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The Fantastic Four (1994)

The Fantastic Four


Today, I’m going to delve into the infamous first attempt to bring the comic book team The Fantastic Four to the big screen: 1994’s The Fantastic Four.

The plot of The Fantastic Four is described on IMDb as follows:

When an experimental space voyage goes awry, four people are forever changed by cosmic rays: Reed Richards, inventor and leader of the group gains the ability to stretch his body and takes the name Mr. Fantastic. His girlfriend, Sue Storm, gains the ability to turn invisible and create force fields becoming The Invisible Girl. Her little brother, Johnny Storm, becomes The Human Torch with the ability to control fire, including covering his own body with flame. The pilot Ben Grimm is turned into the super-strong, super-tough Thing. Together they become a team of super-heroes and use their unique powers to foil the evil plans of villains

The superhero team The Fantastic Four was created by famed comic book masters Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and first appeared in The Fantastic Four #1 in November of 1961. Since then, the team has been a mainstay of Marvel comics, and has made the jump to cartoons, video games, and a number of movies.

The screenplay for this film adaptation was credited to Craig J. Nevius (Black Scorpion) and Kevin Rock (Howling VI, The Philadelphia Experiment II).

The director for The Fantastic Four was Oley Sassone, who helmed numerous episodes of the television shows Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

The cast of The Fantastic Four includes Jay Underwood (The Boy Who Could Fly, Uncle Buck), Rebecca Staab (The Substitute 3, Love Potion No. 9), Michael Bailey Smith (Men In Black II, The Hills Have Eyes), Joseph Culp (Mad Men), and Alex Hyde-White (Pretty Woman).

The editor for The Fantastic Four was Glenn Garland, who has gone on to become Rob Zombie’s go-to film cutter. His credits include 31, The Lords of Salem, Bunraku, The Devil’s Rejects, Retroactive, and both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies.

One of the executive producers for the film was Roger Corman, the legendary b-movie producer and director. As legend has it, he was given a small budget, and the job of throwing together a Fantastic Four movie as quickly and cheaply as possible, so that the rights to the property could be retained for another ten years. Thus, in many ways, The Fantastic Four is considered his creation, and is often referred to as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four.

One of the special effects makeup artists for the movie was Everett Burrell, whose other credits include Castle Freak, Re-Animator, Troll, Ghoulies, DeepStar Six, Harry and the Hendersons, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Creepshow 2, among others.

The production designer for The Fantastic Four was Mick Strawn, who has served as a designer and art director on such movies as A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, Kazaam, The Hidden, and Candyman.

In 2015, a documentary by the name of Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four was released, which detailed the story of the movie’s bizarre production, non-release, and ultimate cult status.

Including this iteration, The Fantastic Four has been put to film four times. The other attempts, 2015’s Fantastic Four, 2005’s Fantastic Four, and 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, all met with mixed to negative receptions, leading to a popular belief that there is no way to make a Fantastic Four film work in this day and age.

The hit comedy television show Arrested Development has a recurring, thinly veiled reference to the production of this film that runs throughout the show’s fourth season. One of the main character creates a musical adaptation of an unfinished Fantastic Four movie from the 1990s, in an attempt to circumvent rights issues with Marvel.

Because the movie was never formally released, people only managed to hear about it through word of mouth, and see it on unfinished bootleg tapes. Still, the film’s reputation got around. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 3.9/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 29% from critics and 27% from audiences.

Personally, I think that there are a whole lot of things to like about this flicks. The costumes, for instance, look pretty great, and are delightfully faithful to the group’s comic book origins. They may be cheesy and somewhat goofy, but that sort of gels with what this particular hero team has always been.

Likewise, the performances and writing are generally pretty good here. All of the key players put in performances that suit their characters, are there aren’t any weak links among them. In particular, I’m a big fan of Dr. Doom in this movie: he way be an over-the-top mustache-twirler, but that is exactly what I wanted from the villain in this movie.

The biggest issues with the film relate to its financial limitations and time constrictions. The effects, for instance, are inarguably cheesy and cheap. Likewise, the audio isn’t great for some of the dialogue, which isn’t so strange for a movie that was never quite finished, and not meant for consumption. Regardless, I think these issues give the movie an added, curious charm, so it hard to fault the movie for them.

