• A Review Page For Those Movies You Watch At Home!

    Couch Potato Movie Reviews is, obviously, a blog that exclusively reviews movies. What makes this blog different is the fact that all of the films we are reviewing are all movies that are available on home movie rental companies such as Redbox, Netflix, Blockbuster, and your quickly disappearing neighborhood rental store. This blog is designed to take a more detailed look at those movies that either were sent straight to DVD, received a very limited release in the theaters, or were distributed through the art house or film festival circuit. We will also review those big Hollywood films, but only after they are available for home viewing.

    All the reviews are written by fans of the great art of film making rather than some newspaper reviewer or stuffy film student. We don’t know everything about film but we do know what we like, and we are more than happy to share our opinions with you. What you do with those opinions are totally up to you, although comments are welcome and encouraged.

    Each film review has a one to five star rating at the end of the critique. Here is what those star ratings mean for you couch potatoes:

    * * * * * : Five stars: go and buy this one, don’t just rent it!

    * * * * : Four stars: put this at the top of your rental list.

    * * * : Three stars: average, not bad just not great either.

    * * : Two stars: only rent if you have to see everything.

    * : One star: don’t waste your time with this.

It! The Terror From Beyond Space

TITLE: It! The Terror From Beyond Space

YEAR: 1958

GENRE: Science Fiction

It is important for die hard movie fans to watch some older movies purely because of their influence on future endeavors. When Ridley Scott was looking for influence for a new science fiction horror-style offering he reached back to the 1950’s for the creation of Alien. One of the major influences would be the 1958 low budget production It! The Terror From Beyond Space, and at times it appears that Scott literally lifted the plot from this movie and simply modernized the finished product. This is not the greatest entry in Eisenhower era film making, but It! The Terror From Beyond Space is a quality yet low budget offering that uses suspense and an eerie atmosphere to create an interesting and fun offering.

In the future year of 1973 the first manned mission to Mars has lost contact with the United States Intergalactic Exploration Office and a rescue team is sent to investigate. Upon arrival, the crew discovers that Colonel Edward Caruthers (played by Marshall Thompson) is the sole survivor of the mission and he is accused of murdering the rest of the crew. Caruthers insists that his crew was killed by an unknown entity of superhuman size and strength and that it sucked out all of the crew’s bodily fluids. None of the rescue crew believes the story until they discovers a couple of their own crew members deceased and drained of blood on the spaceship on the way home. The monster Caruthers warned about is now on their vessel, and the quiet ride home is now a race for survival against a malevolent creature impervious to bullets. Will the crew make it home alive?

It! The Terror From Beyond Space definitely has its roots in the 1950’s as the technological effects and social rules display. The two women members of the crew are more housewives than anything else, picking up after the men and doing the dishes, so some of today’s liberated women may be offended but remember that this was a typical attitude back in that day. The special effects are also very typical of low budget 1950’s film making and are laughable by today’s standards. What makes It! The Terror From Beyond Space a good product is that the film uses a lot of suspense elements and creates a build-up to the action and subsequent tame kills that makes the film a satisfying and good viewing. Thompson does a fairly standard job with his performance and the rest are pretty forgettable, but then again the monster is the story here and western legend Ray Corrigan (The Range Busters and The Three Mesquiteers movies series) does a great job in his dastardly looking Martian rubber suit. There are a few situation in the film that are completely unbelievable and detract from the picture: first all, Caruthers is not kept captive on the returning spaceship, is allowed to roam wherever he wishes, and even operates controls which would never happen to an astronaut accused of multiple murders; in addition, the crew throws hand grenades at the monster on a couple occasions which is downright insane considering that one hole in their interstellar tin can would kill everybody.

This was the last film for Corrigan, as his days as a western star were long over and he was only playing monsters and gorillas in movies due to his 6’2” size and willingness to perform dangerous stunts; he later created Corriganville, a Western-themed tourist attraction used for Hollywood productions ranging from “The Lone Ranger” to “Star Trek: TOS” during the day and a tourist trap at night. While there, fans could meet the original Rin Tin Tin and Chief Thundercloud (an Indian in over 90 westerns), drink at an actual working saloon complete with sarsaparilla and beer, and watch stuntmen in wild west gunfights. Corrigan owned the operation until 1965 when he sold the business to Bob Hope. It! The Terror From Beyond Space may not be the greatest of the 1950’s science fiction movies, but its influence on modern sci-fi is difficult to discount. In addition, the suspense build-up and the quality man in the rubber suit does make this film a quality viewing, and if one can forgive the cheeseball special effects are errors in realistic film making It! The Terror From Beyond Space is a good amount of fun for a Saturday afternoon viewing.

