Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Mummy (1999) (Movie Review) (90’s Horror Marathon: Part 9 of 9)

     Okay, here we go, the final film in my 90’s horror marathon, and I’ve saved a special one for last. In fact, you could say this film is my personal favorite genera staple of the era.
At this time, original concepts have started to run on fumes, and remakes of classic Horror movies started to take shape. The first big one to note was the 1992 film “Bram Stoker's Dracula”, which was successful with critics, but a forgettable experience for the common audience. There was also “Mary Shelley's Frankenstein” in 1994, and that one did even less for both mainstream viewers and critics alike. Then in 1999 came the big one, the rare horror remake that made big bucks at the box-office, and broke out from under its predecessor’s shadow. I’m naturally referring to “The Mummy”, and boy howdy ... I love this film. When this movie first came out, I was about eight years old, and had zero experience with anything horror related. Back then, I was a wimp, and I ran out of more theater screenings then I can recap. Keep in mind, I’m refereeing to movies that weren’t even horror related. I couldn’t even look at scary movie posters without getting nightmares. Now days I watch a variety of scary films ranging from the really famous movies like “The Exorcist”, to personal favorites like “Poltergeist”, and I firmly believe it all started in 1999, when I watched “The Mummy”, and concurred my fear of scary films. I distinctly remember being scared while watching this movie, but I was also having fun, and didn’t run away like I usually did. So, not only is “The Mummy” a favorite of mine, it’s also an important benchmark in my own small history of movie going experiences.

    Much like how “The Silence of the Lambs” was a horror that dived into the crime thriller genera, “The Mummy” is a horror that dives into the Action adventure category, which I’m a huge fan of. Director Stephen Sommers intended to make an exciting period adventure in the style of the “Indiana Jones” series.
The big inspiration being “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, as “The Mummy” equally blends high stake adventure with supernatural scares. The movie begins in ancient Egypt, where the powerful high priest Imhotep is cursed and mummified alive after an affair with the Pharaoh’s mistress. It’s a cryptic opening that scared the hell out of me as a child, and it gets things started on a strong note. Fast forward to 1923, where we meet an Egyptian Librarian named Evelyn, who’s inspired to find a famous golden book, which she believes is hidden in a mysterious lost city. She teams up with an American adventurer named Rick O’Connell who can lead her and the group, as he actually escaped the dreaded city of the dead years earlier. Upon arriving, they accidentally resurrect the evil priest Imhotep from his resting place. Full of power and hatred, he seeks to revive his long lost love by using Evie as a human sacrifice. Now it’s a race against time for our hero’s to find a way to slay this immortal monster, and save the land of Egypt before a new dark age takes shape.

    Naturally, it’s the villain who always steals the show in horror films, and Arnold Vosloo is great as the mummy Imhotep. Something about his face and presence fits the role perfectly.
While obviously not as iconic as Boris Karloff from the 1932 original, this new portrayal of the character has its own original merits, and is a very memorable movie villain from the new millennium. Personally, I like this portrayal of the mummy far more than any of the previous films, not just because of the performance, but because of the concept. One of the film’s most intelligent ideas was taking this mummy out of its bandages, and through some innovative CGI, present Imhotep as a decomposing skeleton. The brilliance of this concept is that he has to kill people in order to regain his human form, and over the progress of the film, we’re treated to the evolution of him going from corps to flesh. It’s a great concept because his appearance changes with every encounter, and it gives us a cool variety of designs. It’s also a nice twist that he becomes less grotesque over time, unlike “The Fly” or other horror films in which the monster gets uglier. Keep in mind, motion capture performance were still new for the time, and this portrayal of the mummy was a big influence on motion captured creatures to come, like Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” films, or Davy Jones from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series.

