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*** I'm Moving ***

Dec. 17th, 2006 | 10:29 am

The Film Fiend moves on.


2006 was a pretty crazy year here at The Film Fiend, and I'm thrilled with this journal's continued success. Because I want to bring you the absolute best reviews in the absolute best format, I'm moving these goofy shenanigans over to BlogSpot. That's right, dear readers -- I'm defecting. Hoorah for progress!

This journal will remain intact, however, since I have dozens of links to this joint spread across the Internet. That said, new reviews will only be found at the location provided below. Keep in mind that I'm not going anywhere, really. I'm just moving to a more accommodating location. I think you'll enjoy yourself once you get used to it.

I know I will.

Anyway, the new place is LOCATED RIGHT HERE, so be sure to update your bookmarks. And while I'll always love this little journal, I do feel it's time to upgrade.

The Film Fiend in '07 is gonna resurrect your grandma.

Take care! And see you on the other side.


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Suburban Nightmare

Dec. 15th, 2006 | 03:15 am

Have your neighbors over for dinner.


Suburban Nightmare is an interesting little flick, since it's rather difficult for this reviewer to classify. Is it a dark comedy? A horror film? A satire? A candid look at what your neighbors are doing behind closed doors? Well, it's really all of the above rolled into a big sticky ball, resulting in an entertaining genre-bending hybrid that demands more from its audience than some may be willing to give. Those looking for a blood-soaked version of War of the Roses need not apply. Instead of buckets of guts and gore, director Jon Keeyes delivers a witty pitch-black film that will surely tickle the funnybone of those whose sense of humor is a bit skewed. In other words, Adam Sandler fans need not apply. Okay, you can apply, but we'll probably just point and laugh at you.

I keed, I keed.

The story is pretty simple so I'll keep my synopsis short and sweet for a change. Charles and Deborah Rosenblad are your typical American couple: They enjoy the taste of human flesh, keep sex slaves and dead bodies in their basement, and try to raise their daughter the best they can. However, tempers flare when Charles decides to execute their "dinner" guests without the assistance of his wife, setting off a series of outlandish events that will ultimately send these suburban lovebirds into the depths of depravity. Throw in some lesbians and a pair of fake breasts and you've got yourself an enjoyable way to spend 80 minutes of your life, though it still doesn't beat a good game of Jenga. In all fairness, though, very few movies top the all-mighty Jenga. As you can imagine, things get pretty warped by the end credits, through it's all in good fun. Well, for the most part, anyway.

Those who don't like all those pesky "words" and "phrases" with their horror may find Suburban Nightmare to be rather dull. It relies heavily on dialogue and character interaction, ala Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, and their ilk. Some may find the film to be a bit too verbose, but I never once had a problem with it. I enjoy intriguing characters and absurd situations, and this film has plenty to spare. Charles -- portrayed by the always-entertaining Trent Haaga -- is by far my favorite of the bunch, though is wife Deborah (Brandy Little) comes in at a close second. It's hard to choose who to side with, actually, since they both have their own share of faults and flaws. The most disturbing element of the film would have to be the Rosenblad's attempt to raise a daughter amidst the chaos of their daily lives, though it does provide an interesting subplot that explores the softer side of these suburban psychopaths. It also helps matters considerably that Keeyes is a wonderful director. Every shot looks excellent, despite the film's obvious budgetary limitations. The pacing is swift, though it manages to keep you engaged without the use of flashy edits to hide its weaker points. Sure, the film could have benefited from a widescreen presentation, but it looks good for what it is, and suits the tone of the film just fine. It's no wonder that the man is slowly moving up the Hollywood ladder, having just finished Living & Daying ("4 Robbers, 2 Killers, A Cellphone, & Way Too Many Guns") starring that jaded celebrity fall-out Edward Furlong, Michael Madsen, Arnold Vosloo, Bai Ling, and, yes, Trent Haaga. I'm excited to see what he does with a bigger budget and some bigger names.

I'd also like to throw the spotlight on Mr. Haaga for just a second. Not only is the guy a pretty good actor -- he's appeared in such genre fare as Zombiegeddon, Hell Asylum, Dead & Rotting, and Troma's Terror Firmer -- but he's also responsible for penning both Feeding the Masses and Toxic Avenger IV. While the latter isn't much to write home about, Feeding the Masses is an entertaining twist on the oh-so tired flesh-eater subgenre. He's a talent to keep your eye on, considering I think the guy's got some skills to pay the proverbial bills. When he blows up and everyone's like, "Who? What? What's that? Where the hell did this guy come from?" you can tell your friends, family, and lovers that you read about him first on this sad littler journal. They won't care, of course, but you can tell them.

Suburban Nightmare is, in my humble opinion, solid entertainment. However, it's not a gorefest by any stretch of your demented imagination, and it does require you to actually invest some interest in the Rosenblad clan and their plight. It's reliance on dialogue may be a huge turn-off for those who don't like much characterization with their horror, but those looking for something a little different will find plenty to keep them glued for the duration. Just keep in mind that it's by no means perfect, and does require you to suspend disbelief in quite a few scenes. The inclusion of the daughter, for example, could be viewed as a little hard to swallow, but I felt she was a rather nice addition to the family unit. Comparisons to the classic Danny Devito opus are pretty hard to deny, though it's balls are definitely much bigger, and Keeyes doesn't mind smacking you in the face with them from time-to-time.

And, like mom always said, a little testicle-to-cheek contact never hurt anyone.

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Witchcraft 13

Dec. 14th, 2006 | 07:48 pm

Hooters a la Satan.


The Witchcraft series, which began in 1988, boasts the largest number of sequels than any other horror franchise still in production. Twelve separate entries, to be exact, all of which seem to follow three simple rules: show lots of big boobs, shed lots of blood, and center the storyline around a few pentagrams. After a handful of years, however, the series began its slow decline into softcore pornography, preferring to eroticize the storyline as opposed to scaring the poop out its legion of hardcore fans. The last one I watched on purpose was number seven, and for the life of me I can't remember a single solitary scene from that particular cinematic experience. Where the franchise went after that remains a mystery, since I honestly couldn't care less.