The Fantastic Four is certainly no masterpiece, but it may be the most loyal and genuine Fantastic Four movie that the world will ever see. For fans of the property, it is worth checking out. More importantly, though, this is an absolute gem of a feature for bad movie fans: the performances are goofy, the costumes and effects are cheap, and there’s a great behind-the-scenes story to tie the whole thing together.

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The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Today, I’m going to dig into the 1990 Andrew Dice Clay vehicle, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.

The central plot of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A vulgar private detective is hired to find a missing groupie and is drawn into a mystery involving a series of murders tied to the music industry.

The credited writers for The Adventures of Ford Fairlane were David Arnott (Last Action Hero), Daniel Waters (Demolition Man, Hudson Hawk, Heathers), and James Cappe (Freddy’s Nightmares).

The film’s director was Renny Harlin, a noted action director whose credits include 12 Rounds, The Legend of Hercules, Driven, Deep Blue Sea, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, and Cliffhanger.

The cast of Ford Fairlane is headlined by comedian Andrew Dice Clay, with supporting roles filled by the likes of Robert Englund (A Nightmare On Elm Street), Gilbert Gottfried (Aladdin), Priscilla Presley (The Naked Gun), and Wayne Newton (Vegas Vacation, License To Kill).

The cinematographer for the film was Oliver Wood, who also shot The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Child 44, Rudy, The Other Guys, The Brothers Grimsby, The Bourne Identity, and Die Hard 2, among others.

The editor on Ford Fairlane was Michael Tronick, whose cutting credits include The Scorpion King, Straight Outta Compton, Remember The Titans, The Green Hornet, Less Than Zero, Hudson Hawk, and True Romance.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane earned a number of Golden Raspberry Award nominations, which are given out annually to the judged worst performances and films of the year. It wound up co-winning Worst Picture with Ghosts Can’t Do It, and also taking the Worst Screenplay and Worst Actor awards, the latter for Andrew Dice Clay.

The role played by Robert Englund was initially meant for rock star Billy Idol, but he was forced to drop out after a significant motorcycle accident, prompting Renny Harlin to bring in Englund on short notice.

Despite being a significant flop in the United States, Ford Fairlane has a cult following in a handful of foreign markets, like Hungary and Norway, thanks to some popular foreign language dubs.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was made on a production budget of $40 million, on which it grossed $21.4 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making it a significant financial failure. Critically, it garnered mostly negative reviews: currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 6.3/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 29% from critics and 68% from audiences.

The first and biggest issue with The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is its star: Andrew Dice Clay. Not only is he immensely irritating, but his crass and misogynistic style of humor taints any positive elements of the film. Apparently, he was a significant problem for the cast and crew on set as well, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise given his persona.

Honestly, I like the concept behind the film: the idea of a comedic, self-aware neo-noir has worked for Shane Black more than once. However, the Andrew Dice Clay stink all over this film makes even the more clever quips and sequences unbearable, which is a disservice to a screenplay that seems like it may have had some potential at one point.

Roger Ebert’s scathing one-star review sums up my general feelings about Ford Fairlane pretty succinctly:

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is a movie about a hero I didn’t like, chasing villains I didn’t hate, in a plot I didn’t understand. It is also loud, ugly and mean-spirited. That makes it the ideal vehicle for Andrew Dice Clay, a comedian whose humor is based upon hating those not in the room for the entertainment of those present.

Basically, this is a movie to avoid. Andrew Dice Clay deserves to reside in obscure footnotes for a bygone era of comedy. Because this movie is so inexorably connected to him, that’s where it belongs as well.

Rhinestone

Rhinestone

Today, I am going to take a look at the ill-conceived musical comedy flick, Rhinestone.

The plot of Rhinestone is summed up on IMDb as follows:

A country music star must turn an obnoxious New York cabbie into a singer in order to win a bet.

The screenplay for Rhinestone was co-written by star Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, First Blood) and Phil Alden Robinson (Sneakers, Field of Dreams). However, Robinson apparently took issue with Stallone’s many changes to his screenplay, and distanced himself from the film as a result.

Rhinestone‘s director was Bob Clark, whose list of directorial credits includes such varied films as Black Christmas, Porky’s, A Christmas Story, Baby Geniuses, and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.

