Talking Movies: Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

Talking Movies

Released: 4 May 1990
Director: John Harrison
Paramount Pictures
Budget: $3.5 million
Deborah Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater, William Hickey, David Johansen, James Remar, and Rae Dawn Chong

The Plot:
Timmy (Lawrence) has been imprisoned by a suburban witch (Harry) who plans to cook and eat him; his only hope is to stall her with three stories from a horror book that depict a graduate student who uses a mummy to avenge himself on those who have wronged him, a wealthy old man who hires a hitman to kill a cat he believes is haunting him, and a struggling artist who finds fame and fortune but at terrible cost!

The Background:
In 1982, the grandfather of zombie horror himself, George A. Romero, joined forces with my favourite writer of all time, Stephen King, to write and direct Creepshow (Romero, 1982), a horror anthology movie that won over critics with its blend of comedy and horror, becoming a cult classic in the process. Having grossed $21 million against an $8 million budget, Creepshow was successful enough to raise interest in a potential television series; however, distribution issues led to Laurel Entertainment (Creepshow’s producers) opting to create the similar show, Tales from the Darkside, instead. Following a pilot episode in 1983, Tales from the Darkside ran for four seasons and produced eighty-nine official episodes between 1984 and 1988, and featured works or adaptations from the likes of Stephen King and Clive Barker. Since the show had also achieved cult status, and given that horror and sci-fi anthologies were still relatively popular back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, its perhaps not too surprising that the show was succeeded by a big-screen feature film. Largely regarded as the true successor to Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie’s $16.3 million gross made it a modest success. Reviews were mixed, however, and plans for a sequel were scrapped and writer Joe Hill was equally unsuccessful when he tried to get a reboot off the ground.

The Reviews:
Since Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is an anthology film compiled of a framing narrative and three short horror stories, it only makes sense to review each one individually and then discuss the overall film, so this review will be structured a little differently from my usual ones.

Timmy distracts his captor with horror stories and ultimately overcomes the witch.

The film’s framing narrative, “The Wraparound Story”, is easily the weakest part of the film, though even this has its simple charms; Betty is an affluent suburban housewife whose pleasant and polite demeanour hides the amusingly horrific truth that she is actually a witch. Some time prior to the film, she kidnapped young Timmy and has had him chained up in a dungeon in her kitchen, where she has been feeding him cookies and other snacks to fatten him up for a big dinner party for her other friends (presumably also witches). Although Timmy desperately cries for help, Betty nonchalantly prepares her oven and her evisceration implements; desperate to delay his impending death, Timmy reads her stories from her favourite childhood book, Tales from the Darkside. Once each of the short films has finished, Timmy continues to read from the book and, thanks to Betty’s fondness for the stories and her desire to hear a love story, she is suitably distracted but remains undeterred in her wish to gut him and cook him. Thankfully, Timmy’s efforts buy him the time to think of an escape plan and, as Betty moves to get him, he tosses some marbles onto the floor that cause her to slip and impale herself on her own butcher’s block! Timmy then frees himself, shoves her into the oven originally meant for him, and rewards himself with a well-deserved cookie.

Bellingham uses an ancient scroll to avenge himself using reanimated mummies.

The first story, “Lot 249”, is an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story of the same name; the short follows two rich college students, Andy Smith (Slater) and his best friend Lee Monkton (Robert Sedgwick), who is not only dating Andy’s sister, Susan (Julianne Moore), but has also succeeded in conning the administration into awarding him an all-expenses trip to Europe thanks to Susan writing his scholarship proposal for him. While Andy disapproves of Lee’s moral deception, it is of particular aggravation to Edward Bellingham (Buscemi), a much poorer student who pays his way through college by selling antiquities and other artefacts. Though friendly enough with Andy, who lives in dormitory above him, Bellingham’s introduction to Lee is met with tension; still, Bellingham delights in showing them his latest acquisition, the titular Lot 249, which he believes will make up for him being cheated out of the scholarship by an anonymous tip accusing him of theft. Lot 249 is a massive sarcophagus that contains a dried out, ancient mummy with a scroll in its stomach which, despite his claims to the contrary, Bellingham is fully capable of reading. Aware that Lee screwed him out of his scholarship, Bellingham wastes no time in reading from the scroll to bring the mummy to unlife and promptly sending it after Lee. The rich jock is completely blindsided by the superhumanly strong mummy, who violently pulls Lee’s brains out through his nose and leaves them in a fruit bowl. Susan has little time to process Lee’s death as Bellingham sends his mummy after her next since he knows that she framed him; although she attempts to fight back, the mummy rips open her back with a pair of scissors and stuffs her full of chrysanthemums! Andy’s suspicions about Bellingham’s involvement are only further confirmed at the sight of his sister’s bandage-wrapped corpse; he attacks Bellingham and ties him to a chair, easily dispatching the mummy using a battery-powered saw to cut off its leg and then slice its head in half. Threatening to burn Bellingham alive using his Master’s thesis for kindling, Andy settles for setting fire to the scroll and sends Bellingham packing. However, the maniacal Bellingham gets the last laugh, having tricked Andy with a fake scroll; he uses the real one to resurrect Lee and Susan as mummified corpses and sends them after Andy in the story’s finale.

A supernatural cat haunts an old man and drives him to hire a hitman to dispose of it.

Next is “Cat from Hell”, which is an adaptation of a Stephen King short story of the same name and was written for the film by Romero. Drogan (Hickey) is an incredibly wealthy, incredibly fail old man who is bound to a wheelchair but wields considerable power and influence thanks to having amassed a bountiful fortune in pharmaceuticals. Drogan lives alone in a vast mansion furnished with “everything you could want; everything you could ever want” but all the money in the world can’t quell his fear and paranoia regarding a particular black cat that haunts his house. Drogan hires hitman Halston (Johansen), a grim and professional man, to take care of his feline stalker; at first, Halston is incredulous and dismissive of the job but is convinced by the old man’s down payment of $50,000 to learn the story behind the cat. Drogan reveals that his company’s wonder drug was created by experimenting on and killing over fifty-thousand cats and he believes that the black cat is a supernatural form of karmic revenge sent to address the balance; his sister, Amanda (Dolores Sutton), was tripped by the cat and broke her neck falling down the stairs, the cat then suffocated Amanda’s friend, Carolyn (Alice Drummond), with its body while she slept, and then attacked the butler, Richard Gage (Mark Margolis), as he was driving to dispose of it, with each victim dying at precisely midnight. Though believing the old man is delusional, Halston takes his money, and the job, but finds that killing the cat isn’t as easy as he initially believes. The cat scratches him when he tries to break its neck, continually eludes and swipes at him throughout the night (clawing at his crotch at one point), and even appears to be immune to Halston’s high-powered bullet when he tries to shoot it. Having been driven into a near frenzy by the cat, Halston fires blindly but is terrified out of his mind when the cat leaps at him and forces its way down his throat and into his body! The next morning, Drogan arrives home to find Halston dead on the floor; then, as the damaged grandfather clock strikes twelve midnight, the cat emerges from Halston’s bloodied corpse and leaps onto Drogan’s lap, causing the hold man to literally die from fright.