Naturally, when I sat down to review Witchcraft 13, I was more than a little hesitant. After all, the last experience with the series was entirely forgettable, leaving me to wonder if I should even bother treating this as a serious slice of horror cinema. Imagine my surprise when number 13 turned out to be a refreshing change of pace from what I'd come to expect from these silly little sequels. Instead of just cranking out yet another stale entry, Mel House and Tripod Films have made an honest attempt to reinvigorate the franchise, focusing more on the storyline than, say, finding a well-endowed female to take off her shirt while wallowing in a vat of fake blood. Though the film does have its problems, Witchcraft 13 is an honest to God motion picture, one that tries its best to establish Will Spanner as full-blown tragic hero cursed with powers he's still learning to control.

Having visited a friend at a local watering hole, Will Spanner leaves his buddy in the capable hands of a chesty broad, only to have second thoughts about that decision on the way home. When he returns to the bar to check on his mate, Will finds him lying dead in a back alley, his heart having been torn from his chest. A visit from a few colorful detectives let's us know that Will's friend was just another victim in a line of ritualistic murders that have been plaguing the city. Confused, scared, and essentially clueless, Will pays a visit to his boy Eldridge, who informs our heroic warlock that the pentagram associated with the victims belongs to Will's birth parents' coven, who were at one point or another at war with another coven known as The Order of the Crimson Heart. In order to obtain the powers of their enemies, these "foot soldiers" remove their hearts so the master can harness the energy that lies within. Determined to find those responsible for his friend's death, Will begins his own investigation into this mysterious coven. Can he find their leader before they destroy him? More importantly, how many boobs will our hero have to face before the film's finale?

Director Mel House and screenwriters Michael and Jeffrey Wolinski have obviously done their homework, taking great pains to avoid many of the cliches that are abundant throughout the Witchcraft series. The result is an erotic horror movie that actually managed to hold my wobbly attention until the end credits. They've actually managed to breathe new life into what many consider to be a dead franchise, and I do hope it finds the audience it sorely deserves. It also helps matters considerably that the filmmakers have found some actors who can act, something missing from several of the franchise's dodgier entries. Tim Wrobel is probably my favorite Will Spanner yet, bringing a vulnerability to the character that was absent from his predecessors. Since we're forced to spend the majority of the movie with the guy, it's nice to actually have someone who doesn't make your skin crawl. The supporting cast is also surprisingly decent for this kind of production, which is ALWAYS a good thing.

Do keep in mind, however, that this is essentially a no-budget production, and I do grade on a curve. Those expecting something substantial should steer clear of this flick. Beware! BEWARE!

The film also boasts a number of quality gross-out moments, from the many heart rippings to some inspired CGI during a battle between a skinny blonde and Mr. Spanner himself. I usually cry foul whenever a smaller production decides to employ some low-budget computer-generated effects, but Witchcraft 13 actually makes these moments work. Though they're nothing spectacular to look at, they don't detract from the action whatsoever, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. The gore effects are also pretty good, and when Will's friend pays him a visit in a surprise dream sequence, I was quite impressed with its ability to shock.

That said, Witchcraft 13 does have its share of problems. Though better than your average low-budget production, the acting -- especially from the female cast -- is wooden at best. I guess you can't have your cake and eat it to, so to speak. Another distracting flaw is the editing. A lot of smaller productions often have this problem, so it comes as no surprise that Witchcraft 13 features the exact same issue I've seen in countless other movies: the notorious FADE TO BLACK. Used sparingly, this technique is actually effective when the scene calls for it. But using it all the time can be somewhat of a problem for those who are aware of such things. A lot scenes aren't tied together very well, making for a somewhat jarring experience from time-to-time. Thankfully, House's direction keeps this novice mistake from killing the movie altogether.

When all is said and done, Witchcraft 13 is a bloody good time. Color me surprised! I was expecting yet another forgettable entry in a series I'd forgotten all about. However, if Tripod Films continues to work with the franchise, you might actually get me to pick up number 14 if that project ever comes to pass. For those of you who are thinking that I've spent way too much time hitting the crack pipe lately, I strongly urge you to give this one a shot. If you're into this sort of thing, of course. It's COMPLETELY different from the Witchcraft series you've come to hate, and I think Mel House and company have done their best to reinvigorate the Will Spanner character without losing what the series is all about. If you guessed boobs, blood, and pentagrams, then you win a donut.

Blood filled, of course.

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House Of Carnage

Dec. 14th, 2006 | 07:41 pm

Like a rubber mallet up side yo skull.


How, you ask, could a movie filled with boobs, gore, and little-to-no story whatsoever bring a smile to my face? Well, dear readers, I'm glad you asked. You see, having recently viewed Day of the Ax, I was a little disappointed with 4th Floor Pictures and director Ryan Cavalline. It's not that Ax was a poorly-crafted movie, mind you, but it showed an amazing lack of originality from the guy responsible for Dead Body Man, a movie I consider to be one of the funniest no-budget horror/comedies I've ever seen. Seriously! Cavalline and company wanted so desperately to make a Texas Chainsaw Massacre of their own that they lifted entire ideas, characters, and dialogue from the seminal series in order to create it. The end result was, needless to say, quite lacking. In fact, I was actually hesitant to sit down with its sequel, mostly because I had a feeling I was in for more of the same.

However, like Dead Body Man 2, Cavalline has gone back to the drawing board in order to fashion a superior sequel, one that shows an incredible amount of growth in terms of directing, editing, and writing. House of Carnage, I must say, is a very slick production, complete with faux news reels and plenty of gore to go around. The story is pretty much nonexistent, which is okay with me; there's enough genuine weirdness in HoC to keep you watching despite the fact there's nothing cohesive to hold the scenes together, outside of the rubber mallets, brutal deaths, and great big boobs. This is a true homage to Tobe Hooper's cult classic, using the same structure and basic premise without lifting too much from the original. And as much as I love Dead Body Man 2, House of Carnage is probably 4th Floor Pictures' best film to date, hands down.

Technically speaking, of course.

As I mentioned earlier, there's really no story to speak of. You do get a girl recapping her experiences with that bizarro family and their creepy digs, but that's about it. The rest of the film is dedicated to torture, humiliation, and murder, inter-cut with tidbits of information regarding our sadistic family and their criminal history. The rest of the picture consists of twenty-somethings roaming aimlessly through the woods and the consequences of this rather idiotic decision. I mean, if the family's past is well-documented, why would anyone risk their lives by taking an adventure through their turf? Perhaps I'm using too much of the ol' skull noodle; there's really no rhyme or reason to the events that take place in House of Carnage, and while some may have a big honkin' problem with that, I found the lack of plot points to be rather refreshing. It's just bloody murder after bloody murder, one right after the other, anchored by the family's interesting mythology. Sometimes you just need to tune out.