The primary cast of Rhinestone is made up of Sylvester Stallone (Cobra, Tango & Cash, Demolition Man, Over The Top, Judge Dredd, Death Race 2000, Driven), country music star Dolly Parton (Steel Magnolias, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas), Richard Farnsworth (Misery, The Two Jakes, The Natural), Ron Leibman (Auto Focus, Slaughterhouse-Five, Garden State), and Tim Thomerson (Trancers, Near Dark).

Rhinestone had two credited editors: John Wheeler (SpaceCamp, Rocky IV, Ladybugs) and Stan Cole (Prom Night IV, Black Christmas, Baby Geniuses, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2). The cinematographer for the film was Timothy Galfas, who is best known for his work on Ralph Bakshi’s animated take on The Lord Of The Rings, but has done very little else of note on screen.

The musical score for Rhinestone was composed by star Dolly Parton, whose reputation as a writer and performer of country music is unparalleled. Her wikipedia page lists the following accomplishments:

25 RIAA certified Gold, Platinum, and Multi-Platinum awards, she has had 25 songs reach No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts, a record for a female artist (tied with Reba McEntire). She has 41 career top 10 country albums, a record for any artist, and she has 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years. All-inclusive sales of singles, albums, hits collections, and digital downloads during her career have topped 100 million worldwide. She has garnered nine Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, ten Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, and is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. Parton has received 47 Grammy nominations.

Dolly Parton’s soundtrack for the movie produced two Top 10 country music hits: “Tennessee Homesick Blues” and “God Won’t Get You”.

Rhinestone is a unique twist on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, a 1913 play in which a phonetics professor bets that he can train a low-born cockney woman to pass as a duchess at an official function. The story has been portrayed on both the stage and screen countless times since its debut, but Rhinestone‘s Americanization and country music twist on the tale make it stand out from the other more direct adaptations out there, like 1964’s My Fair Lady.

Rhinestone wound up with nine Golden Raspberry Award nominations, which are given out annually to the worst movies and performances of the year. Stallone managed to take home the distinction of Worst Actor, and “Drinkenstein” took Worst Original Song. The film was additionally nominated for such awards as Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Director.

Rhinestone was made on a production budget of $28 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical box office gross of $21.5 million, making it a notable financial failure. The reception to Rhinestone, if anything, was worse: it currently holds a dramatically low 3.7/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 15% from critics and 35% from audiences.

The biggest thing to note about Rhinestone is that everything good about the film boils down to Dolly Parton, and everything bad about it can be traced to Sylvester Stallone. It is like a yin-yang in form of a musical comedy movie. The musical score is absolutely solid, and is almost enough to float the film on its own. Likewise, Parton’s performance is honestly charming and likable, and she makes easy work of her banter. On the flip side, however, Stallone is especially wooden and unlikable in this movie, which is odd, since he rewrote the screenplay himself. Particularly during any key moments of banter, he just can’t make anything work. I think the guy just lacks comedic rhythm, which is absolutely necessary for this kind of role. Throughout the movie, he stumbles his way over words like he is knocking over barstools, and robs the story and comedy of any potential momentum.

All of those issues don’t even get into the most notorious issue with this film: the singing. Stallone is debatably a better comedic actor than he is a singer, and that is saying a lot for the man who brought the world Stop Of My Mom Will Shoot. His singing and performing is laughably terrible, which is interesting for a movie like this. Basically, he is supposed to be awful for most of the movie, and he does that task serviceably. However, when the story mandates that his skills improve, he isn’t quite up to that challenge, which challenges the internal logic and reality of the movie.

Overall, I think if you look up clips of the key songs in Rhinestone, like “Drinkenstein,” then you have hit the highlights of this movie. Between the songs, it really bogs down thanks to Stallone’s un-entertaining buffoonery and his loose grasp of the English language, and nobody deserves to sit through that. If curiosity has deeply gripped you, or you are just a fan of Parton’s music, then it might be worth digging this flick up. However, don’t expect too much.

Nothing But Trouble

Nothing But Trouble

Today, I’m going to delve into a real weird one: Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing But Trouble.

The plot of Nothing But Trouble is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A businessman finds he and his friends the prisoners of a sadistic judge and his equally odd family in the backwoods of a bizarre mansion.

Nothing But Trouble was co-written and directed by the comedy icon and Saturday Night Live alum Dan Aykroyd. While his writing credits are extensive (Coneheads, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, Spies Like Us, Dragnet), Nothing But Trouble has been his only directorial work. His co-writer for the screenplay was his brother, Peter Aykroyd, who was a writer for Saturday Night Live and PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal.