A struggling artist is wracked with guilt after making a promise to a fearsome gargoyle

The final segment, and quite possibly my favourite, is “Lover’s Vow”; Preston (Remar) is a struggling artist living in New York whose work is proving to be so unprofitable and unpopular that even his agent, Wyatt (Robert Klein) dumps him. Dejected and frustrated, he drowns his sorrows at his local bar; however, when the bar’s owner, Jer (Ashton Wise), offers to walk him home, the two are suddenly attacked in the alley outside the bar. Preston is horrified when he witnesses a large, winged gargoyle-like grotesque rip Jer’s hand off and then behead the bartender but, rather than kill Preston, it inexplicably offers him a deal: his life for his solemn vow that he will never speak of the horrors he has seen that night. Terrified out of his mind, Preston agrees and the creature leaves after clawing at his chest to seal the deal; disgusted at the gargoyle’s gruesome appearance, Preston comes across a stranger, Carola (Chong), in the aftermath and encourages her to get off the streets and go to his apartment to keep her safe from the beast. Enthralled by Preston’s artwork, Carola warms to him and cleans his wound and the two have a romantic tryst that leads to ten years of success and happiness for Preston thanks to Carola having connections that help his work take off. While a doting father to two young children and devoted husband, Preston is nonetheless haunted by memories of that night, and the creature, and tormented at having kept the truth from his beloved all these years. On the eve of the ten year anniversary of the night they met, Preston breaks down and confesses the truth, even showing Carola a statue and drawings of the creature but his guilt soon turns to horror as Carola transforms before his eyes into the same gargoyle that attacked him, her body splitting and tearing apart as the creature breaks free from its human form! To make matters worse, their children also transform into pint-sized gargoyles before Preston’s terrified eyes; heartbroken and distraught, Preston begs Carola to change back and professes his love but it’s not enough to undo his broken vow and the gargoyle rips his throat out with an anguished cry and flies off into the night, where it turns back into a stone statue with its two children.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Twilight Zone (1959 to 1964; 1985 to 1989) was a bit before my time (and wasn’t even on television when I was a kid, as far as I know) so I grew up watching The Outer Limits (1995 to 2001) instead; while I can’t recall right now when I first saw Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, I distinctly remember it being one of the key influences in my subsequent appreciation for anthology stories. The idea of having such wildly different short stories all in one movie was fascinating to me and it still is, as a storyteller myself. Each story has only a short amount of time to give a sense of who its characters are and make us care about them and I think Tales from the Darkside: The Movie does a pretty good job with that thanks to casting some young up-and-comers, noted character actors, and even a distinguished actor of stage and screen in William Hickey. Not only that, the film is bolstered by some pretty decent practical effects; while the mummy is a little stiff, the puppet cat looks a little fake, and the gargoyle is notably seeped in darkness to hide its flaws, each remains a frightening and startling monster thanks to how well the shorts tell their stories.

“Lot 249” more than makes up for the frame narrative’s lack of monsters and raw horror.

It’s not surprising that “The Wraparound Story” is the weakest part of the film; to be fair, it’s not really designed to anything more than provide a basic setup for why we’re being shown the other, superior short stories and in that regard it succeeds at being mildly entertaining, at least. However, while lacking the monsters, blood, and unsettling visuals of the other tales, the framing story seems much more geared towards youngsters than the rest of the film. I suppose the idea of a witch hiding in plain sight could be considered scary but Betty is so nice and the threat against Timmy is left implied rather than explicit, meaning the horror of the framing narrative is noticeably diminished for me compared to the other stories. While I consider “Lot 249” the weakest of the three main tales, even that proves to be an entertaining little horror romp thanks, largely, to the gory methods employed by Bellingham’s mummy. It’s pretty horrific to see it jam a twisted coat hanger up Lee’s nose and jerk his brains out, to say nothing of the graphic depiction of Susan’s back being violently cut open! Not only that but the short is bolstered by enjoyable performances by a young Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore; Slater, especially, shows so much charisma and likeability as Andy, who is easily able to cut up and subdue the mummy thanks to his being prepared, which only adds to the shocking twist of the short’s ending.

The film is bolstered by some disturbing visuals and gruesome (and practical) special effects.

“Cat from Hell” is easily the most traditionally terrifying story of the film; for some reason, this short always reminds me of “The Raven” (Poe, 1845) in the simplicity of its gothic horror and the way the short builds tension is incredibly effective as a lot of shots are from the cat’s point of view and yet the story doesn’t hold back in depicting the supernatural feline’s horrific nature. Watching Halston’s unshakable arrogance crack be replaced by a fanatical obsession is very unsettling but the true highlight of the piece is obviously in the disturbing and grotesque way Halston meets his end. Yes, the puppets and dummies are pretty obvious but the darkness helps hide a lot of the effects and it’s still very grotesque not only to see the cat force its way down his throat but also crawl out through his mouth in a burst of blood. The way it simply leaps onto Drogan’s lap and hisses at him as the old man succumbs to his terror is particularly ghastly and is only augmented by the haunting sound of the clock striking twelve, the intense score, and the slanted angle of the camera. It’s a bit of a tie between “Cat from Hell” and “Lover’s Vow” for which story is my favourite but “Lover’s Vow” is definitely the most tragic and distressing of the stories; while you can argue that the twist ending is somewhat predictable, for me it’s easily the most memorable and impactful part of the film and helped make it a truly nightmarish horror story. The short is made all the more memorable by some fantastically ambitious animatronics and puppet work on the gargoyle; Carola’s visceral transformation into the beast is right up there with the disgusting body horror seen in The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986) and is made all the more heart-wrenching by Preston’s anguished scream at seeing his children turned into little monsters as a result of him just being honest with his wife.

The Summary:
It’s probably just the nostalgia talking but I have a real soft spot for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. I remember being fascinated by it as a kid because I had only seen anthology narratives done in TV shows like The Outer Limits (or potentially this was my introduction to the concept, I honestly forget which is which) and I found the idea to be incredibly unique and substantial (it’s like getting four movies for the price of one!) Years later, and some time ago now, I got around to seeing Creepshow and don’t remember it resonating me in the same way as this film (though, to be fair, I really do need to give Creepshow another watch sometime), which had a profound influence on me as a horror fan and writer. The stories are incredibly bleak and intense considering their short length, and bolstered by some fun performances and gruesome use of both gore and ambitious practical effects. While there are other, better films and examples of these effects out there (and even from the same time period), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie does a pretty good job and standing the test of time not just through remarkably well shot animatronics and puppets but also in how raw and powerful its stories can be. While “The Wraparound Story” is easily skipped, even that helps to add a breather between each tale so you can catch your breath and prepare for the next gruesome tale, and I never fail to be haunted, moved, and disturbed by the stories on offer here, in particular “Cat from Hell” and “Lover’s Vow”, which are more than reason enough for you to give this one a try sometime.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever seen Tales from the Darkside: The Movie? Which of its short stories was your favourite and what did you think to the practical effects used to bring the horrors to life? Did you see the twist endings coming and which of the stories could you see expanded out into their own feature? Did you ever watch the television show? How would you rate this feature-length version of the show against other horror anthologies like Creepshow? Are you a fan of anthologies and would you like to see more? What horror films are you watching this month in preparation for Halloween? Whatever you think about Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, leave a comment by signing up or visiting my social media and pop back next Monday for more horror anthology shenanigans!

Talking Movies: Cat’s Eye

Talking Movies

Released: 12 April 1985
Director: Lewis Teague
Paramount Pictures
Budget: $7 million
James Woods, Alan King, Robert Hays, Kenneth McMillan, Candy Clark, and Drew Barrymore

The Plot:
A stray tabby cat (latter dubbed “General”) is beset by visions of Amanda (Barrymore), a young girl in mortal danger. However, to reach her, he must travel across the United States, where he’s picked up by a former mobster who goes to extreme measures to keep his clients from smoking, a crime boss who offers a wager to his wife’s lover, and finally must defend Amanda from a viscous little troll (Daniel Rogers) looking to steal her breath!

The Background:
In 1982, George A. Romero, the grandfather of zombie horror, collaborated with my favourite writer, Stephen King, to write and direct Creepshow (Romero, 1982), a horror anthology movie that was praised for its blend of comedy and scares and became a cult classic. Potentially because of its $21 million worldwide gross against an $8 million budget, Creepshow led to the development of a similar show, Tales from the Darkside (1984 to 1988) and, no doubt, further interest in adapting King’s work for Cat’s Eye, which featured two segments based on stories from King’s Night Shift collection (King, 1978) and a third story King crafted specifically for the movie. Twelve different cats were used throughout the production, with handler Karly Lewis Miller alternating between the kitties when they were full from the treats they earned from performing, and director Lewis Teague stressed that none of them came to harm thanks to using air pressure hoses to simulate electric shocks and split screens to show the cat racing across a busy road. This was also an early role for young Drew Barrymore, who had starred in another Stephen King adaptation, Firestarter (Lester, 1984), the year before, and the film reaped a commendable $13.1 million at the box office. A favourite of mine since I was a child, Cat’s Eye was met with positive reviews that praised King’s focus on exploring phobias, the presentation and performances, and I’m pleased to see that it’s generally regarded as a forgotten gem of its era and genre. Cat’s Eye was so influential on me as a kid that I couldn’t imagine a better homage, or title, for my horror novella of the same name; as this releases next week, I figured now is as good a time as any to revisit Cat’s Eye and share my thoughts on it.