* * *

–Mark

 

 

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The Ape Man

TITLE: The Ape Man

YEAR: 1943

GENRE: Horror

Bela Lugosi’s acting career is a perfect example on how typecasting can ruin a man’s life. Lugosi was literally on top of the movie word in 1931 with his epic portrayal of the famous vampire in Dracula, but quickly fell out of favor with studio executives because they believed that he was only capable of playing the creepy bad guy. By the early 1940’s Lugosi was delegated to playing villains in poverty row studio productions, most notably for a company called Monogram Pictures which specialized in action, adventure, and horror films. One of their small budget shockers was The Ape Man, which has some bright moments but overall is a weak horror thriller with many of the trappings of a production with a minimal budget.

Dr. James Brewster (Lugosi) and his assistant Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall) are conducting unusual experiments regarding combining ape and human genes. When Dr. Brewster injects ape spinal fluid into his own veins he suffers a transformation into a hideous ape-human mix. Desperate to become human again, Dr. Brewster kills a few people and collects their spinal fluid to inject into himself to hopefully change him back to all human. When Dr. Randall refuses to cooperate any longer with Dr. Brewster he then releases a captured ape (Emil Van Horn) to help him commit some murders to gather fluid so he can operate on himself. Two reporters, Billie Mason (Louise Currie) and Jeff B. Carter (Wallace Ford), start to investigate the sightings of the ape man and his rampage in a hope for the scoop of the century and to stop the diabolical doctor.

I am not sure how fresh the prints looked in 1943 as this film has not seen a proper restoration and the surviving prints are not in the best shape, but even then The Ape Man has filming that is too dark in many places and uses limited, uninspired camera angles. The effects are also laughable even for a poverty row production: Dr. Brewster’s lab is downright pathetic looking and the ape costume is probably one of the three worst ever used in any film. The film also attempts some humor at the end, as there is a guy who is seen peeking through windows throughout the film and cracks a pretty bad joke at the end, but it is worth a proper groan. On the positive, the banter between our two reporters is fairly comical at times and the two have a surprisingly good chemistry. In addition, Lugosi gives a properly good performance but the acceptable acting between him, Ford, and Currie is not enough to save this uninspired turkey.

Director William Beaudine was nicknamed “one shot” because most of his takes were done in one filming even if sets would collapse on camera and is most known for directing the early Lassie and Rin Tin Tin films. Shortly after this production Lugosi sank deeper into drug addiction problems as well as depression and literally became a pariah to Hollywood producers by 1950. The Ape Man is just one of those poorly produced, written, and directed cheapies designed to thrill audiences but turned into a poor excuse of a production that only serves as fodder for the crowd who loves to pick on old movies over a case of beer.

* ½

–Mark

Maniac

TITLE: Maniac

YEAR: 1980

GENRE: Horror

Periodically the news will report on some distressed person who lashes out against society by committing multiple acts of murder. Horror films has used the psychopathic killer as a staple in their arsenal, but usually adds some type of supernatural element such as an undead zombie-style killer (Friday The 13th), a malevolent spirit from hell (Hellraiser), or a killer who attacks his prey in unconventional ways (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Far fewer films make the killer a normal living, breathing individual that makes the threat of a killer as close as your next door neighbor. Maniac is one of those films that makes its antagonist as realistic and frightening as the worst case on the evening news, a combination of great acting and surprisingly good film making makes this project one of the most soul crushing films ever released in the horror genre.

Frank Zito (played by Joe Spinell) is a middle aged landlord of a New York City apartment complex who is also a schizophrenic serial killer. Frank’s mother was habitually abusive to him but he loved her dearly, and as a token of his affection for his deceased mother he kills women, scalps them, and keeps the hair pieces on mannequins spread about his apartment. Joe spots beautiful photographer Anna D’Antoni (Caroline Munro) shooting pictures in the park, so he attempts to befriend her as a potential victim. Anna introduces Frank to one of her models named Rita (Gail Lawrence). After killing Rita, Frank takes Anna to his mother’s grave after the funeral and attempts to kill Anna only to be thwarted in the effort. Frank returns to his apartment only to have terrifying visions of his former victims and his mother haunting him. With his grip on reality virtually gone, Frank has to make some terrifying decisions that will shake The Big Apple to its urban rot core.

Maniac is a disturbing horror flick that works superbly due to its true to life nature and some great performances. First of all, the film does have a realistic feel as true psychopathic killers like Frank Zito have existed throughout history and director William Lustig’s (the Maniac Cop trilogy) take is realistic, gritty, and surprisingly disturbing. Spinell delivers one of the greatest screen portrayals of a truly disturbed individual and the genuine creepiness and psychopathic nature rivals Anthony Hopkins’ performance in Silence Of The Lambs. Munro (most known for being a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me and a lead in numerous Hammer films) also does a pretty good job as the photographer. The special effects delivered by Tom Savini (Creepshow, Friday The 13th (1980)) are splatter worthy especially when a head explodes courtesy of Frank’s shotgun. The delusions and hallucinations from Frank are a true mind screw and are gruesomely effective. This film is not for most horror fans as the physical and psychological horror of Maniac is truly disturbing and way to close to home for most viewers.

True serial killer John Wayne Gacy contacted Spinell before his death in 1989 asking him to portray Gacy in a documentary-style film due to his true to life performance in Maniac. A theme song was independently presented for this film but was turned down because of its overtly happy beat; the words were later changed and the song ‘Maniac” was later picked up to be used in Footloose and became one of the biggest hits of 1983. Maniac is not for the teeny bopper horror crowd but rather fans of extreme cinema that combines nasty special effects and an honestly unsettling look at an extremely disturbed mind. This one is only for the most extreme horror fan and owners of a strong stomach, but if you fit that ticket Maniac is a recommended viewing.

* * * *

–Mark

Meteor Apocalypse

TITLE: Meteor Apocalypse

YEAR: 2010

GENRE: Science Fiction

Most nerd movie buffs are aware of The Asylum film company and their over the top SyFy Channel monster epics such as Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus and Mega Piranha, but the company also has an offshoot company called Faith Films which creates projects for the evangelical Christian market. Christian film making is one of the largest segments of the independent film world: Sherwood Pictures has created several mega successful Christian films including Raising The Giants and Fireproof, the FilmDistrict independent low budget release Soul Surfer was a surprise 2011 summer hit, and the critically panned yet financially successful Left Behind is still a popular rental among evangelical Christians. Like other Asylum projects, Faith Films follows in the production footsteps of its parent company by using washed up actors, cheap effects, and scripts filled with plot holes so the quality between the two companies is pretty similar. This is the case with Meteor Apocalypse, a tepid potboiler that delivers a downright boring storyline and lackluster production values.

A comet is determined to have a direct hit trajectory with the Earth, so the leaders of the world decide that each country that has a nuclear arsenal will launch missiles at the comet to destroy the unwelcome piece of space rock. The plan backfires however, as the bombs blow up the comet but creates the ultimate meteor shower that reins down on the planet especially the western half of the United States. During the meteor bombardment David Dematti (Joe Lando), his wife Kate (Claudia Christian), and his daughter Allison (Madison McLaughlin) become separated at a quarantine station in Las Vegas and Kate and Allison end up in Los Angeles. David discovers his family’s relocation and escapes to find his loved ones. While gathering supplies he runs across an injured Lynn Leigh (Cooper Harris), who has been partially poisoned from the infected groundwater due to the meteors. The two work their way to Los Angeles, only to discover that most of the City Of Angels has been wiped out from the meteor shower from Hell. Did Kate and Allison survive, and if they did can David find them amidst the destruction?

What bogs down Meteor Apocalypse is the fact that the storyline holds back way too much and makes a major effort to only appeal to its die-hard Christian base, and the result is a storyline that is ultra-conservative in its approach and comes across as downright mind-numbing. Very little happens here in between the first and last ten minutes of the film other than David and Lynn roaming through desert terrain and having limited, unmemorable conversations. The special effects are limited and poorly executed, although the outer space comet scenes in the beginning are acceptable in their execution considering the film’s small budget. The last few minutes are almost ridiculous in its sappy nature and puts the film on the level of a Lifetime Channel production. None of the acting is overly inspired and it seems like Lando and Harris are mostly there for the paycheck. On the positive, the production values are surprisingly good and the filming and sound are quite well done. In addition, the Christian aspect is there in terms of the clean viewing but the film does not have any preachy moments or altar calls so the unconverted can watch and not feel intimidated by the faith-oriented content.

Faith Films has a few other Christian based sci-fi films including Countdown: Jerusalem and 2012 Doomsday that can be defined as mockbusters in the vein of other Asylum productions. I am hoping that the other films are better, as Meteor Apocalypse is fairly well made considering its budget but the storyline is flat and listless. Meteor Apocalypse does receive a B for its effort, but an F for its execution. There are many other sci-fi and horror films that are family-oriented yet interesting to watch compared to this borefest.

* 1/2

–Mark

Suck

TITLE: Suck

YEAR: 2009

GENRE: Horror and Comedy and Musical

Ever since the release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show back in 1975, there has been the occasional underground musical release that attempts to top the original classic. A few films such as Repo! The Genetic Opera and Cannibal: The Musical have come close to matching the magic and creativity of the Tim Curry/Susan Sarandon masterpiece, but many have not. The Canadian horror musical offering Suck has some redeeming characteristics but does not capture the magic of the original, but that does not mean that the film is not worth seeing. Rather, Suck is a fairly interesting musical offering that offers some creative storyline, great cameos, and interesting situations.

The Winners is a long-lasting yet not very talented rock and roll band that plays seedy, low grade clubs around southern Canada and New York and has a manager who is more interested in Japanese hip hop than his band. After playing a dump in Montreal, bass player Jennifer (Jessica Pare) meets the creepy Queeny (Dimitri Coats) who happens to be a vampire. After Queeny turns Jessica into a bloodsucker the band suddenly develops newfound interest in the band and notoriety due to Jessica’s new pasty-faced appearance and stage presence. Once her band mates discover her new medical condition, the band is divided between their newfound popularity and the fact that their bass player is a member of the walking undead with a penchant for plasma. With a major band showcase that could make the band world famous on the horizon, the decision to become an all-vampire rock band becomes more and more appealing. However, when vampire hunter Eddie Van Helsing (Malcolm McDowell) starts to stalk the band the vamp rock and roll lifestyle becomes more dangerous than sex, drugs, and sucking blood ever could be.

Although nowhere near as good as The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Repo! The Genetic Opera, Suck does have its fair share of redeeming qualities. First of all, the story is fairly original compared to most vampire movies and the characters throughout the movie are engaging especially Jessica as the sexy female vamp who attempts to control her bloodlust to no avail. The cameos throughout the film are the best aspect of the film: shock rocker legend Alice Cooper appears as a vampire bartender who meets various characters throughout the film at an imaginary crossroads; rocker/poet Henry Rollins plays a DJ who interviews The Winners and ends up on their dinner plate after the interview; punk singer Iggy Pop plays a creepy recording studio owner; and Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson is a border guard who desperately misses his former rock star touring lifestyle. Some of the kills are creative and comical including when Jessica sucks the blood out of a convenience store clerk using a straw in the corroded artery and competing rock singer Beef Bellows (played by industrial rock god Moby) meets his end through a blood draining during oral sex from Jennifer. Lots of vampirism imagery is played upon through Suck including the band’s touring vehicle (a black hearse). The problem with the film is the music used, in which none of it is very memorable although it does include original material from Velvet Underground, Spoons, and Still Bleeding.

Pare has tuned a lot of heads worldwide and is a major up and coming talent; she recently scored a regular role on the AMC TV show “Mad Men” and starred in Hot Tub Time Machine as well as a few roles in Bollywood. Suck is a pretty decent musical horror comedy, but it does lack the over the top nature to make the film an instant classic. Still, it is more than worth a viewing by fans of Hedwig And The Angry Inch and Repo! The Genetic Opera. One thing is for sure: Suck definitely does not suck.

* * * 1/2

–Mark

How To Train Your Dragon

TITLE: How To Train Your Dragon

YEAR: 2010

GENRE: Animation and Fantasy  and Family

There is something to be said for the bond in a relationship between man and his dog. It is a special relationship of pure devotion and loyalty that is difficult to find in other areas of nature. The movies have played on this type of relationship over the years in films such as the Rin Tin Tin and Lassie series. How To Train Your Dragon has this type of relationship as the center point of the film, but it is much more than a relationship film. Combing a great storyline, several themes, and stunning CGI animation, How To Train Your Dragon is one of the very best animated films ever released and should be required viewing for anybody who calls themselves a fan of nerd cinema.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a disappointment to his Viking father Stoick The Vast (Gerard Butler): instead of being the mighty Viking warrior Stoick desires as a son Hiccup is a scrawny teenager who likes to tinker on inventions at the blacksmith shop under the tutelage of Gobber The Belch (Craig Ferguson). The Viking village they all live has a major problem: dragons attack the village and fly away with all the sheep and cattle. During one attack Hiccup happens to shoot down a Night Fury dragon, an unseen dragon that is especially feared by the Viking horde. Hiccup tracks down the dragon and plans to kill it to appease his father, but just can do perform the deed and actually names the dragon Toothless and brings him fish and repairs his tail so it can fly again. Using tricks learned from Toothless, Hiccup becomes an expert on how to subdue dragons without force. This irks fellow Viking fighting student Astrid Hofferson (America Ferrera) and she follows Hiccup to discover his unorthodox friend. After a flight on the back of Toothless, Hiccup and Astrid learns the reason why the dragons are stealing their livestock and the truth is more terrifying than they could imagine.

