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I watch a lot of movies but I somehow missed out on a few franchises. Most of them started or have the majority of their sequels released in...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Road Trip to the Nightlight Theater – Suspiria

When I think of Italian horror I think Fulci’s Zombie and Argento’s Suspiria. When I heard the news that a local art theater was going to play the new transfer of the movie, courtesy of the fine folks at Synapse, I had to go. Now convincing my lovely wife to attend with me took a bit of effort but I was successful. Friday night after work we jumped in the car for the forty-five-minute drive to what I hoped was going to be an awesome night of cinematic goodness.

Before I proceed I thought it would be a good idea to lay things out for you. Since this is both the first time that I’m seeing the new transfer as well as being my first trip to the Nightlight I’m going to talk about both of them. But first I figure that I would review Suspiria in case you are new to the movie. If you are… shame on you!

I’ve seen Suspiria a lot. Like I said it is one of those movies that is the epitome of Italian horror so it has always been in heavy rotation for me since I first picked it up on VHS back in the day. The movie follows an American Ballet dancer, Suzi, who travels to Germany to attend an exclusive school. She arrives on a rainy night and as she steps to the front door of the school she passes a woman who is yelling about secrets and flowers. The door slams leaving Suzi in the rain. When she tries to get in she is turned away by a woman who we never see on only hear. The action then moves away from Suzi as we watch the woman run off to a friend’s apartment. There we find out she has been expelled from the school and is going to leave town. She never makes it as a mysterious killer shows up and does her in. The next day Suzi goes to the school and receives a much friendlier welcome. But clearly there is something dangerous and unsavory going on at the school. Soon she is caught up in figuring out the mystery.

Hopefully I’ve told you just enough to create some interest in the movie if you haven’t seen it. If I say much more there will be spoilers and I certainly don’t want to do that. What I will say is that I love this movie! The story is solid but what really makes Suspiria special are the visuals and sound. The way that Argento shot the movie makes it feel like a piece of art. Every time that I watch it I see some new visual cue that I missed on the previous viewings. He tells the story not just with the dialogue but also with the picture.

Sadly, this leads to the most common complaint about the movie. If you don’t pay attention or just want the story stuck under your nose you probably will think Suspiria is “boring”. It isn’t you just have to pay attention to what is happening on the screen all the time. Adding to the spectacular visuals is an amazing soundtrack from Goblin with an assist from Argento. The music helps to create the mood in most if not all the important scenes. It helps to set the stage for what we are watching in a way that most other soundtracks don’t. Between the music from Goblin and the audio cues it simply doesn’t get any better.

I could go on about the movie but I’m going to assume that most people have already seen it. What they likely haven’t seen is the new 4K transfer from Synapse that has been traveling the country. As I’ve already mentioned above the visuals are important to the story and seeing it on the big screen was already a treat. But getting a chance to see the new transfer was a game changer. Honestly it was like seeing the movie for the first time. The colors are vibrant and jump right off the screen. It isn’t so much what is front and center in the frame but the sets and what is in the background that I noticed for the first time. I was completely blown away. This was the movie that Argento shot and how he wanted an audience to see it.

To be fair based on what I’ve seen from Synapse before I expected this new version of Suspiria to look amazing. They do a great job and obviously love these movies as much as we the fans do. Remember I mentioned the sound and how important it is to the experience? It never occurred to me that with all the work done on this restoration that the sound would benefit so much. On some of the copies I’ve owned the music has occasionally drowned out the dialogue a bit. I’ve always assumed that was supposed to happen, but after seeing this copy I was wrong. The music is also more jarring in spots than I remember it being in previous viewings. They did such an amazing job.

Tried to get a decent picture of the theater.
Before I wrap things up on this review I want to talk about the Nightlight. I had never been to the theater before. It is a small art theater that can accommodate around 50 people (I’m terrible at math but did try and count!) and is located in Akron Ohio. This was my first experience with a venue like this as I’ve never been an artsy type and the sorts of movies that I would expect to play here likely wouldn’t appeal to me. Now I feel like a bit of an ass because the theater was great. The seats were comfortable, the crowd friendly, and the vibe was killer. The audio and video were top notch and overall I’d have to say it is a great place to see a show. Hell, I loved it! I noticed they are venturing off into some more special showings that are definitely going to encourage me to make the forty-five-minute drive north.