The Reviews:
Since Cat’s Eye is an anthology film made up of a framing narrative and three short horror stories, this review will be structured a little differently from my usual ones as I’ll look at each section in turn before giving my final thoughts. Cat’s Eye is a little unique from other anthology films I’ve known, however, in that the framing narrative kind of feeds into the final segment, so I’m going to tackle the detours General takes first and then circle around to talking about his journey and the framing story when I get to the final segment.

Habitual smoker Dick Morrison is driven to paranoia by Donatti’s intimidating methods.

General begins the film wandering the streets aimlessly until a rabid dog chases him; taking shelter in a delivery truck, General winds up in New York City where, after being enthralled by a vision of Amanda begging for help, he’s picked up by Junk (Tony Munafo), one of Doctor Vinny Donatti’s (King) many underlings. Donatti heads up Quitters, Inc (which is the name of our first segment), a company so dedicated to stopping its clients from smoking that it uses intimidation and coercive techniques carried over from Donatti’s days in the mob. A habitual smoker with a wife (Cindy; Mary D’Arcy) and child (also Barrymore), Dick Morrison (Woods) is recommended Quitters, Inc by a friend and impressed to learn that they have a 100% success rate thanks to their uniquely persuasive method of having their clients constantly monitored by their thugs and subjecting the client to increasingly harsh penalties every time they stray from the plan. Morrison is horrified when Donatti demonstrates one such punishment by subjecting General to electric shocks in a wire cage, and even more terrified to learn that Cindy and his daughter will face the cage if he slips up, then Cindy will be raped and, finally, Morrison will be killed if he cannot stick to the program. Agitated by the threats and the lack of nicotine, Morrison struggles to keep it together for his family; he’s alarmed to find one of Donatti’s men in his house, and that they know where his daughter goes to school, but manages to resist lighting up even when the pressure causes him to have nightmarish hallucinations at a work function. Morrison’s resolve falters for just a second when stuck in a traffic jam, however; he finds a lone cigarette in a battered packet and, thinking he’s safe, enjoys a quick drag only to spot Junk watching him from a nearby car. Racing home to find Cindy gone, he’s forced to watch her endure the electrified cage but, much to Junk’s dismay, she forgives his infraction and they reconcile after he reveals the truth to her. The segment ends some time later; Morrison has successfully kicked the habit but started to gain weight, so Donatti “prescribes” him some dodgy diet pills. Though Morrison has built up a good-natured rapport with the two mobsters, he’s aghast to find that Donatti’s threat about cutting off Cindy’s finger should he not hit his target weight all too true when he spots his friend’s spouse is missing her pinkie!

Norris is forced to traverse a narrow ledge to appease the whims of a sadistic gambler.

When Morrison lashed out in a rage during Cindy’s torture, General managed to slip out of Quitters, Inc and hitch a ride to Atlantic City, where he’s eventually adopted by crime boss and casino owner Cressner (McMillan) in “The Ledge”. An arrogant and powerful figure, Cressner will wager on anything and sees General as a lucky talisman after the cat successfully dashes across a busy road without injury. Cressner is also an extremely dangerous and vindictive man and, after finding out that his wife has been having an affair with former tennis pro Johnny Norris (Hays), has his henchman, “Ducky” (Mike Starr), plant incriminating drugs in Norris’s car and forcibly bring him up to Cressner’s penthouse for a confrontation. There, Cressner offers Norris a wager: if he (as in Norris) cane traverse the narrow exterior ledge of the penthouse without falling to his death, the drugs will be removed, Norris will be given a big cash sum, and he will be allowed to leave with Cressner’s wife. Facing either a lifetime in jail or a death sentence at Cressner’s hands, Norris has no choice but to take the bet and gingerly shuffles around the building trying not to slip, being buffeted by whistling wind, and pecked at by a particularly annoying pigeon. While Cressner asserts that he doesn’t welsh on his bets, he does make sure to make the ordeal as difficult as possible, blasting an air horn in Norris’s face and setting a high-pressure hose on him. However, even when Norris manages to overcome all of this, Cressner screws him over by gifting him his wife’s head in a sickening twist; pushed to the edge, Norris manages to overpower Cressner, shoots his henchman dead, and then holds the gangster at gunpoint. Despite being tempted at a multi-million dollar payoff, Norris forces Cressner to endure the same trial on the penthouse ledge, but Cressner is unable to get past the pigeon and plummets to his much-deserved demise as General looks on.

General journeys to keep a nightmarish little troll from stealing Amanda’s breath.

This brings us to the final segment, fittingly titled “General”; an excised prologue would’ve shed a bit more light into exactly why our kitty protagonist has been seeing visions of a young girl but, as is, the film presents the idea that Amanda (or, at least, some disembodied spirit taking her form) is in mortal danger and General is compelled to journey to Wilmington, North Carolina in order to keep her safe. Amanda is overjoyed to discover the cat, gifting him his name and insisting that her family adopt him; however, while her father, Hugh (James Naughton), is perfectly happy with this, her strict and cat-hating mother Sally Ann (Clark) doesn’t want the cat around, much less sleeping in Amanda’s room. Sally Ann’s animosity towards the cat is only exacerbated when they find Amanda’s pet parakeet, Polly, mauled to death following a late-night struggle, and insists that the cat is to blame despite Amanda’s claims that the bird was killed by a “monster” that lives in her bedroom walls. While Amanda is at school, Sally Ann lures General into a box and takes him to an animal shelter to be put down but, thankfully, the wily cat is able to escape and race back to Amanda’s aid right as a vicious little troll tries to suck the breath from her body! What follows is a battle between the cat and the little critter that is both amusing and horrifying; the troll is a disgusting, slimy, horrifying little ghoul in a jester’s hat who wields a pint-sized dagger that he uses to wound General’s shoulder. However, General is able to block the troll’s escape and send it flying into Amanda’s box fan, shredding it to bloody ribbons, much to Hugh and Sally Ann’s stunned shock. Finally, after overcoming many hardships and a long journey, General is gifted a large fish and is allowed to sleep on Amanda’s bed, though the film can’t resist teasing that Sally Ann’s fears about the cat’s malevolent intentions are true.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I like to think that there’s a lot of appeal in Cat’s Eye; not only does an adorable little kitty take centre stage as the primary protagonist and framing device, but the film tackles a variety of all-too-relatable horrors in a relatively grounded format. Anyone who’s been a lifetime smoker will know how hard the habit is to quit, and how self-destructive it can be weaning yourself off those cancer sticks; Morrison is almost immediately stressed at being denied his nicotine fix and his mental stability is only further frayed by the very real danger posed by Donatti and Quitter’s, Inc. If you’re anything like me, you’d absolutely crash and burn if forced to shuffle around a narrow ledge like Norris is; heights really aren’t my thing at all and the film does a great job of showing Norris constantly on the edge (pun intended…) of cracking and just plummeting to the street below. Finally, what child hasn’t been afraid of the monster under the bed or in the wardrobe? The decision to frame some of “General” from the troll’s perspective really adds to the sense of dread surrounding the creature and this segment always freaked me out the most as a child since the troll was such a horrifying little thing and, even now, I hesitate to dangle my feet out of the bed in case some nasty little critter like that is lurking in the dark.

Cat’s Eye‘s focus on relatable horrors and phobias makes it an intense watch at times.

Cat’s Eye utilises a very tense, haunting, and ominous score courtesy of Alan Silvestri that never fails to send a chill down my spine when some of the more nightmare-inducing sequences are happening. There’s a constant sense of dread surrounding Morrison, who jumps at every shadow and feels as though Donatti’s eyes are always on him; when at a work function, the stress, fear, and desire to smoke all become too much for him and he suffers from a horrifying (and amusing) hallucination in which everyone present (even the children and canapés!) are smoking, demonic pictures are glaring at him, and Donatti himself is tormenting him with a rendition of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take (I’ll Be Watching You)”. This surreal scene always stuck with me for how ominous it is and it really helps to sell the panic and strain Morrison is under; for him, it’s nothing compared to the realisation that he screwed up and his wife has to pay the price for that, but he ends the segment happy to be free from his addiction and even grateful for Donatti’s extreme measures since they’ve benefitted his family. That final gut-punch of seeing that severed finger, though, never fails to send a shiver running through me and is an effective way of reminding Morrison (and the audience) that his nightmare may never end. Norris is put through the wringer as well; barely able to keep his balance and with next to no handholds on offer, he’s constantly teetering on the precipice of death and it’s only through sheer force of will that he’s able to overcome Cressner’s obstacles (and such inconveniences as a massive neon sign) to complete his monumental task. As gruelling as the horror of this task is, though, “The Ledge” delivers its own gut-punch when Cressner spitefully kicks over a bag and his wife’s head comes rolling out! Hays’s horrified scream of “Jesus!” really sells the impact of this moment on the character and it makes Cressner’s fitting demise all the more cathartic as he’s unable to beg or buy his way out of Norris’s uncharacteristic wrath and ultimately pays for his abusive and sadistic ways.