If you hate Day of the Ax, let me explain the difference between it and its sequel in a way that will make perfect sense to a horror fan: House of Carnage is to The Devil's Rejects as Day of the Ax is to House of 1000 Corpses. Everything you despised about the original has been rearranged, reworked, and revised in order to create a more visceral experience. I think Cavalline's one of those rare filmmakers who actually listens to idiotic reviewers like me who spend way too much time watching these gory little gems. Everything that was wrong with Day of the Ax has been fixed in House of Carnage. In fact, there's an inspired shot towards the beginning of the film featuring our masked baddie standing in a field with a cloudy sky and his creepy farmhouse as a backdrop that looks light years beyond its minuscule budget. With more money and better equipment, Cavalline could be the next "big thing" in independent horror. I'd trust the guy with my money; I hope others eventually feel the same way and give him the break he deserves.

My one problem with the movie is this: RUBBER MALLETS. Though their presence this time around is kept to a minimum, it's still distracting to see the same style of murders in not one, not two, not three, but FOUR 4th Floor productions. Again, this is probably due to the amount of cash he had on-hand to throw at things like props and what-not, but looking around my office at work, I can see several items that could be used as murder weapons. A three-hole punch, for example, could crush a skull quite nicely. Not to mention the countless screwdrivers, nails, hammers, chains, furniture, and other everyday items that could easily drop a man to his knees. I'm kidding, of course. Anyway, since most of the beating, trashing, and crushing takes place off-screen, why not use some items just lying around the house? There are ways to work around the dangers of using real objects in your film, that is, if you put your mind to it. This is more of a suggestion than a full-on complaint.

House of Carnage is pure nastiness from start to finish. Every character is dirty, nasty, and degenerate, including those who get strung-up and promptly eviscerated. All the actors -- most of which are 4th Floor regulars by now -- do an excellent job, nailing every twitch, scream, and pleading squeal. Ryan Cavalline and 4th Floor Pictures are at the top of their game with this one, and it makes me quite happy to see him overcome the problems I've had with his earlier efforts. With both Dead Body Man 2 and HoC, 4th Floor is finally on-track to become a formidable indie production company, one that could easily overcome the backyard feel of its contemporaries. I can't wait to see what the guy does next. That said, I'd actually like to see him tackle something a bit more plot-driven, something that has a "slow burn" feel to it. I think he's capable, and I definitely think it's time.

Just no more rubber mallets. Please.

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Day Of The Ax

Dec. 14th, 2006 | 07:12 pm

Low-budget fiddle-faddle.


Day of the Ax, apparently, is Ryan Cavalline's love letter to Tobe Hooper, Bill Moseley, and the entire Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. I'm just guessing, mind you, but it's a pretty easy assumption to make, considering how liberally Cavalline and company borrow elements, characters, and entire setups from this highly-overrated series of films. I'm of the belief that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the better of the bunch, but then again, any movie that presents its offensive tongue-in-cheek humor with a healthy serving of gore is a-okay in my book. But that's neither here nor there. Day of the Ax, while decently acted and well-constructed, suffers from terminal deja vu; you've seen everything in this movie somewhere before, but you really can't put your finger on exactly where. And let's not kid ourselves, okay? There's no story here. A guy and two girls are on their way into the woods to meet up with a friend -- as people in small towns often do -- when they stumble upon a blood-soaked blonde chick just wandering in the middle of a secluded "road," and I use this term loosely. After spouting gibberish about nothing in particular, she slits her throat and promptly dies. Our band of concerned citizens calmly stuff her carcass in the trunk and immediately set out to find help. Unfortunately for everyone involved, there's a family of lunatics living in the surrounding woods, and they just love it when townsfolk stop by for a visit. Thus begins our journey into familiar territory, one that's ripe with tired cliches, big boobs, and floppy rubber mallets.

I hate trashing anything directed by Ryan Cavalline, since the guy has a passion for the genre that's actually quite refreshing. But I have to call them like I see them, and Day of the Ax is just too generic for my tastes. As I mentioned earlier, there are too many familiar plot points, characters, and situations for this film to survive on its own severed legs. If stealing the entire storyline from Texas Chainsaw Massacre wasn't enough, there's even a character named Pluto who is carbon-copy of Bill Moseley's infamous Chop Top, the scalp-scratching psychopath from the highly underrated TCM sequel. I understand that Cavalline has a love for these movies, but to fill his own endeavors with such blatant rip-offs is inexcusable. If you want to make an homage to your favorite films, that's fine, but come up with enough original ideas so your movie won't suffer from the kind of review I'm bestowing upon it right now.

Everyone involved does a pretty good job with the material, despite its glaring lack of substance. This is a bargain-basement slasher, dear readers, peppered with only a few moments of genuine clarity. We even get cameos by indie heroes Tim Ritter and Joel Wynkoop, though both appear to have been held at gunpoint in order to make their respective appearances as a sheriff and a doctor, the latter giving us a little insight into the history of film's masked madman, though I could have sworn this material was covered by Dr. Loomis in John Carpenter's masterpiece Halloween. Anyway, given the amount of talent on display, I wish that everyone had been given something to do. Those who don't get to bash everyone else with the rubber props are left to scream, flail, and react -- nothing more.

The gore on display in Day of the Ax is surprisingly decent; we get a lot of spraying blood, an effective face peeling, a nasty disembowelment, and the removal of some poor guy's left hand. My biggest complaint, however, is the rubber mallet. This was okay for Dead Body Man and its sequel, since neither movie was supposed to be taken seriously. In fact, Willie's use of this rather goofy weapon in the DBM series actually heightens the hilarity a bit. Here it's just silly and ineffective. That aside, there are a few odd moments that showcase some surprisingly decent computer-generated effects, including a mind-blowing suicide (literally), a pig pen full of deformed offspring, and the obliteration of a small American town. Though the latter really didn't make much sense to me in the grand scheme of things, it was still incredibly well-done given the film's tiny budget. Coming from someone who absolutely hates CGI anything in no-budget productions, this is a wonderful accomplishment. Kudos!