The cast is led by, of course, Dan Aykroyd, alongside Chevy Chase (Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Fletch), John Candy (The Great Outdoors, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck), Demi Moore (Striptease, Ghost, Blame It On Rio), Raymond J. Barry (Sudden Death, Training Day, Flubber), and Brian Doyle-Murray (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack).

The cinematographer for Nothing But Trouble was Dean Cundey, who has shot films like Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, Flubber, Hook, Big Trouble In Little China, Halloween III, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, and Roller Boogie.

The movie required the work of two editors: James R. Symons (Fortress 2, Tank Girl, Rambo III, Over The Top, Cobra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Malcolm Campbell (Son of the Mask, Keeping the Faith, Wayne’s World, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, Trading Places, An American Werewolf In London).

The musical score for Nothing But Trouble was composed by Michael Kamen, who also worked on X-Men, The Iron Giant, Last Action Hero, Event Horizon, Hudson Hawk, Road House, Die Hard, The Dead Zone, Action Jackson, Highlander, and Brazil.

Dan Aykroyd reportedly based Nothing But Trouble on a real life experience, in which he was stopped for speeding in the middle of the night, and then taken to a local justice of the peace for an impromptu trial by the officer. Likewise, another inspiration for the film was an excuse to put John Candy in drag, which Aykroyd personally found hilarious.

Famed Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert hated watching Nothing But Trouble so much that he refused to formally write a review for it, something that he rarely ever did over his career.

In a number of shots, Dan Aykroyd’s distinct prosthetic nose is switched out for a similar one that was specifically sculpted to look more like a penis.

Nothing But Trouble strangely features a cameo and performance by lauded rap icon Tupac Shakur, who is brought before the judge and subsequently released for the value of his artistic contributions.

The annual Golden Raspberry Awards, which are given out to the judged worst films and performances of the year, recognized Nothing But Trouble in six categories, including Worst Picture. Ultimately, Dan Aykroyd won Worst Supporting Actor for his roles in the film. In most categories, however, it wound up losing out to another ill-fated comedy: Hudson Hawk.

Nothing But Trouble was made on a production budget of $40 million, on which it grossed roughly $8.5 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making it a significant financial failure. Likewise, it was near-universally loathed critically: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 4.9/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 8% from critics and 41% from audiences.

One of the most common criticisms I have heard of Nothing But Trouble is that it is just too gross. I certainly don’t disagree with that, but I think props are deserved for both the makeup and production design for the film, rather than scorn and derision. The vision behind the decision to make the film gross may have been flawed, but the team sure pulled off the effect well, and that is deserving of some recognition.

That said, there isn’t much else positive to say about the movie. The screenplay never seems like it got properly polished: it doesn’t really move beyond its setup, and leans on insulting and derogatory humor a lot to try to fill in gaps, throwing punches at targets like overweight women and people with disabilities. I’ve heard that Akyroyd is at his best when he has other writers that can keep him on task and in check, as was the case with Ghostbusters. Nothing But Trouble is a case of him unfettered and running amok with a screenplay, and the result is quite a mess.

The combination of the focus on gross-out humor along with a sprinkling of gags that shamelessly punch down is that the movie just isn’t funny. Even Chevy Chase, who can typically elevate material with a physical performance, is ruined by his character’s writing. He is clearly supposed to be the avatar for the audience, but most of the more offensively pointed jokes are thrown from his perspective, which makes him come off like an asshole throughout the whole movie, which ruins the audience’s supposed anchor.

Overall, despite some technical merits with the makeup and design, there is no good reason to seek this flick out. Nothing But Trouble is like seeing some superior trim on a dilapidated house that’s sitting on a shattered foundation. It is best to just pass it by.

Anaconda

Anaconda


Today, I’m going to delve into one of the more notorious modern creature features: 1997’s Anaconda.

The plot of Anaconda is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A National Geographic film crew is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who takes them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.

Three writers were credited for work on the screenplay for Anaconda: Hans Bauer (Titan A.E., Komodo), Jim Cash (Dick Tracy, Turner & Hooch), and Jack Epps, Jr. (Top Gun, Legal Eagles, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas).

The director of Anaconda was Luis Llosa, whose other directorial credits include The Specialist, Sniper, and Fire On The Amazon, among a handful of others.

