bad Taste was his first feature back in New Zealand, and is true low-budget comedy gore in its purest form. It isn’t particularly easy to get a hold of at this point, so I was happy to find a copy here. If you haven’t seen it, it is an interesting forerunner for Dead Alive and Meet The Feebles, which both improve on various elements introduced in Bad Taste. Also, Jackson cuts a rubber alien in half with a chainsaw at one point, which is awesome.

Trick or Treat

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At this point, I think more people are familiar with the similarly titled 2007 cult classic Trick ‘r Treat than this earlier flick from the 1980s. However, Trick or Treat certainly has its following, particularly among classic rock and metal fans. As you might deduce from the box art, Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons both pop up in small roles, and have been used significantly to try to sell the movie in recent years. I’m curious to give it a watch, because the plot reminds me a bit of the lawsuit against Judas Priest that popped up a few years later, alleging that subliminal messages were put into their albums encouraging harmful behavior. Otherwise, I have heard mixed things in regards to its entertainment value, but I’m more than willing to give it a shot. Look forward to a review of this flick in October.

Showdown in Little Tokyo

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Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee is one hell of a duo. This is another one of those action movies that is clearly up my alley, but has managed to somehow evade me over the years. I’m looking forward to finally catching it, as I assume it is as magical and wonderful as it appears to be.

Warriors of the Wasteland

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Enzo Castellari is a name that deserves a lot more attention in the bad movie world. He is one of the masters of the Italian knock-off, with works like The Shark Hunter, The Last Shark, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, and Inglorious Bastards to his credit. Warriors of the Wasteland (aka The New Barbarians) is yet another one of his b-movies with a dedicated following, focusing on the aesthetic of post-apocalyptic flicks like Mad Max. I’ll be interested to see how it stacks up next to other Mad Max knockoffs like Hell Comes to Frogtown, which starred the late Roddy Piper. The involvement of Fred Williamson (Black Caesar, Hell Up In Harlem, 1990: The Bronx Warriors) here has me plenty excited to check this thing out as well.

Teen Wolf / Teen Wolf Too

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Teen Wolf is considered a classic of the 1980s, and I imagine that everyone has at least heard of the defining werewolf teen sports comedy of the age (though Full Moon High had its moments). The popular re-imagining on MTV has kept the idea in the public consciousness at the very least, even for those who don’t recall Michael J. Fox’s hairy basketball career.  Teen Wolf Too, on the other hand, goes among the rankings of the most maligned and unnecessary sequels in movie history. Jason Bateman (who was at the time just a recognizable child actor) has succeeded in his career as an adult in spite of the hiccup, but it still looms over him like a black cloud for people who are aware of the film.

As I mentioned earlier, The Music Box also had an interesting selection of soundtracks. Of course, I picked up a couple of notables that I couldn’t turn down:

Xanadu

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Xanadu is a deeply polarizing movie, with die-hard fans and staunch detractors all carrying passionate opinions on its value. Whether you consider it a cult classic or a bad movie of the lowest order, nothing defined this flick quite like its soundtrack. Here, I managed to dig up a vinyl copy of the ELO-helmed album, which I’m happy to have in my collection. Again, this is a movie that I feel will make for an inevitable blog post, as it was a winner/loser in the very first Golden Raspberry awards, and made a significant impact on the public consciousness. Not only that, but it also released on one of the most infamous double bills of all time with the unarguably wretched pseudo-biopic of The Village People, Can’t Stop The Music.

Mannequin

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Not too long ago, I had a request to cover Mannequin, one of Cannon Group’s many odd contributions to the 1980s. If there is anything that has stuck with the public consciousness about this flick, it is the hit song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship. As opposed to being a full album, this one is just a single, but I figured it was still certainly worth picking up. I’m thinking it will go nicely on one of my walls, even if it never comes anywhere near my record player.