    Another ace up this movies sleeve is actually the cast, who are admittedly stock, but unavoidably likable, and even memorable in their own way. Brendan Fraser is one of those actors who usually gets a bad rap, but I like him in this film as our lead hero Rick O’Connell. He’s got plenty of charm, and can be genuinely cool during the action. Even the comedic side character named Jonathan can be charismatic at times. There’s also a nasty little bad guy named Beni, who serves under the Mummy in the same vain as Renfield serving under Dracula. There’s a secret society called the Medjai, who protect the mummy’s resting place, and definitely bring to mind the protectors of the Holy Grail from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” ... but I mean that in a good way. The leader of the Madjai is called Ardeth Bay, and he’s awesome ... arguably one of my favorite characters from the series. Interesting to note that back in the 1932 version of “The Mummy”, our villain used the name Ardeth Bay as an alias.

    Yet, my favorite character by far is the beautiful and intelligent Egyptologist named Evie, who's brought to life with great charisma by Rachel Weisz.
This is the role that’s most associated with the actress, despite winning academy awards for performances in other films like “The Constant Gardener”. Regardless, Rachel Weisz is just so naturally lovable in this role, and I enjoy every second she’s on screen. I distinctly remember watching this movie as a kid and I viewed Evie as one of the most beautiful girls I'd ever seen. However, my feelings stemmed from more then her obvious good looks. The character Evie is like a little child that gets excited on Christmas, but she’s also adventurous, and very useful with her knowledge of Egypt and its history. Also, I love that she’s more than just an attractive damsel stereotype. Even when she does get captured, it’s a pivotal part of the story, because the villain needs to use her body to bring his love back from the dead. Of course, Evie made it at #1 on my top 10 Damsels list, but I’d honestly go further, and say she’s in general one of my personal favorite leading female characters. With her cute smile, helpful knowledge, charming, lovable and spunky personality, Evie raises the bar for clichéd damsel’s, and is a great addition to the film.

      Another talent that needs to be acknowledged is the late Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the music for this film. He is personally my favorite movie music composer who ever lived, and his score for “The Mummy” is another one of his best accomplishments. Now, Jerry Goldsmith is no stranger to composing music for horror films, as he scored the music to my personal favorite horror movie “Poltergeist”, and won an academy award for the score he composed in the 1976 classic “The Oman”. With “The Mummy” he hits all the right notes again, especially with the eerie music creating a lot of atmosphere, and a foreboding mood. Yet, it doesn't stop there, as he’s also given more variety with this films sound track. He also hits it out of the park with the adventure track, the romantic track, and especially his track for the action scenes, which get me hyped every time. There’s also an instrumental baled that plays during the end credits, and it’s absolutely breathtaking to listen to.

     Like the soundtrack, this film combines a variety of things that I love into one movie experience. It’s a film that combines horror, action, Sci-Fi, adventure and comedy into one perfect package, and the tone of the film is consistent all around, giving each genera trope a chance to shine. The comedy for the most part works great, even with something as over the top as the library book shelves falling over domino style. The subtle self-referential hummer also works great, and leads to some quotable lines. 
The Egypt setting is also a very intriguing one, with a lot of back story and mythos to explore. I love all the little details, the objects, the hieroglyphics, and it just creates a unique world that’s fun to explore. There’s also a sub-plot in which the Mummy unleashes the ten plagues of Egypt, which leads to some awesome spectacles. There’s the river of blood, the sun eclipse, fire falling from the heavens, a swarm of locusts, and an army of lepers that become the mummy’s mindless servants. This was also the first time I’d ever seen the concept of a cursed book utilized on film, even though it has been done to death with past movies like “The Evil Dead”. Another great addition to the film are the Scarab Beetle’s ... really nasty insects that come in swarms. The best parts are when the Scarab’s come to life one at a time, and actually enter a person’s body. The effect of the insects crawling under the skin is admittedly dated, but it’s still a nasty concept.