The primary cast of Anaconda is made up of Jennifer Lopez (Money Train, The Cell, Gigli), Jon Voight (Baby Geniuses 2, Bratz, Coming Home, Deliverance, Mission: Impossible), Owen Wilson (The Haunting, Wedding Crashers, Marmaduke, Zoolander, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums), Ice Cube (Barbershop, 21 Jump Street, Ghosts of Mars, Friday, Three Kings, Torque), Danny Trejo (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete, Spy Kids, xXx, Con Air), Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy, Jerry Maguire, Mask), and Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji, Titanic, The Mummy, Crimson Peak).

Anaconda‘s editor was Michael R. Miller, whose other movies include Mr. Destiny, The Marrying Man, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Ghost World, Mr. Magoo, and Soul Plane.

The cinematographer for the film was Bill Butler, who also shot such films as Frailty, Jaws, Cop and A Half, Child’s Play, Grease, Rocky IV, Capricorn One, Stripes, and Can’t Stop The Music.

The musical score for Anaconda was composed by Randy Edelman, who has also worked on xXx, Son of the Mask, DragonHeart, The Mask, My Cousin Vinny, Ghostbusters 2, Underdog, and Balls of Fury, among many, many others.

The extensive team of special effects and animatronics workers for the film included common elements with such movies as Deep Blue Sea, Snakes on a Plane, Evolution, Species, Waterworld, Mimic, Leprechaun 4, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Class of 1999, and Demolition Man.

Rifftrax, a company made up of former hosts and writers for Mystery Science Theater 3000, held a live theatrical simulcast of Anaconda on Thursday, October 20, 2014, complete with a live commentary track of humorous riffs.

Anaconda racked up an impressive total of six Golden Raspberry Award nominations (which are given annually to the worst movies and performances of the year), including Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. It was later named as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in the Official Razzie Movie Guide.

Famed television actress Gillian Anderson was considered at one point for the lead in Anaconda, but ultimately had too many conflicts with filming The X-Files. Likewise, Jean Reno was apparently seriously considered for the antagonist role that went to Jon Voight.

The production budget for Anaconda was estimated at $45 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of roughly $136.9 million, making it a significant hit. It thus wound up with a theatrical sequel (Anacondas: Hunt For The Blood Orchid), two television sequels (Anaconda 3: Offspring and Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and a crossover television film, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda.

Critically, however, the movie didn’t do nearly as well. It currently holds an unenviable 4.7/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 38% from critics and 24% from audiences.

Despite that reception, Anaconda had a handful of prominent apologists. Notable among them was Roger Ebert, who gave Anaconda a solid 4.5 star review, saying:

“Anaconda” is an example of one of the hardest kinds of films to make well: a superior mass-audience entertainment. It has the effects and the thrills, but it also has big laughs, quirky dialogue and a gruesome imagination. You’ve got to like a film where a lustful couple sneaks out into the dangerous jungle at night and suddenly the guy whispers, “Wait–did you hear that? Silence!”

While I think that Ebert was way too easy on the film, I can certainly agree with one aspect of his review: this movie is certainly entertaining. It is pretty clear from the beginning that everyone involved knew that they were making a popcorn flick, and aimed for entertainment value wherever they could. At the same time, there are certainly some places where the mark was clearly missed.

First, however, I think it is worth pointing out that the concept here is really good: river adventures can make for pretty damn cool movies. They offer an interesting mix of tense claustrophobia on board the ship with the constant presence of unknown, exterior threats laying just beyond the banks of the river. The combination can make for some really intense intrigue when done well. Examples from over the years include everything from Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, to this year’s The Lost City of Z (which is totally worth seeking out). However, Anaconda has the distinction of botching this concept quite hilariously, and it all begins and ends with the curious and bizarre performance of Jon Voight.

While Jon Voight’s astoundingly awful accent is without question the biggest problem with his character, his mind-numbing performance goes far beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, whatever he was doing with that accent was probably shockingly racist, if anyone could have figure out what race he was trying to emulate. However, his physical performance and vocabulary are equally weird. I’m sure that the result was supposed to be mysterious and intimidating, like a more villainous version of Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws. Instead, Voight is just disgustingly off-putting: more like a subway masturbator than a terrifying, knife-wielding killer.

