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Lawnmower Man, The (Blu-ray)

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The Lawnmower ManStarring Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Geoffrey Lewis

Directed by Brett Leonard

Distributed by Scream Factory


Adapting a novel to the big screen comes with its own set of inherent challenges, not the least of which is remaining faithful to the source material while also translating the written page in such a way that it is treated respectfully. There are those adaptations that stray far from readers’ hopes yet there is some semblance of the story’s core present. Then, much further down the chain of faithfulness, there are those films that use a work for its title or major plot points, but the resulting film bears little reflection to the printed page. Such is the case with The Lawnmower Man (1992), a high-tech cyber-thriller that was initially sold by New Line Pictures as being “from the mind of Stephen King” because back in 1975 he published a story under that title in “Cavalier” magazine. Later, it was added to his short story collection, Night Shift.

But New Line’s film, co-written and directed by Brett Leonard, had only two things in common with King’s short tale: the title, and a throwaway line about police finding remains in a birdbath. That’s it. In fact, the film began life as a script called “Cyber God” and, in typical Hollywood fashion, it was re-titled for the marquee value and nothing more. Still, New Line marketed the film using King’s lucrative name. And they got sued. And lost. The details of the story can be found easily enough but, point being, despite this film being remembered in the cultural consciousness as a King property it is not. What began life as a short story about a grass-eating man who follows behind his autonomous lawnmower and worships Pan became a generic ‘90s tech thriller with “cutting edge” CGI and commendable ambition.

Virtual Space Industries has been conducting virtual reality (VR) experiments on chimps, using drugs and a virtual environment to turn them into ruthless soldiers. Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) runs the division, though as a person of non-violence he has more interest in the brain-boosting power of these tests than the production of a killing machine. After one of his chimps escapes using trained techniques, Angelo is ready to quit the project. The government has other plans, however, and Angelo soon finds himself conducting tests again – only this time with a human subject: Jobe (Jeff Fahey), a dimwitted gardener who is a ward of the local church. His guardian, Father McKeen (Jeremy Slate), flagellates Jobe when he fails to perform his chores. Much of the work Jobe does involves landscape maintenance, which he performs alongside his boss, Terry (Geoffrey Lewis), brother of Father McKeen.

Jobe takes to Dr. Angelo’s testing with incredible retention, improving his mental abilities by an exponential degree. His mind is evolving past known human capabilities, giving Jobe the ability to “hear” the thoughts of others. When the government strongly suggests Dr. Angelo continue his experiment using a controversial aggression drug, he refuses and tries to end the program himself, going so far as to tell Jobe his sessions are over. This does not sit well with the knowledge-hungry Jobe, who takes to self-injecting his improvement drugs. As Jobe’s mind expands its powers continue to increase, making him capable of delivering deadly force simply by thinking it. His ultimate goal is to ditch this human vessel and go all-digital, uploading himself into cyberspace. Only Angelo can hope to reach the old Jobe within this virtual god and reason with him before he is unleashed upon an unprepared world.

My one previous viewing of this film came when the VHS was released, and although the film didn’t look all that great I rented it for one reason: Stephen King. Little did I know at the time… All I can recall is the film being a bore and the computer graphics looking “decent” by 1992 standards – of which there were none. Catching up with it again 25 years later, in a restored director’s cut, Leonard’s intended scope and direction are much more apparent; unfortunately, many of the added scenes, while adding character development, only serve to slow a film that is already lacking in agency. Exposition can be delivered in greater concentration without requiring numerous scenes to deliver similar points. For example, in the opening scene of the film, in the theatrical cut, the chimp is shot before exiting the facility. In the director’s cut the chimp escapes and shacks up with Jobe, where the agents of The Shop track it and eventually kill it during a shootout. The scene shows viewers Jobe is a simple, kind man with a wealth of empathy, while also highlighting Dr. Angelo’s attachment to his subjects and research. But these points are also apparent without the inclusion of the extended opening. Leonard’s lengthier cut enriches the film but also overstays its welcome.

Jeff Fahey has a knack for playing eccentric types and his performance here is definitely a career highlight. Fahey plays Jobe as a compassionate man of limited intelligence, someone who wants to believe everyone is good and life is full of magic. As his intellect increases Jobe becomes more attuned to the harsh realities of life; he sees humanity as a primitive society intent on its own destruction. Knowledge and understanding have elevated him above even the most revered minds, and his new objective view is that of disdain. Fahey doesn’t simply flick a switch on Jobe’s personality; this is a progression that is slowly revealed over the course of his sessions. Jobe’s encounters with a local bully can be used as a barometer for his abilities, with their final encounter being very final indeed.

Let’s not talk much about the CGI, ok? This was 1992, a year before Jurassic Park (1992), and no film had done much to impress in that department. The animated scenes look like something out of a half-finished PC game and only serve to remind viewers why they should be thankful technology has advanced to where it is now.

A noted preceding the director’s cut states that Scream Factory used an interpositive of the theatrical cut along with negative footage of the additional scenes, so a jump in quality may be experienced. Some frames were removed to smooth out the transitions. Honestly, I hardly noticed much of a visual difference when viewing the 1.85:1 1080p image. Both versions of the film were given a 4K scan and the results are impressive. Clarity is razor sharp, offering up a picture with minimal film grain and attention to minute details. Colors appear natural and well saturated, with blue being a predominant hue splashed across many key scenes. The CGI is still laughably bad but, to be fair, most of it is shown in a computer environment and thus it does not appear as conspicuous as the moments when it blends with the real world.

Scream Factory has included English DTS-HD MA tracks in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. I only watched the DC but it would stand to reason the audio quality on both cuts is comparable. The multi-channel track adds a little more power to the mix, allowing moments of activity some room to breathe and fill out the rear speakers with subtle additions. Much of the film features front-end audio, with good separation of the sound effects and dialogue. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

There is an audio commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett included, carried over from the old Laserdisc.

“Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man” is a retrospective documentary featuring interviews with director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey, editor Alan Baumgarten, and more. This piece looks at the production of the film from the perspective of several different departments.

A reel of deleted scenes runs for nearly thirty minutes, though these play consecutively and are not available to watch separately.

The film’s original EPK, “Edited Animated Sequences” (some of the film’s computer footage cut together), a theatrical trailer, and a TV spot can also be found here.

An Easter egg (easily found) shows a promo for the film’s Super Nintendo game release.

DISC TWO: Director’s Cut

The audio commentary with Leonard and Everett reappears here, only now their discussion has been expanded to include comments on the added scenes, too.

Still galleries make up the bulk of the features here, including “Conceptual Art & Design Sketches”, “Behind the Scenes & Production Stills”, and “Storyboard Comparison” (footage from the finished film is shown alongside the sketches used during production).

Another Easter egg can be found here, this one featuring a promo for a prize giveaway contest.

Special Features:

Disc 1 – Theatrical Cut:

  • NEW 4K scan of the interpositive
  • NEW Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man – featuring interviews with co-writer/director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey, editor Alan Baumgarten, make-up effects artist Michael Deak and special effects coordinator Frank Ceglia
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Original Electronic Press Kit with cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
  • Edited animated sequences
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spot

Disc 2 – Director’s Cut:

  • NEW 4K scan of the interpositive with additional “director’s cut” footage from the original camera negative
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett
  • Conceptual art and Design sketches
  • Behind the scenes and production stills
  • Storyboard Comparison

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  • The Lawnmower Man
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.13 (8 votes)
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.62 (21 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.14 (22 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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