      Now for all the fun and adventure aspects of the film, it’s still not without some genuinely scary material. There's lots of little scenes which always gave me chills back when I was a kid watching it, like this one single shot of the mummy’s motionless corpse in its coffin before he even comes to life. There’s another scene in the opening in which our hero see’s a statue of an Egyptian God, and while he looks at the thing we hear this quiet, yet ominous voice whispering things, and it’s a subtly effective touch. It actually reminds me of the opening from “The Exorcist” in which the priest is on an archaeological dig and discovers the cryptic statue of Pazuzu. 
The scariest moment of all which gave me nightmares as a child is this one scene in which one of the explorers in the pyramid loses his glasses, and staggers around a dark corridor, unaware that the mummy is closing in for a kill. This scene was shot and executed beautifully, with lots of atmosphere, built-up tension, and creepy sound effects. We don’t even see the creature in full detail, just the outline of his shadow, and that’s all we need to make this a relatively frightening scene. When we see the guy latter, we discover that his eyes and tongue were ripped out, and keeping that off screen actually disturbed me more, because my imagination was filling in the blanks. Having said all that, it's very amusing to look back on this film as an adult, and chuckle at the idea of this movie scaring me. It dose contain spooky elements ... but it's really not a scary movie at all. There’s also a lot of silly jump scares, some of which are actually effective, and the rest make me roll my eyes.  

      Now admittedly the films eerie tone and scary moments are dropped once we get to the third act of the film. This is when it becomes a strait up summer action flick, with lots of special effects and thrilling action scenes. Now, special effects were all very new for me at the time, so seeing the Mummy create a giant sand storm monster in his own image was both original, and a big eye-popping treat. The climacteric rescue of Evie from Imhotep is outstanding, and gives our hero’s a great variety of new obstacles to battle without going to over board. This climax actually gives us the best of both worlds, as we see both old school and new material at once. First we have our hero’s battling classic mummy’s all warped in bandages, staggering around, and with traditional monster make-up. Then they battle the skeleton warriors, which are more agile, great feats of computer graphics, and the whole scene is a nice homage to Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton soldiers from “Jason and the Argonauts”.

      Just like “Jurassic Park” and “Back to the Future”, “The Mummy” has become a staple for Universal Studios, and one of its most marketed products. I’ll never forget going to Universals theme park in Florida and ridding the indoor Mummy roller-coaster called “The Mummy’s Revenge”, which is personally one of my favorite theme park rides of all time, and arguably the best to ever be adapted from a film.
It should be noted that “The Mummy” even received an Academy Award nomination for best Sound Design, which is no small accomplishment for a film of this sort. This is also a rare case in which the remake is slightly better known than the original. If you were to ask common movie goers today what they think of “The Mummy”, they’d probably think of the 1999 version first, and may not even realize that it was a remake. That situation would never happen to DraculaFrankenstein or the Wolf Man, even though they’ve had several remakes over the years. That’s not to say that the original 1932 classic is forgotten, or inferior, it’s just less popular by comparison. The remake also launched a successful blockbuster series beginning with a direct sequel titled “The Mummy Returns”, which was a half-way decent sequel, not as tightly constructed as the first, but still entertaining. Then there was “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”, which sunk to new lows, and killed the series for good. There was also a spin-off movie titled “The Scorpion King”, which also had a string of direct to video sequels. There was even an animated Mummy TV series based on the film, which aired on Kids WB.

      In the end, I can't make any persuasive argument that “The Mummy” is any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it's undeniably an entertaining experience, and still one of my all time favorites of the genera. While certainly not a traditionally scary movie, it is never the less an experience I viewed at a very young age, and it gave me both the courage, and excitement to check out other movies that might have a frightening edge to them. Honestly, had it not been for "The Mummy", I probably wouldn't have continued with movies in the vain of "Poltergeist" or "Aliens", and I probably wouldn't be the horror fan I am today without that experience. 
It's also responsible for getting me hooked to the classic Black & White monsters movies in the vain of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein". Once I found out “The Mummy” was a remake, I just had to seek out the original to see what it was like, and that film in turn got me interested in viewing Universals other monster classics. As corny as it is to say, the 1999 remake of “The Mummy” is my own personal horror fountain of youth ... it's the one that started it all ... and all these years later, it's still just as fun as when I was a kid. It has a tight, well balanced screenplay, memorable characters, some decent scary material, and no shortage of fun. Plus, I feel that this film paved the way for modern adventure films. Just like how the 90’s was a transition period, I always look at “The Mummy” as the big film that ended the 90’s and began the 2000’s. Personally, I think this film as aged beautifully, dated in parts to be sure, but it still holds up as one of my all around favorite entertainment movies. It’s slick and modern, but also has this enchanting old-fashioned innocence that makes it perfect Saturday afternoon fodder.

Thanks for reading my review of the classic 1999 Horror remake of “The Mummy” ... and I wish you all pleasant dreams! 

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Audition (1999) (Movie Review) (90’s Horror Marathon: Part 8 of 9)

    Earlier this month I reviewed the 1998 Japanese horror sensation that was “Ringu”, and I commented on how that film launched a new wave of horror for Western audiences commonly referred to as J-horror. However, as I’ve also stated in past reviews this month, the 1990’s was the age of the “human monster”. As such, when the millennium conclude, Japan released yet another game changing horror film revolving around something more terrifying then the clichéd decade girl with a face covered by long black hair. It was shortly after the success of “Ringu” that the Japanese company called Omega Project bought the rights to Ryu Murakami’s novel “Audition”, in hopes that it would be yet another breakthrough. Low and behold, the 1999 movie “Audition” (Odishion) wasn’t just another big hit, it reworked the horror genera, gave it a new face, and is often cited as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Now the film admittedly didn’t get recognition until it premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2000, and because of this, some would labile this film as a product of the 2000’s. Well, it still initially came out at the tail end of 1999, so I still felt the need to include “Audition” in my series of classic 90’s horror movie reviews. Now I’ll admit that while I loved “Ringu”, I don’t have the same feelings for “Audition”, and I personally hated the changes that the horror genera would go through after this film.

      Our movie begins with the tragedy of a dyeing wife, leaving a massive void in the lives of her son and especially her husband, who's a TV producer named Shigeharu Aoyama. Seven years later, life seems to be on track again, but something empty is still hovering above the widowed husband. Both his son and friends insist that he try finding another girl, as maybe that may give his life some happy balance again. It’s suggested by his co-worker that they stage auditions for a new film project, when in reality, these will be auditions to meet a possible new partner in life. Before the phony auditions are even completed, our producer singles out a young girl name Asami, due to the emotional depth listed on her dossier. She too had a tragic loose of sorts, but Asami’s love for life allowed her to move on despite the hardships, which our producer takes great affection toward. A relationship inevitably ensues between the two, and all seems well at first. However, while he’s head over heels for this lovely femme fatale, all his friends have a sneaking suspicion that something about her just isn’t right. As the two continue dating, dark secrets of this girls past begin to surface, which not only affects the relationship, but our producer soon finds himself in great danger from a mental case who tends to torture people on date night.

     Even though I don’t like this film ... at all really, I do still have some positive things to address. I like the premise overall, and think it’s a great warning story of the dangers of hastily getting into a relationship with someone new. This is especially relevant today with the increase of online dating, and the dangers of thinking you know someone without seeing what’s beneath the surface. The movie is also directed with great class by Takashi Miike. The way he sets up certain shots is actually quiet inspiring, and I especially love the direction and set-up of Asami’s audition scene. While I find the movie to be kind boring overall, I do think that select moments were well passed to let the emotion of the moment sink in. I also liked many of the early clues to Asami’s darker side, especially the very first shot of her apartment room, in which we see the startling image of an overstuffed bag in the middle of the room. The revelations as to what's inside that mysterious bag is nothing short of horrific. Finally, I do admire the miss-direction of the film, masking its true intentions behind a wall of Melodrama. Director Takashi Miike once said that “The directors who scare me the most are the ones who carefully hide the aggression in the background and don’t show it directly”. “Audition” never sets itself up as a grotesque horror movie, instead it feels like a psychological, romantic drama of sorts. That is until we get to the third act, when all the horror comes out in full force.