The eponymous anacondas have gotten a whole lot of flak from critics over the years. However, I have to say, the snake puppets and animatronics are totally servicable in my book. Outside of some odd jerking motions, they are still pretty convincing today. That said, the CGI snakes are a pretty stark contrast to them, and leave much to be desired during their sequences.

Overall, I think Anaconda is a pretty enjoyable ride. Jon Voight sort of makes and breaks this flick: he shatters any potential it may have had to be a legitimately good movie, but he also distinguishes it from from the glut of blockbuster mediocrity, and single-handedly solidified the movie as a cult classic with his outlandish performance. The presence of such a recognizable cast gives it some bonus points as well, because who hasn’t wanted to see Owen Wilson and Ice Cube bonding over snake-related peril? The added dimension of half-assed effects work and old-school puppetry makes the movie more than worth revisiting for a casual laugh for die hard bad movie fans and others alike.

Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons

Today’s movie is 1987’s Sasquatch-centered family comedy: Harry and the Hendersons.

The plot of Harry and the Hendersons has the following synopsis on the Internet Movie Database:

The Henderson family adopt a friendly Sasquatch but have a hard time trying to keep the legend of ‘Bigfoot’ a secret.

Harry and the Hendersons was co-written and directed by William Dear, who is best known for directing Angels in the Outfield, The Perfect Game, and If Looks Could Kill, as well as providing input on the story for The Rocketeer.

The cast for the movie includes John Lithgow (Cliffhanger, Raising Cain, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, Footloose, Blow Out), Melinda Dillon (Captain America, Magnolia, A Christmas Story, Close Encounters of The Third Kind), David Suchet (Wing Commander, A Perfect Murder, Poirot), Don Ameche (Cocoon, Cocoon: The Return, Trading Places), and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple, Fletch, Critters, Slap Shot).

The cinematographer for Harry and the Hendersons was Allen Daviau, whose other credits include Van Helsing, Congo, The Astronaut’s Wife, The Color Purple, E.T., and Empire of the Sun.

Harry and the Hendersons was cut by Donn Cambern, who also worked as an editor on movies like Ghostbusters II, Twins, Time After Time, The Glimmer Man, The Cannonball Run, Easy Rider, and The Last Picture Show.

The musical score for the film was composed by Bruce Broughton, who also composed scores for movies like Silverado, Tombstone, The Monster Squad, Stay Tuned, Baby’s Day Out, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, and Lost In Space, as well as for television series like Dallas, Hawaii Five-O, and Gunsmoke.

Rick Baker, the special effects master who has, to date, won seven Academy Awards (with five additional nominations),  was the creature designer for Harry and the Hendersons. He ultimately won one of his Oscars for his work on the movie, and has claimed that the gigantic, lumbering Harry is his favorite of his many created characters.

Speaking of the creature work for the film, the suit worn by actor Kevin Peter Hall in order to play Harry stood at well over 8 feet tall, making for an immense presence on set.

While Harry and The Hendersons did not receive a sequel, it did spawn a television series, which ran for 72 episodes over 3 seasons, from 1991 to 1993. The series did not follow the continuity of the movie, however, as Harry is shown living with the Hendersons rather than returning to the wild as shown in the film.

Harry and the Hendersons was released internationally as Bigfoot and the Hendersons. A number of promotional images with this alternate title can be found around the internet with a little bit of digging.

Harry and the Henderson features a handful of characters who are obsessed with the hunt to capture or document a Sasquatch. These characters fit the mold of “cryptozoologists,” people who study unconfirmed mythical creatures (with the assumption that they exist), and “squatchers,” who are essentially Bigfoot hunters.

Harry and the Hendersons grossed just over $50 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making a significant profit on its production budget of $16 million.

Critically, however, the movie had a mixed reception. Today, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.9/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 44% from critics and 54% from audiences.

If there is anything that must be said about Harry and the Hendersons, it is that the effects for Harry are incredibly impressive. Even though it looks creepy as all hell, the intricate facial expressions displayed by Harry are almost unimaginable for a monster suit in the 1980s. Rick Baker absolutely outdid himself here.

Beyond Harry, the big highlight of the movie has to be John Lithgow: I can’t think of a single performance of his career in which he hasn’t been entertaining in one way or another, and Harry and the Hendersons might be his pinnacle of his scene-chewing prowess. The guy is just a delight throughout the movie, and gives it more energy and passion that it had any right to deliver. The humor as it is written is a bit hit or miss, but Lithgow manages to elevate it at every turn. Without his presence, this movie might have been unwatchable.