Though it's rather well-made and sports some decent acting, I just can't get away from all of the borrowed ideas on display in Day of the Ax. It just doesn't have the charm of the Dead Body Man series, nor does it have the impact of its sequel, House of Carnage. Cavalline is better than this. MUCH better. Having seen several of his pictures already, I know the guy is capable of more. I'm not sure how far down this particular entry sits on his filmography, but I have the feeling it's one of his early efforts. As an example of his skills as a director, Day of the Ax is competent, deftly crafted, and surprisingly entertaining. However, borrowed ideas are borrowed ideas, and coupled with the fact that Cavalline is a much better writer than what this film would have you believe, I can't recommend Day of the Ax to anyone other than diehard TCM fans who need to see anything this "classic" horror film has inspired. Everyone else should probably think twice before checking it out. Unless, of course, you're terrified of rubber mallets, in which case Day of the Ax will scare the ever-loving poop out of you.

Bring clean underwear.

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Dec. 12th, 2006 | 04:47 pm

I'a! I'a! Cthulhu fhtagn!


H.P. Lovecraft has probably had the most influence on my creative output than any other author I've ever read. There's something inherently creepy about each and every one of his stories, though the Cthulhu mythos is by far the master's greatest literary achievement. While his sci-fi leanings were interesting, they simply cannot match the power of The Old Ones. Because Lovecraft's stories are the very definition of bizarre, it's rather difficult to bring them to life on the big screen. If you're one of the few unfortunate souls who braved last year's Beyond the Wall of Sleep, you know that most who attempt to adapt the man's work often fall flat on their faces. With the exception of the excellent short film Call of the Cthulhu, the only person who has successfully translated Lovecraft's vision to film is Stuart Gordon, the guy responsible for the goofy cult classic Re-Animator. And while he doesn't stick very close to the source material, Gordon is somehow able to capture the FEEL of the late author's best tales. 2001's Dagon, based on Lovecraft's Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, stands as the talented director's most affecting horror picture to-date. The key word in that last statement is HORROR. After all, I still feel that Edmond is the man's best film.


The criminally-underrated Ezra Godden stars as Paul Marsh, a goofy little guy who just made a ton of money fiddling with the stock market. To celebrate his new-found wealth, Paul and his sexy girlfriend Barbara join their WASPy friends Howard and Vicki on an extended vacation aboard their uber-swank sailboat. Before too long, a storm creeps up on the unsuspecting couples, sending their boat crashing into a nearby rock. During this nautical mishap, Vicki's leg is savagely crushed, pinning her in the cabin of the quickly-flooding vessel. Unwilling to leave his wife to suffer alone, Howard sends Paul and Barbara to the small fishing village they spotted moments before the storm crept in. The young couple, having braved the violent sea on an inflatable raft, follow some creepy chanting to a small church occupied by a strange little priest who, much to their surprise, is all by himself. The odd, unblinking man immediately agrees to help. He sends Paul out with a group of very pale, very unusual fishermen, leaving Barbara all alone in that odd little township with those grotesque, leering inhabitants. The rescue mission proves unsuccessful; upon returning to Howard and Vicki's boat, Paul discovers that both are missing. And to make matters worse, when Paul returns to shore, he discovers that Barbara is also missing. So begins his journey to discover the whereabouts of his lovely little girlfriend, an adventure that will lead him into the heart of this truly bizarre village. Will Paul save Barbara before it's too late, or will they become yet another sacrifice to the god Dagon?

Stuart Gordon has really outdone himself with this effort. Though it still has a hefty dose of comedy to alleviate the tension and suspense present throughout, Dagon is more concerned with absolute horror than simply making you laugh. The story is pretty simple, and actually boils down to a by-the-numbers chase picture, with Paul rushing from one set piece to another as he desperately tries to find his girlfriend before the residents of Imboca catch up with him. Though the script is simple and the premise somewhat tired, Gordon's execution couldn't be smarter. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the village itself, which has been realized in amazing detail. It apparently never stops raining in Imboca, giving the joint a dark and dreary atmosphere that literally saturates every single frame of the picture. And instead of giving us clear, clean shots of its fishy citizens, we're treated to mere glimpses and glances as they watch the proceedings from doorways, alleyways, and windows. The decision to keep most of the creatures in shadow is brilliant; showing a lumbering hulk of a man shuffling in the background is much spookier than sticking him directly in front of the camera for all to see. The film also moves at a break-neck pace, thrusting our bumbling hero into a different set of dangers every few minutes or so. It instantly reminded me of the manic pacing of Raimi's Evil Dead 2, right down to the goofy hero's thoroughly entertaining antics.

However, there are a few problems lurking beneath the film's creepy surface. For starters, the CGI is incredibly fake, forcing me once again to say that if you don't have the cash to make it look good, DON'T USE IT. Simple as that. And while this particular aspect didn't bother me at all, I've read that a handful of genre fans don't like the needless exposition towards the middle of the movie. While I will admit that it slows the picture down, I believe it's completely necessary as a storytelling device.

As mentioned, Ezra Godden is an incredible actor, one who doesn't get nearly as much work as he should. And while his shtick in Dagon may be a little too Woody Allen-ish for most to swallow, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance nonetheless. In fact, it's what keeps me coming back again and again. Had Dagon been without a flawed, bumbling hero, I think most of its charm would be lost on me. Godden's easily the best of the bunch. And while the actors portraying the twisted inhabitants of Imboca are pleasant enough, it's late Spanish thespian Franciso "Paco" Rabal who ultimately spoils the film. His accent is so incredibly thick that it's almost impossible to understand what he's saying without the use of subtitles. Now, I'm usually VERY good with accents; having lived in Kentucky all my life, deciphering what people are saying is key to surviving encounters with those from the eastern half of the state. That said, even I had to use the DVD subtitles every single time the man spoke. Had this been a normal picture with normal dialgoue, I don't think I would have had as much trouble as I did. But when you're dealing with Lovecraftian mythology and the sort, a clear pronunciation is not only required, it's instrumental in delivering the names, places, and Gods to those viewers uneducated in the ways of Howard Phillips. Rabal's a fine actor, of course, but his inclusion in Dagon seems a bit questionable at the end of the day.