Recap time. Suspiria is a great movie that everyone should take the time to watch. The new transfer from Synapse is incredible and is almost like watching it for the first time. Finally, the Nightlight theater is a great place to watch a movie. If only every Friday night were this much fun.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Monday, August 28, 2017

Shin Godzilla (2016)



I love Godzilla movies. So, when I was walking around my local big box store and saw the Blu-Ray for Shin Godzilla I was super excited. My wife said I let out a squeal of joy! Seriously I love these movies and have been waiting for a “real” one to be made again. Clearly, I snapped up the Disc and came home to watch it right away.

The movie opens up with a patrol vessel boarding an abandoned boat in Tokyo Bay. I was having some Zombie flashbacks! The ship gets tossed around in what everyone thinks is an underwater eruption of some sort. As things progress it becomes clear that something big is lurking in the sea. Godzilla soon makes an appearance… sort of. He smashes his way thru part of the city before disappearing under the sea to mutate further. See this time around Godzilla doesn’t start out like we would expect. Instead we get a strange looking, googly eyed creature that spits goo out of his gills. Not kidding. But the creature does eventually mutate into the Godzilla that we all know and love. By that time, he is unstoppable so the only choice is for the United States to nuke Tokyo! That is until a brave team figures out they can use a coagulant to gum up Godzilla’s blood and turn him into stone. Um okay not the silliest thing I’ve seen.

I so wanted to love this movie. A real Japanese made proper Godzilla movie should be the palette cleanser that I need as a fan after the most recent Western take on the big guy. It killed me that this was such a bad movie. There are many things wrong with it but I’m going to focus on just two that destroyed any chance of me enjoying it.

First is the pacing. The formula for one of these movies is simple. Give us some human characters to help move the story along and fill in the details, remember Godzilla doesn’t speak. The rest should be Godzilla smashing buildings and fighting the army and/or another monster. Easy enough. This movie gives us just a few minutes of Godzilla and much of that is the “fake” pre- mutated one with googly eyes that looks stupid. Yeah that sounds harsh but it is the truth. The rest of the movie is dominated by committee meetings. Exciting discussions such as if the military can defend Japan from the monster since it isn’t specifically mentioned in the law defining such things, as well as many other fascinating topics. I spent the better part of two hours watching fake meetings. I don’t even like spending that much time in real meetings and I have a stake in the resulting decisions! So boring.

What the hell is this abomination?
The other complaint that I’m going to register here is the creature design. The first incarnation of Godzilla looks awful. Who the hell thought those stupid eyes were a good idea? As I’ve stated we don’t get much monster mayhem in this one and much of that is ruined with the dumbest looking creature I’ve seen in a long time! At first I was made they were setting up such a lame foe for Godzilla to fight, but then it turns out to be him. I almost turned the movie off right then. But that isn’t what I do so onward I went.

Now to be fair when we finally get to see the classic Godzilla the CGI is decent. They tweak it so that you get just a bit of the flavor of the old rubber suited fun with fake looking buildings. I also loved to hear the traditional theme song. But clearly that wasn’t enough to salvage it. It pains me to say it but I do not recommend Shin Godzilla.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Colossal (2016)



Spoilers: Be warned that I’m going to talk a lot about the plot of this movie. If you don’t like that sort of thing and want to be surprised skip the review and go watched the movie. It is awesome!

Gloria has issues. She is out of work, depressed, drinking way too much and homeless since her boyfriend kicked her out of their apartment. So, she ends up going back to her childhood home, though her parents are gone and took the furniture with them. She meets an old friend, Oscar, and starts working at his bar. Probably not the best place for someone with a drinking problem. They wake up one morning after a night of drinking to the news that a monster has attacked Seoul. It only appears for moments, but that is long enough for people to get hurt. Gloria notices the monster has a familiar tick and eventually figures out that when she steps into the park at exactly 8:05 in the morning the monster appears and does whatever she does. Being drunk she trips while showing this to Oscar and when he steps into the park a giant robot appears!

To recap Gloria is the monster and Oscar is a giant robot. This all goes well until Oscar gets jealous of another man’s attention towards Gloria. This escalates and it becomes obvious that the initially charming and friendly Oscar isn’t the nice guy he pretends to be. How does this play out? Well it looks like Seoul might be in trouble because Oscar is mad and going to hurt Gloria by hurting the innocent citizens of the city.

This is one of the most unique movies that I’ve ever seen. It takes the entire genre of city smashing monsters and turns it on its head. While we get some buildings getting smashed, helicopters firing missiles and people running away screaming that isn’t what the movie is about. Though there are monsters. One is Gloria’s drinking and general irresponsibility. She realizes too late what she can do when she gets drunk and in her stupor, ends up hurting a lot of people. Her actions have consequences. So that is monster number one. She stops drinking, figures out a way to apologize and tries very hard to never cause harm again.

