APES ON FILM: Terrors Abound: Somnambulists and Conjurors!

Posted on: Oct 26th, 2020 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

STEPHEN KING’S SLEEPWALKERS – 1992
2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Brian Krause, dchen Amick , Alice Krige
Directors: Mick Garris
Rated: R
Studio: Eureka! Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: October 19, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 audio options
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Run Time: 89 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The 1980s were truly rife with film adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, for better (THE SHINING, STAND BY ME, THE DEAD ZONE) or for worse (CUJO, CAT’S EYE, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE). The 1990s started strong with MISERY, but as they settled in, his horror-related work took a back seat to adaptations of more mainstream stories such as THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and THE GREEN MILE, which garnered more attention from critics and audiences. King’s first direct-to-screen story, not based on a previous work, was SLEEPWALKERS (1992).

The film introduces us to the “legend” of the Sleepwalkers – immortal monsters that feed on the life force of virgins, supposedly based on Native American folklore. Luckily, these maiden-sucking vampires have a fatal weakness; cats hate them and can scratch them to death, releasing the fires of hell within their souls. Owing as much to Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE (and coming only a decade after Paul Schrader’s stylish remake of it), SLEEPWALKERS trades in the same psycho-sexual horror headspace, focusing on the mother-and-son monster duo of Mary and Charles Brady (Krige and Krause), an incestuous pair that’s just moved into town and set their sights on the lovely life force of movie theater popcorn girl Tanya Robertson (Amick).

King really misses an opportunity to craft a story of substance by making Charles a one-dimensional vampiric douchebag, tossing off one-liners as he kills a teacher, terrorizes the initially smitten Tanya, and tears through town in his Trans Am. Had he been torn between the past and the fate thrust upon him by his evil mother and his true love for Amick’s character, the film could have been much more substantial than a teen monster movie of little consequence, which it eventually becomes.

Eureka’s Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds great, but is Region B encoded, so you’ll need a region-free player to view. If you’re unable to play a Region B disc, Shout! Factory has released the film in the U.S., and the supplemental materials on the Eureka release were all ported from the Shout! Factory discs except for a new audio commentary by director Mick Garris and Lee Gambin. The Eureka release does come with a Limited-Edition O-Card slipcase with silver laminate finish and a Limited-Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann which is included with the first two-thousand copies only.

Stephen King’s SLEEPWALKERS is cheesy fun but could have been so much more. Recommended for King completists.

 

THE MAGICIAN – 1973 – ‘74
1.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Bill Bixby , Keene Curtis , Julian Christopher , Joseph Sirola
Created By: Bruce Lansbury
Studio: Visual Entertainment Inc
DVD Release Date: August 25, 2017
Audio Formats: Dolby Audio, English Stereo
Video Resolution/Codec: NTSC 1
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 (or is it?)
Run Time: 1025 minutes

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

THE MAGICIAN was the third of Bill Bixby’s (MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) network series, and the least successful. It lasted only a season on NBC from 1973-74, and I recall it fondly as helping to ease the sting of the cancellation of SEARCH, a show that my eight-year-old self obsessed over the year before. The series found Bixby playing the world’s greatest illusionist, Anthony Blake – a professional magician and amateur sleuth and “fixer” for friends and acquaintances who needed his special kind of help. Think of him as a cross between Houdini and The Equalizer.

The series was entertaining and the concept interesting enough, but it suffered from network meddling; bad luck (Bixby’s character name was Anthony Dorian in the pilot, and a stage magician named Tony Dorian came forward after it aired which prompted the name change to Anthony Blake); producers trying to wrestle spiraling budgets under control (halfway through the season, Blake’s private live-in jet airliner was discarded in favor of an apartment at Los Angeles’ The Magic Castle); and even a writer’s strike. Regular characters disappeared halfway through the season and new ones added with no explanation. The hook for the series was Bixby’s likable magician, but it wasn’t enough to keep viewers tuned in through all the inexplicable changes and the show folded after just twenty-one episodes.

Visual Entertainment Inc. has released the full series and pilot episode in a four-disc set in DVD format, and I was happy to get them. At first. The company admits in a warning screen at the beginning of the discs that quality is not as high as many other DVD series releases from the time period, so I was forewarned. This is excusable – the show quality is a bit rough here and there, but the fact that it was released at all (and for a reasonable price) was something for which to be thankful. What I can’t abide is that they label the video as appearing in the original NTSC 4:3 aspect ratio, which it does not. The ratio has been stretched to fit modern television screens’ landscape orientation rather than simply allowing the black bars on either side of the picture, as any sane person would have formatted it. The stretching results in loss of picture at the top and bottom of the screens to some degree, but mainly it makes everyone appear wider than normal, which pulls me (and everyone else, I assume) out of my “comfort” zone and makes the whole experience unwatchable. In some scenes it’s hardly noticeable; in the next, it’s grossly exaggerated. Maddening and completely unnecessary.

I can’t recommend purchasing this set, no matter how big a fan you might be. The best we can hope for is a release from a responsible company who respects the viewing experience at some point in the future. Save your money for that day.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 20: Don’t Let Us Be Too Bad – Why We’ll Always Be WILD AT HEART For David Lynch

Posted on: Jul 7th, 2012 By:

WILD AT HEART (1990); Dir: David Lynch; Based on the novel by Barry Gifford; Starring Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton, Isabella Rossellini; Sat. July 7, 9:30 p.m.; Co-presented by and featuring a live performance by Women’s Work, come dressed as your favorite Lynch character, coffee and pie in the lobby; Plaza Theatretrailer here.

“I’d go the far end of the world for you, baby!”

“A man can’t ask for more than that.”

“You rope me, Sailor, you really do.”

These immortal lines are exchanged between Lula Fortune (Laura Dern)and Sailor  Ripley (Nicholas Cage), but in 1990, I’d have to admit I would have gone to the ends of the world to see any piece of celluloid created by David Lynch.

If you were a certain type of young person drawn to the deepest darkness but still enchanted by the lure that true romance can exist even if it kills you, you worshipped at the insane, amazing altar of Lynch back then. You saw a college or midnight revival of ERASERHEAD, and your head throbbed with pain while watching it, yet your eyes were glued to the screen. ELEPHANT MAN was even more excruciating because of the toll it took on your emotions, but you knew brilliance onscreen when you saw it. You really, really wanted to embrace DUNE and liked some of the visuals, but …well, but then came BLUE VELVET, and every time you heard that song ever after, it had a different meaning and while you didn’t want to admit it to anyone but your diary, Dennis Hopper made you all hot and bothered ever after. So, of course, you tuned into TWIN PEAKS like an addict desperate for a Lynch fix and told your lover “don’t let me too bad,” hoping just the opposite as you twisted a cherry stem into a knot behind your ruby lips.

Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) in his iconic snakeskin jacket is WILD AT HEART for Lula Fortune (Laura Dern). Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Into that era of Lynch euphoria arrived WILD AT HEART, perhaps the best example of how behind the violence, Lynch is sweetly sentimental about love. Based on the Barry Gifford novel of the same name (though Lynch changed the ending), the movie didn’t test well with audiences and was not completely critically well-received, but yet walked away with the Palme d’Or at Cannes. In other words, a typical Lynch movie. You either love Lynch or you don’t.

Without giving too much away for anyone who has not seen it before, the plot hinges on a simple love story–boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl’s mother (Diane Ladd) forbids them to marry and hires a hitman to take out boy, boy goes to prison and serves his time, girl picks him up and they hit the road, mom hires another hitman (J.E. Freeman) and craziness, violence – and yes, beauty ensue topped off by a cameo by Glinda the Good Witch (Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer)! Yup, this road movie may be set in contemporary America and include all the requisite stops at seedy motels, but it’s also a fairy tale with heavy references to the Road to Oz.

