Friday, February 15, 2013

Film Review: Night of the Creeps

Save for the Universal and Hammer classics, I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre. But, for whatever reason, several weeks ago I found myself watching Night of the Creeps from 1986. And, while I almost always avoid modern horror like the plague, sometimes a good cheesy scary flick from the ‘80s can be fun, and Creeps did not disappoint.

First of all, there seemed to be a trend in the ‘80s to mix horror with comedy, and Night of the Creeps does this effectively. In fact, this may be more of a comedy than an outright horror film, with some elements of sci-fi thrown in for good measure. Without giving too much away, the opening scene, taking place on an alien spacecraft, is very funny! This scene is short, and is about as “sci-fi” as the film gets. The movie then shifts to 1959 (presented effectively in black and white), before moving to the main story set in the mid-1980s (returning to color). The plot involves “creeps” (little slug like space creatures) that attach themselves to a host body and turn their victims into zombie like creatures who then try to kill other people. Yes, you read that plot description right. Oh, there’s also an escaped asylum patient with an ax, who makes an appearance during the 50s sequence, as well as in zombie form in the 80s portion.

Basically, this is just your standard horror comedy with elements of science fiction featuring aliens, mutant slugs, zombies and college students fare.

And because this is a ‘80s movie featuring college kids, there is a fair share of partying and a bit of nudity (I think it was a requirement for most “teen” films in the ‘80s…I envision some studio executive reading the scripts and then exclaiming, “I know what this picture needs: more boobs!”). The nudity is pointless and brief, and very typical of the era. In addition to this, there’s some random cursing, so better not watch this one with the kids around. There is also some over-the-top gore, but it’s so cheesy and all done in good fun, which made it hard to get offended. Let’s just say special effects have come a long way since 1986, but that adds to the charm and fun of the movie.

There are clich├ęd characters in this one; the college kids featuring nerds and mindless jocks, the washed up cop with a lot of emotional baggage (played very well by Tom Atkins), and of course, the pretty girl all the boys like. It’s hokey in parts, but to be fair, it was the point. And, unlike many modern horror movies, this film is not mean spirited and is certainly not taking itself too seriously. The bottom line is, I like this film probably more than I should, and give it a rating of 3.5 out 5. If you’re in the mood to revisit the ‘80s, then give Night of the Creeps a try.

Two side notes: There’s a reference to Christian glam rock band Stryper that I thought was very funny and really dated this picture! Also, the music during the 50s portion of the movie was great!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Film Review: Riders of the Purple Sage

In the 1990s (and a couple of years beyond), TNT was the “best little movie studio on television.” In other words, they produced some darn good original pictures, and in particular, some darn good Westerns. As a teenager in the ‘90s, I tried to catch as many of them as I could (this was in the days before the blessed invention known as the DVR, and my VCR recording skills weren’t particularly great). Somehow I missed Riders of the Purple Sage from 1996, and have been waiting to see it ever since. It has been on VHS for a number of years, but until recently was not on DVD. I would check for the DVD release several times a year (along with one of my favorites, The Avenging Angel) but was always disappointed to discover it was still not available…until now! Thanks to the Warner Brothers Archives, most of the TNT Originals are now on DVD, and I for one could not be happier. As a devoted and loyal Western fan, I recognized that TNT has given us some of the best modern films in the genre. Thankfully, they do not seem as much like a made-for-television movie as does, say, Hallmark Originals (this is not to say Hallmark doesn’t have some good Westerns, but even the best ones feel like long episodes of a television series, not necessarily a movie). TNT offered great casts, great stories, and some good action.
I say all of this to get around to my review of Riders. Based upon the Zane Grey novel from 1912, this version stars Ed Harris as Lassiter and Amy Madigan as Jane Withersteen. I will admit, I have never read the entire book, but only pieces here and there for a Western literature class I took in college. But, I did notice this filmed version has several differences from the novel. First of all, Zane Grey specifically identified the villains of his story as being Mormons. The 1996 movie does not actually mention Mormonism by name, and I am alright with this. I believe Grey unfairly characterized Latter-day Saints in his book, so I’m fine with that aspect being omitted. In the movie, it is simply a sect of some religious order that is not overtly identified.
Secondly, the movie completely omits a side plot regarding the adoption by Jane Withersteen of a young girl. But, the book may be overly plot heavy, so some trimming was certainly needed in adapting the work for screen.

The movie moves along a bit slowly at times, but I actually never lost interest. In fact, the cinematography is great, and I almost got the feeling that I was actually in Southern Utah watching the storms roll in over the mesas. The beauty of the landscapes alone was enough to hold my interest. But the plot moves along at a fairly good pace, and there are some gunfights sprinkled throughout to keep things interesting. And speaking of gunfights…minor spoiler alert…the final gunfight taking place at the church is one of the best Western gunfights filmed in the last few decades. It had this fan of cowboy action shooting very happy!
Overall, I give TNT’s Riders of the Purple Sage a rating of 4 out of 5. It is a beautifully filmed Western, with a strong story and great acting. The plot drags just a bit in the middle, keeping the film from scoring a perfect five. But, the action packed final twenty minutes makes for some great viewing.

If you are interested in purchasing Riders of the Purple Sage, it can be bought directly from Warner Brothers or from Amazon. Happy watching.