These two make the movie work. Great cast!
By then however Oscar has lost his mind. He turns into an abusive jerk both physically and emotionally. This happens quickly and it is disturbing to watch. Eventually Gloria wants to leave and he threatens that he will visit the park every morning if she goes. She can’t let him do that but when she tries to stop him… Well he is bigger and stronger than her. His violence towards her caused me to cringe. His jealousy and anger are the second monster in the movie.

Let me say something about our cast here. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis do a fantastic job in their roles as Gloria and Oscar. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of Hathaway. Most of her movies don’t appeal to me, but with Colossal I get all the love people have for her. She is an amazing actress. Sudeikis is someone that I am a fan of. That said I never really knew he was such a talented actor. His character starts off like most that he has portrayed in the past, but gets dark and nasty. I was blown away by his performance.

The actual monsters don’t get a lot of time on screen, but what you do see is very well done. It is obviously all CGI, but it looks good so no complaints here. Like I mentioned earlier there are some buildings getting smashed and a few bits of helicopters firing away at theme. The final show down between Gloria and Oscar is also staged decently. The movie does violate some of its own rules about where you are and how long the creatures can exist in the real world. But for the story and how it resolves I’m willing to give it a pass. I only mention it because I noticed a lot of people obsess on it and want to rip the movie apart over it. That is a damn shame because Colossal is an original idea and in a cinematic world dominated with remakes, reimaginings, and general ripping off the past it stands out.

How did this not get a bigger theatrical release? It has known stars in it! Do yourself a favor and buy or rent a copy of Colossal today. Not only is it a good time but this is the sort of movie that everyone should support. Obviously, I recommend it.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Monday, August 21, 2017

Curse of the Undead (1959)



This is an interesting movie from the ‘50s that combined two of the most popular genres of the time, horror and westerns. The movie opens with a doctor and preacher tending to an ill woman. From the dialogue, we find out that a strange wasting disease has been targeting the citizens in the town, but that the current patient appears to be on the mend. Then there is a scream and they rush in to find the woman dead. The preacher notices two small puncture wounds on her neck. We the audience know what that means, but the characters don’t.

Now that the horror is hinted at the movie establishes the Western part of the plot. The same doctor that was tending to the doomed woman is also in a property dispute with a neighbor, a bully named Buffer. He has damned up a river in an effort to choke force him to sell his land off. When the doctor shows up dead his son and daughter are convinced that Buffer is responsible. Though the preacher notices the same marks on his neck. The doctor’s daughter, Dolores, offers money for a gunman to get some payback on Buffer. This brings a mysterious gunslinger into town that may or may not be a vampire. Okay he is! Not only does he want to take care of Buffer, but he has intentions towards the lovely Dolores as well. This leads to an eventual showdown between the vampire gunslinger and the preacher. Does good prevail and is Dolores saved from the vampire?

This is a Western so yeah, the good guys win! That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed Curse of the Undead. The movie is just short of an hour and twenty minutes so the pacing is brisk. It takes little time establishing the basic setup of the vampire, named Drake, taking advantage of the situation for his own ends. At the same time the background of the Drake is revealed cleverly thru the use of a hidden diary. That backstory is interesting and makes the villainous gunslinger a tiny bit sympathetic. He made a terrible mistake, compounded it with his own suicide, and was cursed because of it. Then again, he is killing people right and left so he has to be stopped. Make no mistake this was a B picture and wasn’t given the biggest budget or best talent, but the script and direction is top notch. You don’t often see this amount of effort in these movies so when I do it is appreciated.

The big showdown. Reminds me of Vampire Sundown.
One thing I do want to warn people about. Much of what most viewers expect out of vampires was a cinematic invention. The vampire in Curse of the Undead ignores that and refers back to the original folklore. Drake wasn’t bitten by a vampire but became one because he committed a mortal sin, committing suicide. Those he kills don’t return as vampires. He is cursed to walk the earth, they aren’t. The most noticeable departure is that he can walk in the sun, he doesn’t like it but it doesn’t destroy him. Don’t expect the traditional movie vampire rules to apply here. I only mention this because I’ve noticed it bothers a lot of viewers.

I grew up watching old monster movies and westerns. I had never seen Curse of the Undead before. I really like this movie and can promise it will go into my regular viewing rotation. While old black and white horror isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time you need to check this one out.


© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer