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Vampire’s Kiss / High Spirits (Blu-ray Double Feature)

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Vampire's Kiss / High Spirits

Vampire's Kiss / High SpiritsStarring Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth Ashley, Jennifer Beals, / Peter O’Toole, Darryl Hannah, Steve Guttenberg, Liam Neeson

Directed by Robert Bierman / Neil Jordan

Distributed by The Scream Factory


After dropping a double dose of cult horror-comedy classics with Love at First Bite (1979) and Once Bitten (1985), Scream Factory has paired up another duo of fan favorites (well, at least one of them) from the ‘80s with Vampire’s Kiss (1988) and High Spirits (1988). The scouring of MGM’s vaults continues – and hopefully it never stops because many of the titles getting a release would’ve never seen the light of day if left up to the studio. There’s a lot of gold yet to be mined from MGM’s extensive catalog.

First up, Our Lord and Savior Nicolas Cage stars as a literary agent who is slowly losing his mind (and his accent) in Vampire’s Kiss, the film that launched a million memes. Cage stars as Peter Loew, a frequent burner of the midnight oil who does nothing but work and go clubbing, leaving no time for much of a life. His deteriorating mental state is continually evaluated by his therapist Dr. Glaser (Elizabeth Ashley), who is growing increasingly concerned about her patient. Surprisingly, Peter actually has a girlfriend but he shows little interest in her normally, and once he succumbs to the bite of a vampire (Jennifer Beals) he picked up for a one-nighter he pretty much ditches her altogether.

Peter’s behavior becomes even more erratic in the coming days as he’s convinced he’s becoming a vampire himself. At work, he takes out his manic antics on Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), one of his office secretaries who is tasked with finding an old contract hidden amongst thousands of files. The scenes where Peter is animatedly berating Alva are where Cage turns up his Cage-o-Meter to eleven. In his off time Peter begins to live like a vampire, sleeping under an overturned couch in his living room, wearing sunglasses during the day and buying a pair of cheap plastic fangs because his own enlarged incisors aren’t showing. With his thinly-veiled insanity beginning to slip by the hour, Peter continues on a path of obsession and self-destruction that isn’t going to end well.

Truthfully, Vampire’s Kiss is not a great movie; it isn’t even all that good. The story is haphazard and there are no strong supporting characters. Beals’ seductive vampire is as enigmatic as can be, while Alonso as Cage’s secretary is little more than a whipping boy for Peter’s outbursts. This film lives and dies by the performance of one man – Cage. He gives Loew an almost unbearably bad accent, which has its own backstory that still doesn’t make it any more tolerable. As expected, Cage can’t hold it from scene to scene but, that too, has an explanation. When he’s bellowing at Alva the faces he makes are immediately etched into memory. Chances are even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve seen the infamous shot of Cage’s eyebrows attempting to flee the insanity that is his face. The film may not work very well as a comedy, but there’s enough of a dark derangement present to make it almost unsettling.

From there we move on to High Spirits, which I first saw via VHS rental from Wherehouse sometime in the early ‘90s. This was also the last time I had seen the film, which my nostalgic memory had convinced me wasn’t so bad. This haunting tale concerns the proprietors of a decaying Irish castle which now functions as a bed & breakfast. When the hotel is in risk of foreclosure due to a looming debt deadline owner Peter Plunkett (Peter O’Toole) decides to spice up the attraction by claiming it’s haunted by ghosts. He and his crew of local employees set about rigging the place up to seem like it houses actual spirits, something which only serves to annoy the latest group of American tourists. But during one final night in the castle the visitors see exactly what they came for when Peter’s distant, murdered cousin Mary (Darryl Hannah) appears before Jack’s (Steve Guttenberg) eyes being chased by her husband/murderer, Martin (Liam Neeson). Mary has been doomed to relive her death over and over again, but through some unexplainable twist Jack is able to intervene and prevent Mary’s recurring death. He also finds that he has the hots for a ghost.

Even more bizarrely, Jack’s bitchy wife, Sharon (Beverly D’Angelo), learns that she has more than a few things in common with Martin, the guy who killed his last wife. The two unnatural romances dominate most of the screen time here. There are some amusing ghost hunting bits with Malcolm (Martin Ferrero, whose face you’ll instantly remember when I say he was the slimy lawyer in Jurassic Park (1993) that met a messy end); he’s a paranormal investigator with all the requisite tools for such a job. But mostly, everything focuses on the burgeoning romance between humans and ghosts. Touching.

The best thing I can say about High Spirits is it’s bathed in gloriously cheesy ‘80s charm. It also features solid production design, with the Irish castle adding an extra element of ghoulish aesthetics that were very much needed. Some viewers may also be excited to watch simply because of the cast, which features a roster of notable names. I’d be remiss not to mention the alluring Jennifer Tilly, who is in her prime here. Hell, they got Peter O’Toole and that’s enough gravitas to make nearly anything halfway watchable. This may be a title that’s best enjoyed by those who liked it years ago; newer viewers will probably nod off in short time, which is exactly what my girlfriend did.

Similar to the Love at First Bite/Once Bitten double feature, both films here feature strong 1.85:1 1080p pictures that are exactly the sort of high definition upgrades fans want to see. Grain structure retains integrity, the prints are both clean & free from major debris, colors are accurate and detail is marginally impressive… when the shot is a close-up. There is no DNR, color grading or other post-production processing to be seen here.

Just as the video sources are similar so, too, are the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo tracks. Front channels feature good separation and minor panning of effects, while dialogue remains clear and discernible throughout each film. Sourced songs once again enjoy high fidelity, adding a greater sense of depth to the overall sound. Subtitles are available on both films in English.

Director Robert Bierman and actor Nicolas Cage provide an audio commentary on Vampire’s Kiss, one that is carried over from the previous DVD. It isn’t often that a major motion picture star sits down to dissect one of their earliest, possibly embarrassing offerings but Cage is game to delve right into every weird facet of this production. He covers a wide range of much-discussed topics, from his atrocious accent to the cockroach eating scene and everything else in between.

A trailer for Vampire’s Kiss is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary on Vampire’s Kiss with director Robert Bierman and actor Nicolas Cage
  • Vampire’s Kiss trailer

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2.3
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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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