All in all, Dagon is a great horror film, one that deserves to be seen by anyone who claims to be a fan of the genre. It's fast-paced, frightening, gory, and quite funny in spots. Stuart Gordon is a fantastic director, in my opinion, even when he's not working with Lovecraft's material. Dagon is quite possibly his best HORROR PICTURE in the guy's expansive filmography, though it doesn't even come close to the brilliance of Edmond. Yes, EDMOND. Fans of Lovecraft may balk at the liberties he takes with the source material, but I think his slight modifications are essential to bringing these dark tales to life on the big screen. Because let's face it: Not everyone is going to understand the appeal of Cthulhu and The Old Ones, so why not help ease these non-believers into the author's body of work via the motion picture? I think it's genius, personally, and I'd love to see Gordon handle more stories in the future. The man has a knack for the strange, not to mention a genuine fondness for the material. In case you can't read between the lines, I'm a huge fan of this film, and I won't hesitate to recommend it to anyone, even those who don't know Lovecraft from Adam.

As long as you eventually worship Cthulhu, all will be forgiven.

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Dec. 11th, 2006 | 06:05 pm

Zygrot Lives!


Alex Winter's underrated cult comedy Freaked and yours truly have a very storied past. You see, oh-so many years ago when my penis was nothing more than a urination device, I watched some half-assed kids-oriented talk show which featured the cast of said motion picture, though I didn't catch the film's title at the time. The clip of the movie they presented was the Hollywood Squares scene, the one that introduces the many freaks awaiting those who would actually pay to see this particular cinematic endeavor in theaters. Needless to say, I was hooked and immediately obsessed. For years I tried to locate the film in question, though I could never quite pinpoint what it was called or who was in it. Though time slowly ticked by, I never really forgot about it, as sorry as that may sound. Cut to high school and a dusty Kroger Video location buried deep in one of the grocer's many Lexington locations. There, lurking towards the bottom of the FOR SALE bin for a measly two dollars, was a worn VHS copy of Freaked. From the description and the photos on the back of the box, I knew this was the movie I'd been searching for all those years. So I dropped the cash, hurried home, and popped the tape in my VCR. The rest, as they say, is history. Freaked currently stands as one of my all-time favorite movies, and is quite possibly THE best balls-out comedy I've ever seen. Loaded with insane special effects and a gifted cast of character actors, Alex Winter's unseen gem of a movie is one I doubt I'll ever tire of watching. Even today, its wit, style, and execution are as sharp as they were ten years ago.

Freaked tells the sensitive tale of Ricky Coogan, former child star and current representative for Zygrot-24, a toxic chemical produced by the sinister EES (Every Except Shoes) corporation. As per his contract with the company, Ricky and his buddy Ernie venture to Santa Flan (named after the patron saint of creamy desserts), where they hook up with sexy environmentalist Julie, who is hoodwinked into joining the duo on their promotional tour after Coogan poses as an injured Zygrot-24 protester. Along the way, they stumble across Elijah C. Skuggs' twisted little freak show, a demented dump of a theme park that features a number of grotesque mutations designed by the proprietor himself. With the promise of seeing some truly bizarre specimens in his shed, these three unsuspecting tourists ultimately end up as part of the show, each with their own unique freaky-deaky make-over. Julie and Ernie are fused together using a serum created with Zygrot-24, while Ricky is partially transformed into a hideous drooling abomination that totally destroys the actor's good looks. Instead of settling in and bonding with the other deformed residents, Ricky decides to escape this sideshow prison and employ the services of a good Hollywood plastic surgeon. However, Skuggs has other plans for the Beast Boy. You see, the bizarro scientist plans to finish the mutation on-stage, after which he will unleash his creation on his other pet projects. With the help of a whiny little troll named Stuey, can Ricky stop this diabolical scheme before he murders those who will eventually become his closest friends?

As much as I love Freaked, I can honestly say that it isn't for everyone. I discovered this depressing little factoid when I gave a copy of Anchor Bay's superb DVD release as a Christmas present to a friend last year. His thoughts? "It's pretty random." And, in all fairness, it is a pretty random affair. From the opening credits to the final frame, Freaked is jam-packed with sight gags, puns, and in-jokes for those who remember Winter's short-lived MTV Show The Idiot Box. In fact, a hanful of the gimmicks are somewhat dated, which may rub some viewers the wrong way. Totally understandable. I guess the best way to describe Freaked is to compare it to the early efforts of David Zucker and Jim Abrahams. Jokes are thrown at you by the dozens, probably one or two every other second. Do all of them work? Of course not. That's a seemingly impossible task to accomplish. That said, the majority of them do connect in one way or another. The successful moments often involve the effects-laden cast of characters and their plight, most of them centering around Ricky and his adjustment to his current situation. However, the jokes that do fail -- such as the Bob Vila bit -- are pretty bad. Thankfully, the good vastly outweighs the bad by about ten-to-one, so even if you think one particular bit is painfully unfunny, there's usually eight or nine waiting in the wings to make up for the previous lack of hilarity. As mentioned, this style isn't for everyone. If you can't appreciate Airplane!, The Naked Gun series, or Hot Shots, perhaps this is one you should pass on.

Fans of old-school physical effects will no doubt get a thrill from the talent pooled to produce the film's many freakish creations. No less than three effects houses were used to bring these hideous things to life, including genre veteran Screaming Mad George. If that kind of thing is your forte, Freaked is worth investigating on this aspect alone.

A zany, well-written script is good to have, but if you don't have the cast to back it up, you might as well call it a day. Winter and co-director Tom Stern have assembled a wide variety of talent for this production, most of which seem like odd choices. At first, anyway. Brooke Shields isn't someone you normally see in this type of picture, but she does her best as Skye Daley, the talk show hostess who invites Ricky Coogan to tell his exciting story to the masses. William Sadler also shines as sleazy EES president Dick Brian, a role he pulls off effortlessly. Also keep you eyes peeled for the likes of Mr. T, Morgan Fairchild, Deep Roy, Alex Zuckerman, Bobcat Goldthwait, and an uncredited Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy, a role that earned the actor a cool million dollars. Insanity! While all of these talented individuals are fine and dandy, it's Alex Winter, Michael Stoyanov, Megan Ward, and a maniacal Randy Quaid that really deliver the goods. Winter's Ricky Coogan is a hard character to like, yes, but you can't help but feel for the guy once his cocksure demeanor begins to fade. Stoyanov and Ward do a remarkable job as test-tube Siamese twins, though Quaid's turn as Elijah C. Skuggs is probably the cream of the crop. Quaid is a good actor when he's not phoning his performance in from across the globe, and Freaked allows the guy to turn up the cheese factor WAY past eleven. Is it his best role thus far? If not for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, I'd say yes, definitely.

After being a die-hard fan of this outrageous film for over a decade, Freaked still has the ability to entertain me in a way few comedies can. It's smart, it's original, and it tries its best to make you laugh for its entire running time. Few comedies are brave enough to try something as far-reaching as this, and those that do often fail miserably in their attempts. Alex Winter, Tom Stern, and writer Tim Burns have crafted quite possibly the PERFECT cult comedy. Only a handful of disturbed individuals will want to see it, and far less will probably consider it a success. Should you rush out immediately and pick up a copy, you ask? Well, that's hard to say. Instead of dropping full-price for this one, perhaps a rental is in order. Just to be safe. The jokes are silly, some are far from funny, and its desire to pack as much comedy into its slim running time may put off high-brow comedy fans. However, for those who enjoy a little insanity with their guffaws, Freaked is quality entertainment. And, thanks to the good people at Anchor Bay, the film is now widely available for those who never got to see it oh-so many years ago.

Now, if they would just release Super Fuzz, all would be right with the world.

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Ichi The Killer

Dec. 9th, 2006 | 03:32 pm

He's the guy masturbating on your balcony.


Though I've been a hardcore fan since I blind-bought Audition a few memorable years back, this is my first official review of anything directed by Japanese maverick Takashi Miike. If you're not yet familiar with the man's body of work, be prepared for an all-out assault on your senses, not to mention your pre-conceived notions of what cinema is supposed to be. Miike breaks rules in his sleep, so you can only imagine the type of insanity that makes its way into his truly demented motion pictures. In the span of a dozen years or so, the guy has amassed an enormous and impressive filmography, ranging from horror to crime, from drama to comedy. And while each film is unique in its own special way, his work almost always bears his trademark weirdness and his willingness to crush, eat, and defecate taboos by the ton. Ichi the Killer might be his most visceral work to date, though its probably not his greatest achievement as a director. If you're brave enough to enter Ichi's uber-strange world of crime and sadism, brace yourself for a cinematic experience like no other. Though many have tried to capture the madness of a Miike film on their own terms, there's nothing quite like the real thing. You have been warned.

And I can't stress this enough. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Though Ichi's name is in the title, it's really Kakihara's (Tadanobu Asano) show from the moment he appears on-screen. You see, Ichi is being savagely manipulated by Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto), an ex-cop who uses his subject's scarred psyche as a way to eliminate those sinister yakuza types lurking in Shinjuku's seedy underbelly. Using Ichi's childhood trauma against him, Jijii unleashes his secret weapon on the Anjo gang, resulting in the brutal and understandably messy murder of Kakihara's boss. As the ex-cop and his sidekicks begin to play the yakuza against one another, Kakihara begins his own personal investigation into his beloved mentor's disappearance. Using torture, humiliation, and wanton violence to peel back one sinister layer of the underworld after another, he slowly begins to put the pieces of this strange little puzzle together. Meanwhile, Jijii begins to lose control of his cherished costumed killer, whose guilt is starting to turn him inside out. Before too long, hero and villain will come face-to-face, though the lines of right and wrong are not as clear as they used to be. Will Kakihara avenge the death of his boss, or will Ichi finally succeed in completing the assignment Jijii began oh-so many years ago? If you have the stomach for impossibly graphic violence and the ability to laugh at some truly disgusting moments, the answer may present itself to you. Just don't expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter.

You know a movie's going to be odd when the title emerges from a pool of seminal discharge. Icky. Takashi Miike's films almost always have a slightly surreal tone to them, and Ichi the Killer is no exception to the rule. Based on a popular Japanese manga, the film unfolds at a reasonably moderate pace, allowing the cult director to pile on the insanity before the whole thing literally explodes in the final act. The story itself is pretty basic -- superhero murders criminals while trying to keep his identity a secret -- but with the help of an incredible cast and Miike's own demented sensibilities, Ichi the Killer becomes something else entirely. There are elements of comedy, action, horror, and suspense sprinkled throughout the picture, peppered with a salty splash of good old-fashioned exploitation. Nudity, rape, and violence towards women are pretty much commonplace in Shinjuku, delivered with just enough pitch-black humor to take the edge off the gag-inducing brutality. Not many people, I think, will be able to handle the sheer amount of carnage contained in this weird little flick, but those who can stomach the gruesome bits will be rewarded with a very accomplished motion picture, one that simply could not be made here in the States without all sorts of uproar from every human rights organization imaginable.

To those who have seen the film: I'm being purposely vague with my "review," since I wouldn't want to spoil some of the outrageous surprises in store for the potential viewer. If you ask me, half the fun is seeing what Miike does next, and I wouldn't want to ruin the fun by including them in this journal. There are plenty of other sites that would love to take this away from you, so if you just need to know what's lurking within, by all means, check them out.

The performances, meanwhile, are whip-smart. Nao Omori is suitably weird as Ichi, and even when he goes a little too far over-the-top with his portrayal of the psychologically-battered hero, he still manages to keep you in his corner until the bitter end. Shinya Tsukamoto, on the other hand, is an actor/director I've had my eye on for a while now. His films are phenomenal, though he might be SLIGHTLY better in front of the camera. The guy's performance in Marebito and Haze are worth investigating, and he's just as snazzy and impressive here. However, the big bright shining star of Ichi the Killer has to be Tadanobu Asano, whose turn as Kakihara is both stunning and disgusting. Whether he's blowing smoke out of the slits in his face or torturing those he thinks might be responsible for the disappearance of his boss, Asano commands every single scene he's in. In fact, upon repeat viewings of Ichi, you'll be less concerned with the titular character than Kakihara. There's a reason this guy's face is on the DVD cover. Because, at the end of the day, his story is simply more appealing than the rest, and Asano does a fine job of bringing him to vivid life. Impressive? You bet.