Diane Ladd as Marietta Fortune in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Like Woody Allen, Robert Altman or Quentin Tarantino, Lynch has been a genius in assembling an intriguing ensemble cast, and WILD AT HEART is no exception. It may be hard to remember now but Nicholas Cage was once a fine actor and just weird enough to make him a perfect Lynch leading man. In those days when he put on a snakeskin jacket and impersonated Elvis, he was sexy, not creepy. Pretty but still real-looking Laura Dern brings just the right mix of passion, forthrightness and stroppu Southern accent to pull off Lula without turning her into a cliche. Casting Laura’s mother, Diane Ladd, as her domineering, disapproving and crazy-as-a-Lynch-movie Marietta Fortune, though, was pure brilliance. At the time, Ladd was at that middle age where she wasn’t getting many great roles, and this one proved a comeback that earned her both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The supporting cast also includes Harry Dean Stanton as a private dick and Marietta’s boyfriend, a scary-toothed Willem Dafoe as a psychotic gangster hired to kill Sailor, Crispin Glover as Lula’s cockroach-eating cousin (isn’t insect-dining a David Lynch movie prerequisite?!), Lynch favorite Jack Nance as a loony rocket scientist, a gone-blonde Isabella Rossellini (then still Lynch’s lover) as a gangster moll, and a cameo by Sherilynn Fenn (Twin Peak’s Audrey and then every Lynch-boy’s fantasy and every Lynch- girl’s role model) as a car crash victim.

Sheryl Lee (TWIN PEAKS' Laura Palmer) as Glinda the Good Witch in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Sigh, because I’ll only be there “In Dreams.” Nope, I won’t be able to take that wild ride with Sailor and Lula tonight because I alas already am committed to other plans. So all I’m going to say is I hope you’ll go in my stead and fill up the Plaza as it should be for a special screening like this (come early and see STAND BY ME for a double feature if you can! If you missed Plaza Day 19, catch up here). If you haven’t seen WILD AT HEART, you should and encourage all your friends. If you haven’t seen it in a while or even more if you’ve never seen it on the big screen, this is a rare opportunity and another reason why Atlanta needs The Plaza.Remember, your ticket and any concessions purchases help keep Atlanta’s longest-running, locally owned historic independent cinema and Retro treasure alive!

 

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 19: Childhood Memories, or Why STAND BY ME Stands the Test of Time

Posted on: Jul 5th, 2012 By:

By Thomas Drake
Contributing Writer

STAND BY ME (1986); Brand New 35mm Print; Dir: Rob Reiner; Starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix and Corey Feldan; Plaza Theatre, Fri. July 6 and Sat. July 7, 7:30 p.m.; and Sun. July 8, 3 p.m.; trailer here.

Short: Vern: Do you think Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman?
Teddy: Boy, you don’t know nothing! Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman’s a real guy. There’s no way a cartoon could beat up a real guy.

Medium: A coming of age story about four young men who decide to go find the body of a lost boy and become heroes. Along the way, they learn about themselves and are confronted by external hazards from nature and generic thugs.

Maximum Verbosity: For a long time, there were rumors that this was actually based on something that actually happened to Stephen King. The movie itself was based on “The Body,” a novella he wrote in 1982. It wasn’t actually true. There was actually an accusation labeled against him of plagiarism by a manuscript submitted by a fan. King denied the accusation and hasn’t read manuscripts for others since then. Now, it is possible that Stephen King stole the idea, but, quite frankly, given that he’s written 49 novels, many of which are best sellers, and most of which have sold significantly better than “The Body,” we can establish that King is not some one hit wonder that needs to steal ideas.

A lot of King’s movies have been made into movies. So what makes this one stand out? What makes STAND BY ME so exceptional that you’ll want to see a 25-year-old movie with all that’s coming out this Friday? Well, that’s an interesting question…perhaps I should say Magic? I speak not of the Magic of thunder, lightning or fireballs (or Magic Missiles into the darkness) but the Magic of Childhood. I put it on par with THE GOONIES in terms of what it means to be a kid, the wonder thereof, etc. But here’s the difference: Do you remember that ubiquitous Facebook meme where people put “What I think of” “What My Mom Thinks of” that ended with “What it Really Is”? THE GOONIES is “What I thought of my Childhood” whereas STAND BY ME is what it actually is.

Sure, there are dramatic moments, but there are also anticlimactic ones. The great quest to become heroes doesn’t go anywhere. But every single one of them comes out of the experience with something greater, something that helps them move on. It is also a parable told by the storyteller character, Young Gordie (Wil Weaton), who also learns the value of establishing a good relationship with his sons.

So there you have it. There is a magic in the theater, and if you’re looking to recapture something about what it was like to be a kid; not the romanticized world that never was, but the gritty adventure that you and maybe some of your friends had that you remember that you had to be there to understand. On top of everything else, it also helps that the acting is fantastic and the story is really good. It captures the visceral reality merged with cinematic fantasticness.

Go and see this movie.

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