      Even though I wasn’t exactly enjoying the movie up to the third act, I was at least admiring the overall craft of the film. Once the horror comes into play, everything else just goes downhill for me. Both the edits and the linear story telling becomes a jumbled mess, to the point where I can no longer tell what’s real, what’s a dream, what’s a memory or what’s “what” any more. There’s suddenly these random filtered color effects, odd imagery, and it starts to resemble a weird art house film. It's almost like David Lynch took over, as a lot of the films tone and style make me think of "Eraserhead". Then of course the movie ends with an absolutely horrific torture scene. This climax, intentional or not was a big influence on the modern day torture genera. In other words, it’s largely because of “Audition” that we have movies like “Saw”, “The Devil’s Rejects”, “Wolf Creek” and “Hostel”. To be as fair as possible, “Audition” really isn’t what you’d call “torture porn”, in fact, it’s far more disturbing in concept then what the movie actually shows on screen. Like “Misery” before it, the torture is just one scene and not the focus of the whole film, and there really aren’t any gory money shots either. It is still pretty darn intense to watch, and will make you itch all over. There is an extended cut of the film the fills in some of the gruesome imagery, although, I still find it more unsettling when my mind fills in the blanks.  

       The movie combines slimier elements to movies like 1972's "Solaris" and 1993's "Boxing Helena" but mixes things up with it's own disturbing tone and art style. So, how does “Audition” really hold up? Well ... I honestly still don’t care much for it. I don’t hate the movie, it just dose very little for me. I can only give “Audition” partial credits for being competently made, raising awareness to “stranger dating”, and even some of the films themes revolving around “life” aren’t that bad. This just isn’t a movie I’d care to spend my time watching, heck even the first time I saw this film I made sure I was ironing my cloths, just to make me feel like I was doing something productive. It has a legacy, and I suppose it was something unique for the horror genera back in the 90’s, but if you’re really eager to see an unsettling Japanese thriller, I’d strongly recommend “Ringu” instead.  

Thanks for reading my review of the 1999 Horror classic “Audition” ... and I wish you all pleasant dreams.               


Misery (1990) (Movie Review) (90’s Horror Marathon)

       All throughout October, I’ve been reviewing some of the biggest Horror movies of the 1990’s, and now it’s time to highlight the film that really started it all, and ushered in a new age of suspense thrillers. The 1990 motion picture “Misery” is based on the novel of the same name by Steven King, and to date, this is one of his greatest book-to-screen adaptations. King’s book adaptation’s are largely hit or miss, but you can definitely rank this film right up there with “The Shawshank Redemption” as an A+. To call this film one of the best Horror movies to come out of the 90’s is an understatement, because for me, “Misery” is one of the most taut and frightening movie’s I’ve experienced, and one that continues to thrill me to this day.

     It’s also a very simple premise, but true art thrives on minimalism. Our story revolves around a novelist name Paul Sheldon, who’s just put his long running Misery book series to rest, and is starting a new novel. During a snowstorm he gets into a near fatal car crash, is later nursed back to health and finally awakens ... to the worst nightmare of his life. He was rescued by a seemingly friendly nurse named Annie Wilkes, who’s looking after him in her secluded cabin. Coincidentally, she just happens to be a big fan of his books, in particular his series revolving around the heroine named Misery. As Paul recovers in her house, he soon realizes that his care taker is rather unhinged, and after she discovers that her favorite character Misery was killed off in the last book ... she flips out something awful! Soon, Paul Sheldon becomes a prisoner in Annie’s house, and is forced to write a new novel in which the character is brought back from the dead. Now, our victim writer has to use his strength and wits to escape the clutches of this psychotic fan who’s threatening to kill him. As the Tag line so eloquently puts it, “Paul Sheldon used to write for a living ... now he’s writing to stay alive”.