The malicious little troll is the stuff of nightmares, but luckily the kitty is here to save the day!

Of course, the true star of Cat’s Eye is General himself. A resourceful and adaptable little kitty, General finds food where he can and crosses vast distances by hitching rides and stumbling into the lives of these other characters, all in his quest to get to Amanda and defend her. General certainly endures a lot throughout his journey; he’s electrocuted, nearly gets run over, gets tripped over, and watches others suffer only to be met with hostility from Sally Ann when he finally finds the girl who’s guided him this whole time. Sally Ann’s antagonism towards him seems to be based on a number of factors: one is she’s just a strict, overbearing mother who doesn’t want to give in to her daughter’s every demand; another is a concern for Polly’s welfare; and a third, as so inappropriately related by Hugh, is based on her mother’s wild belief that cats creep into the bedrooms of children to steal their breath as they sleep. Because she’s so pragmatic, Sally Ann has little time for Amanda’s flights of fancy about monsters living in her walls but she couldn’t be more wrong; the troll skitters over from the nearby woods and takes up residence in Amanda’s bedroom, coming and going through a hole in the wall and slaughtering Polly simply for the sadistic pleasure of it. Brought to life using a combination of forced perspectives and camera trickery, the troll is an unexpectedly horrific exclamation mark on what was a pretty intense horror/thriller up to that point. Seeing it shuffle about the bedroom, tittering away, and brandishing its little knife with glee may be an amusing sight but its glowing red eyes and mouthful of razor-sharp teeth make this frog-like monstrosity a pretty horrifying creature even with its little jester outfit. I really enjoy that we never learn what the troll is or where it came from; it’s simply this fantastical creature that intrudes on a normal, everyday family and tries to suck the breath from a little girl’s mouth and I recommend anyone who hesitates to let their cat or dog sleep with their children to just take a second to consider that one of these little fuckers could be lurking in the shadows!

The Summary:
I’ll be the first to admit that my opinion and appreciation for Cat’s Eye is deeply rooted in my nostalgia for the film; I watched it as an impressionable youth, when I was still struggling to get into horror, and was deeply affected by some of the more terrifying sequences and moments in the film. Morrison’s hallucination, the visual of that severed head bouncing across the floor, and just the idea of this malicious little troll living in the bedroom’s walls all had a lasting impression on me and I think the film does a great job of delivering on some surprisingly impactful, nightmarish concepts. Cat’s Eye also features some pretty terrific character actors that help boost its appeal; I’m not really a big James Woods fan but I enjoyed him as a tense, increasingly paranoid family man desperately trying to quit an addictive habit and cope with Donatti’s extremist ways, Robert Hays is always a treat to see and does a great job of portraying Norris’s absolute, abject terror when out on that ledge, and Drew Barrymore is suitably adorable as the little girl in peril. The real star are the cats used to bring General to life, of course, and it’s really enjoyable seeing him take centre stage for the finale and go paw-to-claw with that horrible little troll. While some of the shots and effects haven’t aged too well and the film’s maybe not quite up to the standards set by Creepshow, Cat’s Eye is a fun and memorable horror anthology that I fear has kind of been largely forgotten. However, I maintain that it’s well worth your time if you’re a fan of Stephen King and this genre, and might even leave more of a mark on young viewers than you might expect thanks to its exploration of timeless horrors and phobias.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever seen Cat’s Eye? Which of its segments was your favourite and what did you think to the filmmaking techniques used to bring their horrors to life? Did you enjoy seeing a cat take the lead role and which of the stories could you see expanded into their own feature? Were you creeped out by that little troll, and have you ever struggled to quit smoking? How would you rate Cat’s Eye against other horror anthologies? Are you a fan of anthologies and would you like to see more? Have you picked up my horror novella of the same name and, if so, could you please rate and review it? Whatever you think about Cat’s Eye, leave a comment by signing up or visiting my social media, and be sure to check back for more horror anthology shenanigans later in the year.

Talking Movies [Sci-Fi Sunday]: The Lawnmower Man: Director’s Cut

January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I have decided to spend every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.

Talking Movies

Released: 6 March 1992
Director: Brett Leonard
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Budget: $10 million
Stars: Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Mark Bringelson, and Austin O’Brien

The Plot:
Intellectually challenged Job Smith (Fahey) works as a lawnmower man, he is regularly abused and mistreated by townsfolk. However, when Doctor Lawrence Angelo’s (Brosnan) research into using psychoactive drugs and virtual reality to improve the intelligence of chimps dramatically increase’s Job’s intelligence, the once childlike Job transforms into a hyper intelligent being whose sanity soon begins to suffer as a result.

The Background:
The Lawnmower Man began life as a short story by my favourite author, Stephen King. First published in 1975, “The Lawnmower Man” told the story of a strange lawnmower man who was actually a satyr of the Greek God, Pan, and driven to kill a client in His name by telekinetically controlling a lawnmower. Quite how this translated into a cautionary tale about the potential dangers of virtual reality is beyond me but, regardless, this concept of digital worlds and the potential danger of technology was a popular one in the realms of science-fiction and clearly had a strong influence on the writing and production of this very loose adaptation. King was so incensed at the changes made to his original story that he sued to have his name removed from the film’s title and marketing, and the film received mostly mixed reviews, with the film’s special effects being a noteworthy highlight. The Lawnmower Man’s $32.1 million domestic box office made the film a moderate success, which justified the release of a far worse sequel about four years later and the release of a much longer and more intricate “Director’s Cut” on home media that I’ll be looking at today.

The Review:
Like something out of a 1950s sci-fi film, The Lawnmower Man opens with a piece of blurb warning about the dangers of virtual reality; the potential of this technology (and computers in general), which was seen as so new and limitless at the time, to be the source of both enlightenment and corruption, were rife back in the day and these themes permeate throughout The Lawnmower Man. Immediately, we’re shown the scary potential of virtual reality as Dr. Angelo’s research has been used, in conjunction with various drugs and stimulants, to turn an ordinary chimp into a deadly engine for war…largely against his wishes.

The Director’s Cut features a much longer opening following the chimp’s escape from V.S.I.

This sequence, largely framed as a dream sequence in the theatrical cut, is expanded upon significantly here in the Director’s Cut as we follow the chimp as he uses his increased intelligence to escape from captivity, acquire a gun, and shoot his way out of the Virtual Space Industries (V.S.I.) facility (which is under the administration of the mysterious and malevolent governmental body known as “The Shop”, a semi-recurring agency in King’s works). In the theatrical cut, the chimp is killed curing the escape but, here, he makes it all the way to the nearby town thanks to the guidance of his V.R. headset; it’s while seeking sanctuary that the chimp meets Job, the titular simple-minded lawnmower man who mistakes him for the comic book superhero “Cyboman”. This introduces us to Job a lot sooner than in the theatrical cut, showcases both his kind, naïve nature and his childlike demeanour, and recontextualises the introduction of his father-figure,  Father Francis McKeen (Jeremy Slate), who is directly responsible for the Shop’s mercenaries finding and killing the chimp, which leaves Job distraught and Angelo incensed.

Angelo sees in Job the chance to use his research for something other than war.

A pacifist by nature, Angelo is frustrated by the Shop’s constant interference and insistence of twisting his research into a tool for war; he believes in the potential of virtual reality to improve the minds of men towards a higher calling, one far greater than conflict and death. Excited at how far the chimp came in its cognitive development and discouraged at his death, Angelo is driven to distraction by the potential of his research to help countless people just like Job. Even after taking a hiatus from work, Angelo refuses to focus on anything other than his work, which causes his relationship with his wife, Caroline Angelo (Colleen Coffey), to suffer. In the theatrical cut, she out-right leaves him part-way through the film but, here she acts far more aloof and instead goes out on the town with her friends, leaving Angelo in the basement with his work, his audio journal, and a bottle of Scotch.