Ichi the Killer is one of my all-time favorite movies. Seriously! I know that might sound sick and a little insane, but it's true. I've loaned my copy out to several individuals who were left slack-jawed and dumbfounded by its unstoppable fury. If want a good story, Ichi's got it. If you want a violent revenge picture, you got it. If you want something surreal and slightly unusual, you got it. Hell, if you want a decent character study with several moments of pitch-black comedy, you've got that, too. I take away something different every time I sit down with this unique little movie, a statement that simply cannot be made for most motion pictures. While I can't comment on its faithfulness to the source material, I can say for a fact that Miike has crafted a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience, one that you won't soon forget. Just keep in mind that everything in the movie is over-the-top and quite nasty, be it rape, torture, or comedy. It's violent, it's foul, and it wants to stick its misshapen penis in your sensitive little skull.

And if you'll let it work its magic, you'll never be the same.

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Batman Forever

Dec. 6th, 2006 | 04:42 pm

Bat-Nipples and Val Kilmer. Nuff said.


Yes, dear readers, it would seem that I have finally taken way too many blows to the ol' noodle. While digging through a used DVD dump bin last spring, I discovered a worn copy of Batman Forever lurking towards the bottom, which really comes as no surprise. Outside of Batman & Robin, it's easily the worst of the bunch, maybe moreso since it presented director Joel Schumacher with his first opportunity to botch a then-flawless franchise. But, I digress. Thinking that the three-dollar price tag was too good to pass up, I absent-mindedly purchased the damned thing and stuffed it into my collection, where it sat unwatched until just recently. For some odd reason, I thought, "Hey! Maybe Batman Forever will be a guilty pleasure. After all, it can't be as bad as I remember it. Right?" WRONG. Batman Forever is reason enough to swear off Schumacher's films until either you or I have the distinct pleasure of beating his head open with a silent butler. It's horribly directed, completely miscast, and basically defecates all over what Burton was trying to accomplish with the first two films. Instead of sticking to the dark and dreary scenario painted by the Beetlejuice director, he instead borrows HEAVILY from the embarrassingly awful television program from yester-year. What am I trying to say, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

Batman Forever should have cost Schumacher his life.

I kid, I kid. Of COURSE someone shouldn't die merely because they botched a film adaptation of a goofy little funny book worshiped by millions of pasty white comic book fans the world over. That's harsh. But having his arms removed, his testicles gnawed off by rabid beavers, or being forced to inject cancer into his first-born would have been sufficient. Because Schumacher's involvement in this franchise is not unlike cancer: He is the disease, and Batman is the breast on which he feasts. Yuck. Anyway, in his first effort as the mastermind behind The Bat, Joel pits our hero against Two-Face and The Riddler, two reasonably-threatening enemies from the comics. While Two-Face is content with sending legions of goons to destroy Batman, the spastic Riddler has actually devised a sinister device -- shaped like a blender, no less -- that manipulates the simplistic brainwaves of the moronic Gotham City types. Why? Well, both of them want to destroy Batman, you see, and this crazy contraption will allow these devilish fiends to peak inside the hollow heads of those who purchase The Riddler's innocent entertainment system. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne tries to slip the sausage to Chase Meridian, a character whose sole purpose is to try to bed the caped crusader. Can Batsy stop these seemingly unstoppable villains before his secret is leaked to the general public? More importantly, does anyone care that Schumacher finally got around to adding Robin to the storyline? Probably not, since he's basically written as an afterthought to everything else.

The character of Batman simply does NOT work as camp. His origins are much darker than, say, Spider-Man, Captain America, or any of those other so-called superheroes. Maybe it's because Batman is just a guy in a suit, not some square-jawed freak that can blast asteroids with lasers that explode from his eye sockets. Makes sense to me. Burton seemed to understand this apparently abstract concept, and his first two features proudly displayed Bruce Wayne in all his flawed glory. Schumacher, on the other hand, resorts to the tired comedy of the television series, complete with goofy sound effects for the dumbest gestures and situations. The entire movie unfolds like a Downs Syndrome version of the comic books, lensed with all the subtlety of an amusement park funhouse powered by psychedelic drugs. Maybe that's what Schumacher and the screenwriters had in mind. Maybe they wanted this pathetic little motion picture to be a reflection of that cheesy television program. But after seeing what Batman is like as a darkly tragic figure, I'm really not interested in seeing close-ups of his ass or listening to him crack wise to no one in particular. No wonder Michael Keaton dropped out. The script, like the direction, is an outright failure. How he was allowed to lense a sequel is truly mind-boggling. I guess it all comes down to box office numbers.

Which brings me to the cast. Yikes. Now, I'm a Val Kilmer fan, but who in their right mind would cast him as Bruce Wayne/Batman? He's all wrong. Kilmer is too wooden to pull off Wayne's tortured psyche, though he does look decent in the costume. I guess that was enough. The villains are almost as bad, if not moreso. Tommy Lee Jones is just terrible as Two-Face; his performance is strained at best, leaving you to wonder what, exactly, Schumacher and the producers were smoking when they sat down to cast this thing. Jim Carrey isn't nearly as bad as Jones, but his over-the-top shenanigans had pretty much worn thin by the time Batman Forever was released on those poor, unsuspecting fans. Eleven years later, Carrey's not quite as annoying, but I wonder how the role would have turned out had it been given to someone with a bit more self-control. Nicole Kidman is pointless, Drew Barrymore is talentless, Debi Mazar should never be seen without thick pants and a wool sweater, and Chris O'Donnell should have been sold into white slavery after his bratty little turn as the snarky Dick Grayson. In fact, the only notable performance comes from Michael Gough, who once again makes me wish I had a gentle man-servant by my side.

Batman Forever and its half-baked follow-up Batman & Robin were so God-awful that it would take years of head-hanging and someone with the talent of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale to bring the franchise back to life. And while I'm not saying that Batman Begins is exactly a perfect re-imagining of the series, it's definitely a step in the right direction. Schumacher's career has recovered from this debacle, with the man going as far as to apologize to Batman fans on the 2-disc Batman & Robin commentary. He claims to have been under pressure to deliver a more accessible film, but methinks other avenues could have been explored. Nipples, the last time I checked, don't help put butts in seats, nor do close-ups of our hero(es) in his form-fitting costume. Ugh. Batman Forever, as it stands, is an interesting curiosity, and should only be investigated by those who wish to see how and why the franchise started down the path of ruin. Be warned: There's truly no other reason to watch this sorry excuse for a comic book movie.