The biggest issue I have with the movie, apart from the aforementioned comedic writing issues, is its tendency to get preachy: the message of nonviolence is really over the top, to the point that it almost feels like a PSA at times. That said, it isn’t terribly distracting, and kind of fits with the overall silly tone of the movie, but I would be remiss not to mention it.

Overall, I think that Harry and the Hendersons is 100%, grade A cheese. It certainly isn’t good by any conventional standards, but it is a true product of its era, and is worth watching for that aspect alone. Lithgow and Harry definitely solidify it as a recommendation for bad movie fans, but I think it is worth a watch for anyone, just because of how much it has seeped into cultural crevices over the years. It is also almost completely inoffensive, like a bumper car lined with plush animals, so almost anyone could enjoy it.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Uncle Sam”

Uncle Sam

For this July 4th, I’m going to celebrate by taking a look at the horror film Uncle Sam, from the writer/director team behind the Maniac Cop trilogy.

The plot of Uncle Sam is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Desert Storm vet who was killed in combat rises from the grave on July Fourth, to kill the unpatriotic citizens of his hometown, after some teens burn an American flag over his burial site.

The screenplay for Uncle Sam was, of course, written by Larry Cohen, the visionary horror writer/director behind The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive, and God Told Me To. This was one of four of his screenplays that hit the screen in 1996, along with Mark L. Lester’s The Ex, Anthony Hickox’s Invasion of Privacy, and the television movie Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Ice.

Uncle Sam was directed by William Lustig, who had previously collaborated with Larry Cohen on Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, and Maniac Cop 3: The Badge of Silence. Lustig is best known for his gritty, b-level flicks like Maniac and Vigilante, which have built a significant cult following over the years.

The cast of Uncle Sam includes the likes of William Smith (Maniac Cop, Any Which Way You Can, Hell Comes To Frogtown), David ‘Shark’ Fralick (Inferno, The Young and The Restless, Soultaker), Bo Hopkins (The Wild Bunch, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Tentacles), Isaac Hayes (Escape From New York, South Park), Timothy Bottoms (Top Dog, The Last Picture Show, That’s My Bush), Robert Forster (Lucky Number Slevin, Jackie Brown, Avalanche, Alligator, Vigilante, Maniac Cop 3), and P.J. Soles (Halloween, Stripes, Carrie).

The cinematographer for Uncle Sam was James A. Lebovitz, who shot a number of films for Troma Entertainment in the 1980s, including The Toxic Avenger, The Toxic Avenger Part II, The Toxic Avenger Part III, and Troma’s War.

The editor for the film was Bob Murawski, who eventually won an Academy Award for cutting The Hurt Locker. His other credits include such titles as Gone With The Pope, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Drag Me To Hell, Army of Darkness, Hard Target, Night of the Scarecrow, and From Dusk Till Dawn 2.

The musical score for Uncle Sam was provided by Mark Governor, who also composed music for Pet Sematary II and the Bruce Campbell flick Mindwarp.

Reportedly, the production team for Uncle Sam failed to disclose to authorities that they would be firing a cannon late at night for the film’s finale, which led to a number of noise complaints from local citizens.

Uncle Sam is dedicated to Lucio Fulci, an immensely influential Italian horror, western, and exploitation filmmaker who died just prior to the film’s release in 1996.

A blu-ray of Uncle Sam was released in June 2010 by Blue Underground, featuring commentary tracks by Larry Cohen, William Lustig, and Isaac Hayes, among others. Blue Underground, which was founded by Lustig, specializes in releasing cult, exploitation, and foreign horror movies on DVD and blu-ray.

In July of 2016, John Campopiano of Dread Central interviewed David “Shark” Fralick, who portrayed the patriotic killer in Uncle Sam. In regards to the movie and the role, he said:

I loved the original idea — that he was this patriotic killer. I loved the concept. Then there was all of the makeup sessions. (I didn’t do the burn, but I did all the rest of the stunt work.) It was four and a half hours in makeup and four and a half hours out of it. It really just tore my skin up. What they do is they use alcohol on skin to get the oils off so that everything they needed to put on you would adhere. It was pretty amazing. In fact, I still have the last mask I wore in the film!