Virtual reality transforms Job from a simpleton into a confident savant.

Angelo sees vast potential in Job to realise the full potential of virtual reality; skipping over the V.S.I. “aggression therapy” and concentrating purely on virtual reality and stimulating concoctions, he convinces Job to agree to a series of sessions where, over time, his mental capacity is dramatically increased. Beginning as a simple, child-like man who man in the town take advantage of (including Father McKeen, who regularly beats, berates, and mistreats Job) with little understanding about personal hygiene or reasoning, Job is a hardworking lawnmower man with a natural gift for fixing mechanical things but, thanks to Angelo’s experiments, he becomes an excitable and incredibly capable individual. He is soon able to surpass his young friend, Peter Parkette (O’Brien), at Angelo’s V.R. games, outgrows comic books, and seeks to feed his growing intellect with knowledge and input of all sorts, which transforms his mind and body into a far more competent and capable form.

While some treat Job terribly, others are incredibly loving and supportive towards him.

While Job runs afoul of the local town bully, the aggressive Jake Simpson (John Laughlin) and is regularly abused by McKeen for the smallest transgressions, Job actually has a couple of close friends who genuinely care about his well-being. Angelo likes him, for a start, and then there’s Peter, with whom Job shares a love of comic books and videogames. He’s also treated like a surrogate son by McKeen’s brother, Terry (Geoffrey Lewis), a local handyman and groundskeeper who employs Job and is one swig of booze away from becoming a full-blown alcoholic. In a nice twist, even as Job’s changes begin to negatively affect and overwhelm him, he never forgets those who have been kind to him and actively seeks out to punish those who have wronged him and others when he begins to develop awesome powers.

The malevolent Shop pay for their desire to exploit Job’s abilities.

The core of the film is Job’s descent under the weight of his newfound abilities but this only really comes about because of the intervention of Angelo’s supervisor at V.S.I., Sebastian Timms (Bringelson); although Timms begins the film as a straight-laced, corporate ass-kisser who, unlike Angelo, doesn’t have a problem with bowing to the whims of the Shop, he soon becomes a real cypher and sends the plot spiralling into destruction and tragedy. Eager to impress the authoritative Director (Dean Norris), Timms swaps out Angelo’s formula for the original “Project 5” samples so that they can see what the effect will be on a human being. The result is unprecedented to all, but especially Angelo, who comes to realise, with mounting horror, that Job has developed awesome, unstable abilities and suffered a psychotic break that devastates V.S.I.’s employees and leaves Timms to a truly horrific fate.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I’ve always been a fan of The Lawnmower Man and I was excited to watch the extended Director’s Cut when I bought the DVD. Unfortunately, though, much of the additional material kind of bogs the film down, especially the extended sequence with the chimp which only bloats the opening. I was surprised to see the natural of Angelo and Caroline’s relationship issues change but there were some nice new additions, too, such as Angelo having more interactions with Peter’s mother, Carla (Rosalee Mayeux), him asking Father McKeen for permission to take Job away from his duties at the church and with Terry to run his V.R. experiments, and some slightly longer scenes at V.S.I. showing Angelo trying to calm Job’s growing thirst for knowledge and input and Job experimenting with the limits of his powers to cause lesions to form on his skin. Another significant addition is Job using his psychic powers to manipulate Caroline into conflict against the Shop’s agents, thus causing her death, something which is entirely absent in the theatrical cut and goes a long way to show just how far gone Job is at that point.

Job’s new abilities allow him to wreck terrible revenge on those who have wronged him.

While The Lawnmower Man is only partially based on King’s original story, some of his traditional tropes still show up in full force; thankfully, there are no writers here but a couple of abusive, aggressive assholes show up in full force. There’s Jake, who I mentioned before, who routinely mocks and mistreats Job for his childlike demeanour and is angered into a fury when local hardbody Marnie Burke (Jenny Wright) takes a shine to Job after he begins to show more confidence and physical appeal. There’s also Peter’s father, Harold (Ray Lykins), who regularly yells at and beats his wife and child. Both of these reprehensible individuals fall victim to Job’s wrath when he begins to exact his revenge upon those who have wronged him; it’s not entirely clear what Job does to Jake (though it seems to be implied that he made Jake a simpleton like he (as in Job) used to be) but he rips Harold to shreds with his lawnmower and daunting psychic powers in perhaps the only part of the film that is similar to the original story.

As Job’s intelligence increases, so does his mania and his mental abilities.

The Project 5 formulas are noted several times by Angelo to heighten a subject’s aggression, but they have an entirely unexpected additional effect on Jon; he gets splitting headaches and begins to pick up on the thoughts of those around him before developing telekinesis. His mind absorbs information and input “like a clean, hungry sponge”, allowing him to surpass Angelo’s intelligence at a rate that leaves Angelo speechless in fear. As these changes begin to take hold, Job suffers a serious of worrying seizures and struggles to adapt to his newfound abilities but soon suffers a psychotic break and comes to see himself as accessing powers and abilities lost to mankind generations ago; all but forcing Angelo to continue his experiments, Job begins to grow more and more unstable, turning to violence and hurting Marnie, reducing her to a gibbering wreck, as he begins to lose control of his abilities and sanity.

As his powers grow in cyberspace, Job is able to influence the real world.

Impressed with a demonstration of Job’s abilities, the Director orders him to be brought in to the Shop for further testing and study; angered at Timms’ betrayal and scared half to death at Job’s increasing instability and growing God complex, Angelo is unable to protect Job from the Shop’s mercenaries, which sees him projecting a digital version of himself into the real world and reduced them to pixelated atoms! Job’s wrath is only increased when an errant shot leaves Terry dead and, having dispatched all of V.S.I.’s security with a swarm of pixelated bees, he enters the facility unimpeded to put his insane plan into motion.

Job transforms himself into Cyber Christ, a being of pure digital energy!

Having come to regard himself as the bridge between reality and virtual reality, Job plans to upload his very consciousness into the virtual world, becoming a “Cyber Christ” in the process, and spread his influence across the entire world. Although Angelo believes all of this to be a psychotic delusion, Job is able to complete his plan, transforming himself into a being of pure energy and Angelo is forced to try, one last time, to appeal to the last remnants of Job’s humanity in cyberspace. Having trapped Job behind a computer virus, and threatening him with death from bombs he placed around the facility, Angelo is ultimately no match for Job’s awesome powers but, when he realises that Peter and Carla are also in danger, Job allows Angelo to leave before they all die in the explosion.

Fahey is fantastic in the film, masterfully portraying Job’s descent into psychotic mania.

Although it appears as though Job perished in the blast, he is finally able to crack Angelo’s lock and escapes at the very last minute, with the final shot of the film being his “birth cry” as very telephone around the world rings in union, ending the film on a semi-ambiguous note that, sadly, the sequel dropped the ball on following up on. Still, The Lawnmower Man continues to impress me; its effects and realisation of virtual reality and cyberspace may be wildly outdated and based in pure fantasy but I think they hold up pretty well and are indicative of the technology and fears/speculation of the time. What also bolsters the film, for me, are some captivating performances from both Brosnan and Fahey; beginning as a wise mentor whose admiration of Job’s progress soon turns to fear for his sanity, Angelo is an admirable idealist whose wishes to use V.R. for the betterment of mankind result only in destruction. Similarly, Fahey does a fantastic job portraying Job’s childlike innocence, his pain and confusion at his growing psychic powers, his thirst for knowledge, and his descent into both stoic, unnerving menace and aggressive, unstable insanity.

An under-rated sci-fi film that explores a fantastically horrific side of V.R.

Fahey delivers some truly awesome and memorable lines here, such as his gibbering, terrifying statement of “I saw God! I touched God!”, his later stoic declaration of him becoming “Cyber Christ”, and his eventual declaration when he has fulfilled this objective of “I am God here!” (not to discount Brosnan’s moving whisper of “”Oh, dear God…” when he realises how far off the deep end Job has gone), all of which tie into the additional themes regarding faith and religion. Such notions, which originally were used to keep Job in check and under threat of reprisal for his transgressions, quickly become redundant as Job begins to experiment with his abilities; free of all fear and boundaries, he sets Father McKeen ablaze, easily manipulates the minds of others, and soon transforms from a meek, mentally challenged man into a monstrous being both in and out of virtual reality.