      Now this isn’t the first time a horror movie revolved around a premise of this sort, in fact “Misery” could be called the spiritual successor of another horror classic from 1962 titled “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”. That too was a film revolving around a crazy woman who kept a crippled person captive in her own house hold, and there’s similar scenes that almost parallel one-another. However, “Misery” can stand apart with its own strengths, and disturbed content. It’s a special case in which all the right talents were assembled for one film production. The Director Rob Reiner was one of Hollywood’s hottest directors at the time, turning out big hits like “Stand By Me”, “The Princess Bride”, and “When Harry Met Sally”, which further establishes just how diverse he was. The screenwriter was William Goldman, who also worked on the classic western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Also, for a movie set in a confined location, it was blessed with the talents of Cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who got a lot of attention for his work on “Miller’s Crossing”. Our leading author Pual Sheldon is played by James Caan, who previously starred in “The Godfather”, and is excellent in this film. For a character bound to a bed and wheel chair, he still gives a solid performance, and is very charismatic in the role. There’s also a local sheriff named Buster who’s determined to find our missing author, and he’s played delightfully by the late Richard Farnsworth.

       Of course, it’s Kathy Bates who completely steals the show as the villain Annie Wilkes. Holly crap, was this woman terrifying or what? When you wake up from an intentness nightmare, it’s not Freddy Krueger or Dracula you fear hanging over your bed, instead it’s this psychotic, fan obsessed nut-ball. Kathy Bates is so friggin good that she deservedly won the academy award for best actress in a leading role. That’s awesome, and such a rare treat for a screen talent to win an academy award for playing a villain in a horror film. What really makes her so scary is her constant changing mood. At one point she can seem like the kindest lady on the planet, then before you know it, she loses her cool and becomes the most threatening person whom you’d never want to be left alone with. That’s the formula that makes this character so captivating, she keeps you on the edge of your seat with every scene, and we never know how she’s going to react or what she’ll do to get things her way. I’ve been around the block with horror movie villains for years, and despite her appearance, hardly any other villain has scared me, thrilled me or brought my blood to a boil more than Annie Wilkes.   

      As with many of the genera’s best films, “Misery” doesn’t assault the viewer prematurely. Instead, it carefully establishes a situation and then starts to build tension, making any act of violence all the more effective and disturbing. In the early 2000’s, we got horror movies like “Saw” and “Hostel” which exploited the concept of tortured prisoners, but “Misery” isn’t like those films. It has one stand out torture scene, but it feels earned and not so exploitive. There are several scenes in which Paul is just staggering about the house trying to find a way out, which leads to some riveting moments. Honestly, the situation gets so suspenseful that it’s almost unbearable. We so badly want to see him get out of this situation, and for the most part, we the audience feel trapped along with him, like we’re in the very same situation. I’ll never forget this one scene in which Paul has a plan of attack, but falls asleep, and awakens only to find Annie doomily hovering over him ... that scared the hell out of me. We also discover more about Annie’s shady past, that she was responsible for the deaths of children, and went to prison for years.

      This further emphasizes just how dangerous the situation is. Like I said in the opening, it’s the simplicity of the film that makes it so captivating. For the most part, the film takes place in one room, with two actors, and one of which is mostly in bed, yet it’s consistently riveting, and never comes off as boring. Everything builds to a griping climax in which Paul finally finds the strength to take on his capture. It is so gratifying to finally see Paul get the upper hand, and it builds to a deeply satisfying revenge scene. I never would have imagined a fight between a pudgy old woman and a crippled man could be this exciting, yet it is a downright exhilarating finale. 

      Bottom line, “Misery” is one of those movies that you only need to see once, and the experience will stick with you. Personally, even on repeated viewings, I find it to still be just as exciting and terrifying to experience. With Kathy Bates unforgettable leading performance, and a sharp direction, this film is a simple, strait forward suspense thriller, and it holds up extremely well after all these years. If you’re a fan of Steven King, then this movie is mandatory to check out. Also, just like with “The Silence of the Lambs”, it proves once again that human monsters really are the most frightening things to come from the horror genera.

I give the 1990 horror classic “Misery” … 4 ½ stars out of 5.