From what I can gather, Uncle Sam did not receive a theatrical release domestically, and was distributed primarily on home video. I found an unsubstantiated budget estimate of $2 million, though that accuracy is certainly questionable. It is hard to say whether this flick ultimately turned a profit, but I imagine it probably broke even: I’m sure it was intentionally kept cheap for that very reason.

Critically, Uncle Sam isn’t exactly beloved. Its 2010 blu-ray release brought it back into the public consciousness for re-assessment, to mixed results. Steve Barton wrote for Dread Central that “the way underrated slasher flick Uncle Sam does a fine job of bringing the pain while we celebrate our independence,” while Nathan Rabin of The A/V Club argues that it is “incoherent as social satire and perfunctory and routine as a horror film.”

Honestly, I think Rabin and Barton are both right about Uncle Sam. The satire and social commentary isn’t quite fully cooked: there’s just a kernel of an idea in regards to military worship and conditioning children to violence, but it isn’t much built upon. Likewise, it is a pretty run-of-the-mill horror flick, in the tradition of the various lesser holiday slashers. At the same time, if you go into the movie with low expectations, and just want a formulaic slasher with some fun effects and kills, this is exactly what you want.

As far as the cast goes, it is always damn cool seeing Isaac Hayes pop up in movies. I absolutely loved him in Escape From New York, and I’m a little surprised he didn’t pop up in more over the years. This movie in particular could have used more of him: his relationship with Sam is only somewhat touched upon, and isn’t dug into too deeply. Another sequence or two with him maybe could have helped tie some themes together. Interestingly, one of his biggest emotional moments in the movie uses dialogue copied straight out of the Maniac Cop 2 screenplay: he tells a brief anecdote about being covered under dead bodies during war, remembering specifically how cold they were, and then recalls that the killer had a similar chill.

Speaking of the Maniac Cop franchise, the makeup effects on Sam reminded me specifically of Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3. There is a lot of emphasis on his mutilated hands in the first act, which was also specifically done with Cordell in the Maniac Cop movies. Likewise, the makeup effects have a distinctly burned and partially decomposed appearance, not unlike the more deteriorated and decomposed facial work from the later Maniac Cop flicks. When they are shown, the effects look pretty decent, though they are kept concealed under a mask most of the time. Notably, Lustig managed to use shadows and blocking to conceal Cordell’s face in Maniac Cop, and I think that made a big difference in how intimidating the character came off, particularly when compared to the masked Uncle Sam, who never seems nearly as imposing or frightening here.

One of the biggest problems with Uncle Sam is the terrible lead child actor. Any time a movie has to lean on a child actor, it is a big risk: children who can act are rare, and ones who can carry a leading role are even rarer. In this case,  a lot of the movie rides on the character of Jody, who is played by a very young Christopher Ogden. There are times where Ogden is totally serviceable, but they are few and far between. For the most part, his line deliveries are just off, and he puts in a physical performance like he’s robot.

At the end of the film, there is supposed to be some ambiguity as to whether Jody is good or evil: this is supposed to be shown through a close up on his face, where his expression is intended to instill the audience with a sense of doubt. Unfortunately, Ogden just can’t do it: his eyes are expressionless, his mouth is unmoving, and his body language is neutral. If it weren’t for the music cue and a “shattering” effect to end the shot, I wouldn’t have realized that there was a potentially sinister undertone.

Personally, I think one of the biggest problems with this movie is the screenplay: it is a bit too busy, particularly in regards to the characters. For instance, Uncle Sam has both a sister and a wife, who live together and serve almost identical purposes. Likewise, there are two child characters with “unique” connections to Uncle Sam: one is a random kid with a psychic link, and the other is his nephew, who he is trying to recruit. To me, it seemed like both the psychic link kid and the wife were completely unnecessary: their key traits could have been taken on by his sister and nephew, respectively. It actually would make more sense for Jody to have a psychic connection to Sam, and the coalescing of the wife and sister would play more into the incestuous themes that are mentioned in the story.

Overall, as I previously mentioned, Uncle Sam has some value as a shallow, formulaic slasher movie. It was definitely a bit late to the game, though: this would have fit in great in the 1980s, but seems dated for the mid-1990s. It does provide a 4th of July themed horror movie, though, if that is what you are looking for. While this is definitely not one of Cohen’s better screenplays (nor one of Lustig’s better movies), there is definitely a kernel of an interesting idea here, even though nothing much comes of it.