The Summary:
I don’t see The Lawnmower Man talked about enough when the subject of sci-fi films comes up. Sure, it’s maybe not aged too well and is absolutely nothing like the story it’s based on but so what? Total Recall (Verhoeven, 1990) is nothing like the short story it’s based on and that didn’t hurt it; obviously, it’s not a fair comparison and Total Recall  is a much better film but my point is that debates about fidelity to the source material are often meaningless when the result is an enjoyable piece of media. By gearing the story into a cautionary tale regarding the unknown dangers and potential of technology ad virtual reality, The Lawnmower Man presents a truly unique twist on the concept of V.R. as a gateway into the untapped potential of the human mind. The effects are still pretty impressive for the time; it helps that the V.R. sequences are all entirely computer-generated rather than splicing humans into cyberspace and, for me, they hold up pretty well and tie into the overall plot of Job transforming into this digital tyrant. Some solid performances only bolster the film’s appeal for me and, while the Director’s Cut actually causes the runtime to drag a bit more compared to some others, I can never get enough of a good thing. For having a truly interesting premise and execution, some stellar performances by Brosnan and Fahey, and some chilling sequences involving Job’s wrath, The Lawnmower Man is an unfairly under-rated gem of a science-fiction romp and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre who are looking for something a little different.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever seen The Lawnmower Man? If so, what did you think to it and do you enjoy this longer cut of the film? What did you think to the film’s premise and the performances, particularly Brosnan and Fahey? Did you enjoy the film’s depiction of virtual reality and cyberspace or do you feel it’s a little too dated? Have you ever read the original story and, if so, would you have preferred that the film was closer to the source material? What is your favourite Stephen King adaptation and how are you celebrating National Science-Fiction Day today? Whatever your thoughts on The Lawnmower Man, or sci-fi in general, be sure to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies: It: Chapter Two

Talking Movies


Released: September 2019
Director: Andy Muschietti
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures
Budget: $60 to 79 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean, and Bill Skarsgård

The Plot:
Twenty-seven years after facing and defeating Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Skarsgård), the Losers’ Club are called back to Derry to face the terror of It once again but, in order to overcome their greatest fears, they must first remember their past and rekindle their friendship.

The Background:
It: Chapter Two is, obviously the sequel (or second part) to the hugely-successful It (Muschietti, 2017), which retroactively retitled itself It: Chapter One just before the credits rolled. Given the length and structure of Stephen King’s original 1986 novel, it only made sense to split the story into two parts (which was all-but-inevitable when Chapter One raked in over $700 million against a $35 million budget), and everyone involved has clearly gone to great lengths to secure some big and talented names to help bolster Chapter Two even further.

The Review:
Chapter Two picks up twenty-seven years after the conclusion of Chapter One; a grown-up Mike Hanlon (Mustafa), who has stayed in Derry the entire time and become somewhat obsessed with watching for signs of Pennywise and haunted by his memories of the first movie, is forced to call his old friends up when It awakens and begins not only abducting, dismembering, and eating children but also calls out to the Losers to settle their score.

It: Chapter Two certainly excels with its casting.

Unfortunately for Mike, the Losers are all grown-up, successful adults with no memories of Derry, Pennywise, or their friendship; Bill (McAvoy) is a successful writer who overcame his stutter in favour of struggling with writing good endings to his books, Beverley (Chastain) has become a successful fashion designer who is trapped in an abusive marriage, Ben (Ryan) is now a fit and healthy architect, Eddie (Ransone) works as a risk assessor, has traded a fat mother for a fat wife, and fell back into his dependence on medicines and his inhaler, Richie (Hader) has become a stand-up comedian, and Stan (Bean)…well, it’s not said in the film what he does, but he’s grown up too. However, Mike’s phone call is enough to reignite the Loser’s memories (for better and worse) and compel them to return to Derry in record time to get caught up and piece together their memories, and their friendship, to perform an ancient ritual that Mike believes will destroy Pennywise once and for all.

It: Chapter Two definitely ups the gore and horror.

As I may have mentioned in my review of Chapter One, It is, unquestionably, my favourite novel of all time; King builds his characters so well that I can’t help but feel for each of them and, as I have grown older, my connection to the themes of It (friendship, childhood, adulthood) has only grown stronger. While I enjoyed Stephen King’s It (Wallace, 199) and Tim Curry’s rampant portrayal of Pennywise, I always felt like It needed another shake of the stick, one free form the restrictions of a made-for-television miniseries. While Chapter One altered some elements of King’s novel (changing the time period, adding new scares, altering some of the motivations and so forth), I didn’t really mind this and the movie didn’t disappoint in showcasing how malevolent and psychotic Pennywise can be.

The kids make a much welcome return thanks to flashbacks.

Chapter Two, however, faces the same problem as the 1990 miniseries (and one also present in the book) in that it must now live and die on the strength of the adult version of the Loser’s Club. Given that Chapter One pulled a lot of its presentation and inspiration from Stranger Things (Various, 2016 to present) and the fact that the kids were so good in their roles, this is a tall order but the cast of Chapter Two largely fulfils this by bringing in some great talent for the adult roles.

Richie and Eddie’s banter keeps the film lively and energetic.

Hader and Ransone especially stand out; their foul-mouthed banter and close friendship adds a lot of heart and levity to the film, while McAvoy and Chastain bring the emotional weight and acting nuance. Mustafa portrays Mike far from the wise mentor figure he assumed in the 1990 miniseries and instead pulls more from the fatigued, terrified obsession that Mike struggles with in the book. Unfortunately, there once again isn’t too much for Ben or Stan to do this time around; Ryan is serviceable in the role but, where child-Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) assumed Mike’s role of historian and exposition in Chapter One, adult-Ben is mainly there as a mediator and to rediscover his love for Beverley. Once again, Skarsgård steals the show as Pennywise; unlike Curry’s madcap performance, Skarsgård is a creepy, legitimately terrifying force who loves to mess with Its prey before It feeds. Chapter Two feeds (pun intended) Pennywise a far greater body count as he chomps down on adults and children alike, literally biting the heads of Its prey in a shockingly gruesome display. Skarsgård also gets a one-up on Curry in that the finale thankfully does not lose his visage or presence, allowing the final confrontation between Pennywise and the Losers to be far more entertaining while still staying true to the source material.

Skarsgård remains a truly creepy Pennywise. 

Despite upping the gore and creepy visuals, the bulk of Chapter Two’s scares again rely on jump scares, which is fine as they’re generally well done and Pennywise is a very charismatic presence, but the film does struggle with its pacing at bit. For example, Mike rings the Losers and they all arrive literally moments later with little issue. This does happen in the book and the miniseries but it stuck out to me as a little rushed as the film then slows down a bit so we can get truncated snippets of their lives. A couple of examples of this are Bev making very short work of her husband when he attacks her, with little to none of the catharsis given in the book to this moment, and Ben summing up his weight loss in one line, which is very disappointing considering how hard John Ritter fought to include an abridged version of Ben’s weight-loss story in the miniseries. However, I think some of these pacing issues will be absolved if you watch both parts back-to-back as one big movie (or, even better, they release a supercut version), that way you won’t lose any momentum as you’ll be familiar with all the characters. Also, when the film includes the original child actors, it makes the wise decision to include new scenes, storylines, and scares that pull more material from the book so it never really feels like its treading over the same ground or telling us things we already know.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Fundamentally, Chapter Two follows many of the same beats as the book and the miniseries but there are some interesting wrinkles; one of the biggest is the idea that Richie is actually in love with Eddie and has been harbouring an unspoken homosexual love for him this entire time, which I never even thought of or picked up on when I read the book. Another is Mike managing to escape the attack by the aged Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) with only a flesh wound, allowing him to not only participate in the final battle but finish up his character arc when his desperate belief in the Ritual of Chüd faisl to destroy Pennywise and Mike is revealed to be severely traumatised by his childhood nightmare. A big spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read the book is that Stan never makes it back to Derry, opting to slit his wrists instead. In the book and miniseries, he leaves a chilling message scrawled on his bathroom tiles (simply the word “It”), which is a genuinely spine-tingling moment; here, it’s a brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inclusion and, rather than killing himself because he was unable to face his fears and knew that pennywise was due to reproduce, Stan instead kills himself so that his fear won’t hold back the Losers and will galvanise them. This is given a heroic air in the film, which helps keep Stan a part of the group, but it’s never really presented as a motivation for the Losers sticking around to face Pennywise again.