Unless you just like seeing pepperoni on Batman's pecs.

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Dec. 2nd, 2006 | 02:22 pm

I'd buy that for a dollar.


When you watch as many truly terrible movies as I do, sometimes you need to fall back on the films that you KNOW are amazing so you don't sink too fare into the proverbial mire. Having just suffered through the gargantuan disappointment that was Attack Force -- also known as the third 2006 effort by none other than Steven Seagal -- I decided it was time to revisit a so-called "classic," one that has the ability to cleanse my brain of the cinematic atrocities I force upon myself every single week of my pathetic little life. Paul Verhoeven's 1987 masterpiece Robocop is one I watch several times a year. It's a blast from the opening title card to Murphy's triumphant last line, I kid you not. Part satire, part action farce, and part superhero epic for grown-ups, Robocop is an astonishing motion picture, one that actually gets better every single time I see it. I know this phrase gets tossed around quite a bit by reviewers and film fanatics and even yours truly, but it's the truth: I discover new details -- both big and small -- with every viewing of Robocop, something you simply cannot do with most films. Verhoeven's vision of a futuristic Detroit is filled with comical characters, crazy commercials, and plenty of ultra-violence, smashed together with the director's trademark flair for excess. The film is a product of its time, which may explain why the sequels were less than spectacular.

But enough about them. Let's discuss the original.

Peter Weller stars as Officer Alex Murphy, a good cop sent to a bad section of Old Detroit by the powers that be. His new partner is none other than butch firecracker Anne Lewis, a scrappy little lass who can throw down with the best of them, be it male, female, or android. Unfortunately for ol' Murphy, his violent confrontation with the notorious Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) leaves him without an arm, several dozen of rounds of hot lead lodged in his chest, and a greasy hole right in the middle of his forehead. Needless to say, the guy is toast. Enter OCP (Omni Consumer Products), a multi-faceted corporation that actually purchased the Detroit Police Department not too long ago. In their desire to control crime on every level, they've developed a spiffy new form of law enforcement that doesn't die quite as easily as its human counterparts. Using what's left of Alex Murphy's corpse, OCP Vice President Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) creates Robocop: Part man, part machine, all cop. It's directives: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. Armed with a damage-dealing hand cannon that can blow away testicles with the greatest of ease, Robocop sets out to clean up the streets of Detroit. Unfortunately, not everyone is thrilled about Robocop's creation, including Bob Morton's bitter rival Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), who just so happens to be close personal friends with one Clarence Boddicker. Murphy's desire to bring his killers to justice will send him into an all-out war with both Boddicker and Jones, though he'll have to override that pesky fourth directive if he wants to come out on top.

When I was a smaller version of the scrawny four-eyed wimp you all know and love, I enamored with violent action movies, fueled in part by my Dad's willingness to rent me flicks my Mom did NOT want me to watch. While on a business trip one weekend, Dad brought home both Predator and Robocop for us to enjoy. My mind has been warped ever since. Back then I loved Robocop because it was so over-the-top and gory, not to mention the fact that it starred what I once referred to as a "man-bot." Go figure. As an adult -- or something that resembles an adult -- I've come to appreciate the film's subtler moments. Verhoeven and screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner do a fantastic job of capturing Robocop's humanity; despite the countless layers of metal and circuitry, Officer Alex J. Murphy is still very much alive, despite OCP's desire to erase every last trace of who he was. The scene where Murphy revisits his home is pretty effective, and allows the picture to operate as both a futuristic actioner AND your basic revenge flick. On top of everything else, Robocop is laugh-out-loud funny, thanks in part to Verhoeven's wacky television commercials and the film's stable of truly zany characters. A funny, touching, gory, farcical action movie, you ask? Of course! Robocop is one of the few films I've ever seen balance that many elements and ideas while remaining thoroughly entertaining AND true to the original concept. Verhoeven and company should be proud.

Of course, NONE of this insanity would have been nearly as captivating if not for its stellar cast. Unfortunately for Peter Weller, he will always be Alex Murphy, something I'm sure he's oh-so thrilled about. The last few scenes -- especially after the removal of the helmet -- are masterfully done. Weller managed to instill some much-needed depth to the character, and you can see Murphy's anguish in every facial tic, every pained expression. Thanks to the mime training he received before AND after production began, Weller is able to say volumes without speaking a single word. In my opinion, you can't have Robocop without Peter Weller, period. Of course, he's got a great group of actors backing him up. Nancy Allen is effective as Lewis, though you never feel for her as much as you do the titular character. Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith make wonderful villains; you know you've done your job when the audience can't wait to see you die on-screen. Without giving too much away, both get what's ultimately coming to them in a very satisfying fashion. And fans of cult TV phenom Twin Peaks will no doubt get a kick out of seeing a younger Ray Wise as a member of Boddicker's sadistic little army. Of course, these are merely the highlights; everyone involved does an incredible job. In fact, I can't think of a simple weak performance out of the bunch. Kudos! I rarely say that.

Now that the unrated edition is readily available outside of the Criterion Collection, everyone has the ability to check out the original "too violent for theaters" cut of Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi classic without spending an excessive amount of cash. I'd even go as far as to say it's the man's best film thus far. Though Total Recall is an amazing film in its own right, Paul really pulls no punches with Robocop. It's a genuinely hilarious action flick, one that actually stops to catch its breath every once in a while, allowing you to feel something other than the adrenaline coursing through your veins during those incredible set pieces. Everything just falls into place. Seriously! If I were forced to make a list of all my favorite movies, Robocop would surely place somewhere in the Top Ten. It's a film that helped shape my love for over-the-top "cartoon" violence, not to mention my complete fascination with all things Verhoeven. Be it Starship Troopers or the truly abysmal Showgirls, I'm there with a big bag of popcorn and stupid grin plastered on my grill. If you haven't seen Robocop yet, rectify this mistake immediately. Otherwise you'll just miss out on truly satisfying cinematic experience.

In the immortal words of Emil Antonowsky, "I LIKE IT!"

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