What makes How To Train Your Dragon such a spectacular production is the excellent and multi-layered storyline that is as good as animation films rise. There are several subplots that make this film rise above almost all other modern animated films: the best aspect is the family conflict between Hiccup, who desires his father’s admiration yet knows he is a disappointment, and Stoick, who struggles with loving his son and overcoming the dissatisfaction of a son who does not follow in his father’s footsteps. We also have a microscope on the tradition of the Viking community to kill the dragons instead of figuring out why they attack and resolving the issues, plus the teen quasi-romance between Hiccup and Astrid all add to a great storyline and give the characters depth and warmth. The voiceover casting definitely helps with the story as the acting is downright excellent, especially Butler as the conflicted father and Ferrera as the young woman who becomes a trailblazer among her Viking brethren. This is not say that the story is all there is to How To Train Your Dragon, as the dragon flying sequences could be some of the very best CGI animation ever created as they are stunning looking, rich, and beautiful. The climax is also interesting in the fact that not everything has a happy ending as most children’s films would have and is more of a making lemonade out of lemons-type of ending.

How To Train Your Dragon grossed over $500 million worldwide and was an international sensation. Two sequels are in the works, with the first one being released in 2014. Let’s hope that these films will be able to capture the magic of the first, as How To Train Your Dragon is a wonderfully made production that is an excellent combination of great storytelling, fantastic effects, and beautiful animation. Essential.

* * * * *

–Mark

Urban Legend

TITLE: Urban Legend

YEAR: 1998

GENRE: Horror

Once Scream was released in 1997, a sudden resurgence in the slasher film arose and Hollywood and independent film makers started cranking out this 1980’s drive-in staple. As with the Reagan era, most of these copies of the film that spawned the interest were nowhere near as good as the original and most of them plodded in the stereotypical footsteps and tired formula of this overdone genre. One of the most famous Scream clones would be Urban Legend, a $14 million production released by Columbia Tri-Star Films. Although a financial success, Urban Legend played too much on a tired and not so true formula that makes the film feel very much like a run of the mill and uncreative horror offering.

Natalie Simon (played by Alicia Witt) is a beautiful and smart college student at Pendleton University, which is snuggled deep in rural New England. Natalie attends a class on urban legends taught by Professor Wexler (Robert Englund), himself a bit of a legend on campus for genuine creepiness. Natalie’s friends, school journalist Paul Gardner (Jared Leto) and fellow student Brenda bates (Rebecca Gayheart), starts to piece together various mysterious deaths on campus and comes to the conclusion that a psychopathic killer using urban legends as motivations for the deaths. Most of the students blow it all off as hogwash until they start dropping dead one by one. Now Natalie has to contemplate who to trust as the killer could be anybody including her friends or her college professor. The truth however is much more unnerving than Natalie could possibly imagine.

Urban Legend does deserve some credit for tying in a fair amount of urban legends throughout the film for a few laughs, such as a roommate substituting birth control pills for baby aspirin and a cheerleader who contemplates having her stomach pumped after performing oral sex on the football team. Despite this, the film comes across as way too paint by numbers and lacking substantial creativity. The film is nicely made production-wise and the acting is better than most slasher films, but the kills are downright boring and the film lacks a significant suspense element. There are some fairly cool cameos, such as Brad Dourif (the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play films) as a maniacal gas station attendant attempting to save one young lady from the axe-wielding killer and Tara Reid (Josey And The Pussycats, American Pie) as a college DJ who also meets an untimely end. The problem with the characters in Urban Legend is that with the exception of Natalie none of them are properly developed and as a result they turn more into killer fodder than characters the viewer may care about in any way.

Urban Legend did gross $72 million worldwide and as a result spawned the sequels Urban Legend: Final Cut (2000) and Urban Legend: Bloody Mary (2005) and both are even more tripe than the original. The film does have some creative elements, but unfortunately Urban Legend is way too stereotypical and formulaic to make the production a serious entry in the horror genre and as a result the film is unmemorable.

* *

–Mark