Eddie also ends up dead in the finale; honestly, I thought that Mike was going to die (either in his place or as well), given his presence in the end, but Mike survives and Eddie gets impaled by one of It’s Spider-legs. This comes after Eddie has overcome Bowers and found the strength to strike what appears to be a fatal blow to the Spider and, before he dies, Eddie allows the Losers to realise that they can defeat It by disowning their fear of It and reducing It to a weak form, allowing Eddie to die a hero. This is a small issue, however; the new It movies seem to favour an oversimplification of It’s desire to inspire fear in Its prey. In the book, It likes Its prey to be scared because it improves the taste of the flesh and It delights in tormenting Its victims but, in these films, the Losers are able to defeat It by standing up to It and rejecting their fear of It, reducing It to little more than a blubbing baby. This was a factor in the book, miniseries, and Chapter One but, generally, Pennywise is enraged at the Losers hurting It and making It experience fear, rather than being powered by fear. It’s not a massive issue, as it’s a perfectly acceptable adaptation of Pennywise, but, as I say, it is a bit simplified. Similarly, Chapter Two seems to prefer the idea that It is actually an extraterrestrial lifeform that crashed to ancient Derry on a meteor, rather than an unspeakable eldritch horror; It’s true from is still living light but, rather than a Lovecraftian mass of orange lights that defy life, Chapter Two realises this form as three spinning orbs. Again, a fine way to show it and to hint at there being more to It, but a bit of an oversimplification.

Finally, one thing I feel would have helped with the film’s pacing is just omitting Henry Bowers completely. Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) took an unquestionably fatal tumble in Chapter One and his inclusion, while true enough to the book, is diluted so much that it would have been probably a lot better and easier to say Henry died and have It take the form of a zombified Bowers to attack Eddie. The time spent with Henry, brief though it may be, could then have been put into showing the adult Losers’ lives a bit more prior to returning to Derry. A big plot point for Bill is that everyone loves his books but hates the endings he writes; this is not-so-subtly based on real-life criticisms of a lot of King’s work, especially It. I, however, was always happy with the idea that It is best translated as a giant Spider; it worked as a metaphor and the ending always hit me hard as the Losers sacrifice so much to end Pennywsie’s threat and it’s a real poignant reflection of what it’s like to grow up and forget (or grow apart from) the friends that were once so important to you. Chapter Two, however, actually improved on the ending in a way that I found heart-warming in that, unlike in the book and miniseries, the Losers don’t lose their memories of each other after defeating Pennywise. Them losing Stan and Eddie and their memories after working so hard to remember everything always broke my heart so this really made me happy. Stephen King’s gratuitous cameo could have been shorter, though…like, he has a lot of lines and a lot of time was spent on indulging him.


The Summary:
While not as good as It: Chapter One, It: Chapter Two is still a solid horror movie; there’s plenty of creepy moments, gore, and a surprising amount of humour here that’s sure to appeal to fans of the first movie. Allowances have to be made for the characters we became attached to now being grown up and the cast does a great job stepping into the shoes of their younger counterparts; the cast is scarily fitting, which really helps to adjust to this narrative shift. While some of the plot points are a bit weaker and the ending may be disappointing to some, as a massive fan of the book I was very satisfied and just as touched by the ending, especially some of the tweaks they made that, in my opinion, actually improved it.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Talking Movies: It: Chapter One

Talking Movies

Twenty-seven years after the much-lauded (but equally criticised) miniseries by Tommy Lee Wallace and some thirty years after the publication of Stephen King’s original novel, director Andy Mushietti brings one of King’s most terrifying works (and my personal favourite book ever) to the big screen with the novel’s gruesome imagery and themes largely intact. Unlike the novel, It takes place at the back-end of the 1980s and revolves around the coming together of seven outsiders to face an unspeakable, shape-changing nightmare in their quaint little town. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), who suffers from an uncontrollable stutter, is absolutely devastated after his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), goes missing one rainy afternoon.

While Bill, blinded by grief and guilt, is determined prove that Georgie is still alive, Georgie has actually fallen prey to Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), a sewer-dwelling maniacal shape-changing creature that feeds on children. With school out for the summer, Pennywise begins to haunt and terrorise several of the neighbourhood children, who are already struggling to avoid being targeted by local bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and their own adolescent issues. While Bill regularly visits the Barrens and investigates the sewer outflow pipes alongside his friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff), they run into local new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and, while patching up the wounds he suffered at Bowers’ hands, join up with Beverly (Sophia Lillis). As the group bond as friends, they each recount their encounters with Pennywise, share stories of the history of their home town, and work to figure out how they can avoid ending up on missing posters

After a particularly apocalyptic rock fight against Bowers and his friends, they befriend Mike (Chosen Jacobs), the only black kid in town, and figure out that Pennywise appears to live beneath a dilapidated house. Journeying inside, they are attacked by Pennywise and realise that, together, they are able to wound and stand up to the creature. The remainder of the film deals with them overcoming their own individual fears and coming together as a group to not only solve the mystery surrounding Bill’s brother but also destroy an evil that has apparently existed for hundreds of years. Although primarily revolving around a horrific situation, the core themes of It are friendship and coming to terms with adolescence and the loss of innocence. Fittingly, the depiction of the child protagonists is staggeringly on point; the Losers Club (as they dub themselves) all seem to be close friends and their dialogue and interactions appear real and well-developed. However, due to the sheer amount of characters present in the narrative, some of them get less development time than others; Richie never encounters Pennywise by himself (which seems an odd omission given that the other six characters all get attacked by Pennywise separately before coming together), and Mike is largely absent and a lot of his characteristics are transplanted onto Ben (who also isn’t as prominent as he is in the book or miniseries). Despite this, the characters are all very likeable and layered characters, each dealing with their own problems and struggling to deal with the trials they face as children.

The real star of the show here is Bill Skarsgård. While Tim Curry put in a truly iconic performance in the original miniseries, playing the part of Pennywise with a manic glee that remains iconic to this day, Skarsgård opts for a far more intimidating, creepy take on the character. Pennywise taunts his prey, lulling them in with Its comedic appearance and mocking them as It seeks to bring their fear to breaking out and feast upon their flesh. While Pennywise is noticeably absent for sections of the film’s middle, the entire plot and motivations of the children revolve confronting It; this also serves to give Skarsgård’s appearances that much more impact and he really embodies the dark comedic menace of the creature. Right off the bat, It sets itself up to be much more “inspired by” King’s book than directly based upon it. As an adaptation, it retains many key scenes, themes, and characters from the book but places them within entirely new settings. Unlike The Dark Tower (Arcel, 2017), It has the runtime to properly flesh out the child protagonists and bring King’s story to the screen in a far more faithful way. It’s fair to say, though, that, much like the original miniseries, It is quite a departure from the book. The violence and general themes are present but a lot of the specifics are altered; Pennywise takes different forms than in the book and attacks the children in very different ways, and the idea that they can overcome It by not being afraid of It is far more pronounced here than it is in the book.

Perhaps the biggest departure is the fact that It revolves entirely on the narrative of the children; the book and miniseries detail how the children encounter It in the 1950s and then again as adults in the 1990s. All throughout the film’s marketing, no mention was made of inserting the adult narrative into the film or producing another movie to tell that story but it turns out this was a masterful strategy as, right before the end credits play, the film retitles itself as It: Chapter One, which should hopefully mean that a second chapter will follow to complete the story. This means that It is purely focused on developing and portraying the characters as children, establishing the world they inhabit and the rules of that world, as well as dipping its toe into the more metaphysical aspects of Pennywise. Is It the beginning of a new age of successful, profitable horror movies? The critical and commercial success seems to think so, though I was slightly disappointed to find that the film is more about the in-your-face, loud scares and less on haunting, spine-tingling scares, as I had hoped and suspected from the trailers (most disappointing of all was that the creepy soundtrack heard in the trailers was absent from the film). However, It doesn’t rely on random jump scares as much as you might think; the tension builds appropriately well and the payoff is suitably cathartic – Pennywise’s possession of the kids’ slide projector and attacks them in a large, monstrous form exemplifies this wonderfully. As an adaptation of one of King’s works, It fares a lot better than The Dark Tower and many other adaptations. Many liberties are taken with the source material but they all retain the essence of the text in a way that fits and feels natural, while still leaving plenty of unused material for the sequel. Some characters could’ve been given more screen time and a bit more spotlight but, overall, the film works extremely well as a coming of age story featuring a truly creepy and horrific villain.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Recommended: Definitely, if only to finally see a really well done adaptation of a Stephen King story.
Best moment: Probably the first real showdown between the Losers and Pennywise in the house on Neibolt Street.
Worst moment: Despite the decent runtime and the well-developed characters, the lack of screen time for Mike and Ben was a bit of a miss-step for me.

Talking Movies: The Dark Tower

Talking Movies

Between 1982 and 2012, notable horror writer Stephen King produced a series of seven novels (and one spin-off) that made up what he referred to as his magnum opus. Over the years, numerous writers and directors have attempted to launch a film series base don King’s Dark Tower books, only to run into various issues at every turn. Finally, after nearly ten years in development hell, 2017 sees the release of Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of King’s work. The Dark Tower tells the story of a young boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who suffers from regular nightmares and visions of a mysterious Dark Tower, a malevolent Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and a grizzled Gunslinger named Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). Jake’s dreams also involves the Man in Black and his henchmen, who wear false faces, strapping children to a device that draws their life-force out to attack the Dark Tower

Given that Jake is clearly struggling to cope with the loss of his father, his mother, Katheryn (Laurie Chambers), tries to help Jake by sending him to a psychiatrist (José Zúñiga), to no avail. However, when he suspects that two representatives of a mental institute are emissaries of the Man in Black, he runs away from home and tracks down a dilapidated house he saw in his dreams. Inside, he finds a control console that opens a doorway to another dimension, Mid-World, and, after being attacked by the house itself, he enters to find himself stranded in the vast alien desert from his nightmares. Eventually, he runs into Roland, who is on his own quest for revenge against the Man in Black after the sorcerer killed not only his entire people but also his father (Dennis Haysbert). After learning that Jake’s dreams can lead him to the Man in Black, Roland reluctantly allows Jake to tag along with him through the desolate remains of times and worlds long gone in order to get his revenge.

The first thing you really need to know about this film, if you’ve read the Dark Tower books, is that this is not a page-for-page adaptation of the series. It’s not even a direct adaptation of the first book; instead, the film draws influences from many of the different books and, if Arcel is to be believed, is actually a canonical sequel to the final book in the series. Therefore, if you were hoping to come into this to see the events of The Gunslinger (King, 1982) play out, you’ll be disappointed. To be fair, The Gunslinger is probably too short to be its own film, much less the first part in a seven film series. Additionally, Roland’s famous Ka-tet do not feature at all, although many events from the books in which they appear are represented: Roland is injured and poisoned after an attack and must get treatment on Jake’s world (“Keystone Earth”). There, he visits a gun shop and stocks up on bullets; he also briefly teaches Jake how to shoot like a Gunslinger and takes part in a shoot-out at the Dixie Pig, similar to The Song of Susannah (King, 2004).

Apparently, The Dark Tower is supposed to launch an ongoing television series, with the main characters all reprising their roles, and even a sequel that will involve more content from The Drawing of the Three (King, 1987). However, the film feels more like a stand-alone, condensed version of the books and it does not conclude on an obvious cliffhanger or with explicit sequel-bait. To veer into spoiler territory, Jake is apprehended by the Man in Black due to his incredibly powerful psychic powers and strapped into the chair from his nightmares. However, having had his true calling to protect the Dark Tower awoken by Jake’s influence, Roland blasts his way through the Dixie Pig and confronts the Man in Black, putting a bullet through his head. Roland then destroys the machine, and the base in which it was housed, and ends the Man in Black’s assault against the Dark Tower. After, he and Jake return to Mid-World together and the film ends with basically everything wrapped up: Jake has realised that he’s not crazy and achieved closure over the loss of his father and Roland has realised his revenge and rediscovered his calling. Although the theme throughout is that darkness will continually attempt to destroy the Dark Tower (I guess I should say at some point that this would result in horrific monsters entering the multiverse and destroying all life) and there are some hints towards a larger, looming evil (the Crimson King), watching the film you get the real sense that everyone was aiming to make only one movie.

Having read all of the books and only found maybe a third of them to be enjoyable, I actually really liked The Dark Tower. It drew the most interesting aspects from the books and paid homage to the larger world that King created (in addition to numerous references to his other stories) without being bogged down by some of the more convoluted and cringe-worthy moments from the books (such as King including himself as a character, the pointlessness of The Waste Lands (King, 1991), or the weirdness of Blaine the psychopathic train). The Dark Tower is Jake’s story; you follow him as the main character and Roland, while being the more enigmatic, bad-ass, and mysterious of the two, is really more of a side character until Jake ends up on Mid-World. Because of this, we only really learn about Roland’s past and the mechanics of King’s multiverse through Jake’s conversations with Roland, in which we are told just enough to know the stakes but not be overwhelmed by the complexities of King’s multi-layered worlds.

The downside to this is that we don’t get much exposition into the Man in Black. McConaughey plays the role with a nuanced relish, clearly revelling in being the personification of evil, and while kills without remorse and clearly desires the destruction of the Dark Tower and the prospect of ruling the darkness that would follow, we never find out what is exact motivations are except that he is pure evil. There is no mention of him serving the higher power of the Crimson King, no explanation regarding his henchmen, and no real tangible motivation behind any of the antagonists except that they’re clearly evil because they want to destroy the multiverse. The only reason this works in the film is due to the fact that The Dark Tower is disappointingly short; at a mere 95 minutes, the film moves at a brisk pace, emphasising action and fast-paced shoot-outs when it can. While it never feels rushed or suffers from jump cuts or even massive plot holes, it is disappointing that the film was not afforded a longer run time; I honestly feel that, if this is the only Dark Tower film to be made, they could have done the books (and the unique narrative of the film) more justice by affording it a two-and-a-half-hour runtime instead.

Fans of the books will probably be disappointed with The Dark Tower; unlike another films based on a long-running book series, The Dark Tower is not a straight-up adaptation of its source material. If it is to be the first in a film series or launch a multi-media franchise, it doesn’t appear to have done a great job of doing so. I feel as though, if there are more films made, this film will be looked at as being like The Matrix (Wachowski Brothers, 1999) in that it feels more like a stand-alone film that wasn’t meant to have a sequel. However, there is plenty of material to still draw from and plenty of potential in the ideas raised in the film to warrant at least two more movies; the disappointment comes from The Dark Tower’s inefficiency at setting these up (but, at the same time, the fact that it is not massively concerned with setting up future films makes it much easier to watch than, say, The Mummy (Kurtzman, 2017), which was criticised for being more concerned with setting up future films in the “Dark Universe” tan telling a good stand-alone story). In the end, though, I enjoyed The Dark Tower for what it was: a fantasy/action film with a compelling protagonist (Elba plays the grizzled, war-weary Roland to perfection, proving that race can have no baring on an actor’s ability to effectively portray a role), engaging set-pieces (Roland’s efficiency at dispatching his foes is unmatched; every shot is an instant kill, even when he’s poisoned to the point where he can barely stand), a charismatic antagonist (McConaughey lives his role, exuding a barely-contained hate and malice beneath an ice-cold exterior), and some extremely enjoyable allusions to other King works buried within the expansive war-torn dimension of Mid-World. It was very enjoyable while it lasted; my only real gripe is that it should’ve easily been a longer film. However, if you go into it expecting slavish fidelity to King’s magnum opus you will be disappointed, so I’d recommend putting your expectations for that aside and enjoying it as a stand-alone fantasy/action piece instead.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Recommended: Sure, I would say give it a watch. If you’re a die-hard Dark Tower fan though, expect to be a little disappointed.
Best moment: Roland’s battle against the Taheen that come to kidnap Jake is pretty great, with his proficiency and aim being top-notch despite his weakened condition,
Worst moment: The run-time; for a film with such potential and the expansive nature of King’s work, 95 minutes just doesn’t cut it.