Tremors (1990)

Directed by Ron Underwood [Other horror films: N/A]

Ever since I was a kid, I loved the Tremors movies. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen the first three movies combined, so to say I grew up with them will be the best I can do. The first film isn’t the best horror film of the 1990’s, but I’ve always found it enjoyable, and nothing has changed.

It’s a pretty simple monster movie with a rather small cast, but Tremors keeps us entertained with the quality character building, interesting ideas, and a decent amount of humor sprinkled throughout (though never becoming too overbearing as to distract from the suspense). If one of the many monsters movies from the late 1950’s had been made around the 1990’s instead, this is definitely what they’d hope to be.

Kevin Bacon is one of those big names that I honestly pretty much only know from this movie. I mean, I’ve seen Death Sentence, and of course I’ve seen Friday the 13th, but as far as Bacon individually standing out, Tremors stands alone. He works fantastically well with Fred Ward, and seeing the two of them interact throughout the film is a lot of fun (“Legs that go ALLLLLLL the way up!”).

Of course, it should go without saying that Michael Gross (who I know best from Family Ties) is great here, along with his wife (played by country singer Reba McEntire), as a pair of gun-nuts who are incredibly fun to watch, and Gross himself has plenty of funny lines (deadpan, “For my cannon” is probably my favorite). It’s clear why Gross made such an impression, even more so than the stars that were Bacon, Ward, and Finn Carter.

The monster design here was pretty interesting, even though we’re basically talking about giant worms. They look suitably dull, and seeing them killed in various ways is fun enough, but also the fact that they do learn as the movie goes on gives them a little more of a fear factor, even though they’re never quite terrifying.

Also, let’s speak briefly about the setting, being the (very) small town of Perfection, Nevada. It was indeed perfection, as a population of about 14 people total has always amazed me, just seeing the way that these people would live as opposed to those in a larger town or city. I couldn’t imagine living in such a small place, and maybe due to that, this setting always stuck out to me as something really memorable.

Other films from the early 1990’s combined humor and horror better than Tremors did (I’m primarily looking at Arachnophobia, which came out the same year), but Tremors has been a pleasure to watch since I was a kid, and I still really enjoy the first three movies, and wholly recommend the first two if you haven’t seen them before.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Tremors.

The Ugly (1997)

Directed by Scott Reynolds [Other horror films: N/A]

Honestly, The Ugly is a pretty simple movie, which the lower budget does well with. Certainly not a classic or anything so grand, this New Zealand film still has enough going for it to be consistently enjoyable.

First off, the budget here is a bit on the lower side, evidenced by both the somewhat terrible set (though I think it works to a point in-universe) and the small cast. They didn’t really need a large cast, though, and I definitely think what they had worked out well.

The idea behind the movie (a psychologist learning about the life of an insane serial killer) wasn’t anything too special, but the film was somewhat innovative in its stylistic flashbacks. Some good lighting, some interesting black blood, things just jelled here. I wish that the ending had been a bit more reasonable, as it sort of reminded me of Frailty, but whateves, it’s cool.

There’s plenty of solid cast members here, from Jennifer Ward-Lealand (who plays one of the most unlikable mothers in cinema) to Rebecca Hobbs and Roy Ward (that guy just struck me as utterly random throughout the film). My two favorites here, though, are the main serial killer, played wonderfully by Paolo Rotondo and a childhood friend of his, played by young (at the time, she was around 13) Beth Allen. Both brought a lot to the film, and I especially enjoyed Allen’s scenes early on. Her adult counterpart (Vanessa Byrnes) didn’t do near as much for me, alas.

Much of the film might come across as a typical origin story of any run-of-the-mill serial killer, but I thought it packed a pretty emotional punch here and there. Like I said, it’s more the stylistic nature of some of the sequences more than anything that make it memorable, but there are some decent kills and suspenseful scenes throughout.

I didn’t really think that much of The Ugly when I first saw it years back, but it’s aged nicely, and though I don’t think it’d make my ‘Best of the 90’s,’ it’s certainly a slice of foreign horror that might be worth experiencing once.

7/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I cover this one.

King Cobra (1999)

Directed by David Hillenbrand [Other horror films: Survival Island (2002), Game Box 1.0 (2004), Transylmania (2009), Grave Secrets (2013)] & Scott Hillenbrand [Other horror films: Survival Island (2002), Game Box 1.0 (2004), Transylmania (2009)]

This straight-to-video movie featuring one snakey boi is about what you would expect. It’s certainly silly and ridiculous at times, but it still feels like a much, much better film than many of the newer-age Syfy snake films. King Cobra’s not as good as Silent Predators, and hell, I might even like Python (2000) a little more, but this still has charm.

And Pat Morita, to be sure.

King Cobra’s plot is about what you’d expect also, what with some drama between Casey Fallo’s and Scott Hillenbrand’s characters (one wants to move to the city, the other is okay with small-town life), only to be interrupted by the introduction of a 30-foot terror (or the snake, in other words). Fallo and Hillenbrand are both okay here (and on a small side-note, both of them appeared in Piñata: Survival Island a handful of years later, partly, I imagine, because Hillenbrand directed both this and Survival Island), but neither one is much in the way of memorable or inspired.

Pat Morita was more exciting here, but unfortunately, he never used any kung-fu against the 30-foot boi (that pleasure instead went to Hillenbrand’s character). Morita was still somewhat fun, though not quite as much fun as I’d have hoped. It was actually more a surprise to see Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn’s Malachi) at the beginning, and throughout, Hoyt Axton (Gremlins) appears as the town mayor, making his final appearance before his death.

If the feature characters had been Axton, Gains, and Morita, I’d probably have found the movie more memorable, but alas, that wasn’t to be. Regardless, it’s not as if there are many kills or special effects here that are overly noteworthy. I sort of like the design of the snake (without CGI, it seems more honest), but it doesn’t look that great, and none of the kills are gory whatsoever.

All things said, you get from King Cobra exactly what you’d think, which is a bit underwhelming. The finale is decently fun (and that dream near the end was fantastically amusing), but it’s not a movie that’s something I’d consistently go back to. Shame that two tanks of sleeping gas wasn’t enough to keep down the scaly boi, though, so I’m hoping for a sequel.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999)

Directed by Scott Spiegel [Other horror films: Intruder (1989), Hostel: Part III (2011)]

This straight-to-video sequel is about what I was expecting. Seeing some familiar faces was sort of nice, and I’ll touch on that a bit, but really, the story here felt quite weak, and though I’m no fan of the first movie, this was pretty much worse on every level.

Robert Patrick was one of the few here who stood out. I thought his character, along with pretty much all of these characters, was a cookie-cutter cut-out of no interest, but he was still nice to see. The same could be said for Raymond Cruz (Tuco from both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, not to mention Alien: Resurrection, which I’ve had the displeasure of recently seeing), though admittedly I think he did poorly here. Muse Watson and Bo Hopkins were also solid, though the story really didn’t do them justice.

At this point, you may be wondering what makes the story so bad. Here’s one of my problems – that was way, way too convenient and quick a solar eclipse. All it gave us was more painful action scenes which really didn’t move me. It’s never really explained why exactly these vampires are robbing a bank (even somewhat lampshaded by the end), and that didn’t help.

What annoyed me more than that, though, is that this wasn’t even some master plot from the vampires. Bank thief #1 becomes a vampire, and instead of going with the other vampires (who turned him), he gets with Bank thief #2, #3, #4, and #5, and slowly turns them into vampires. It just felt off. Once two of the five are vampires, you think that there’d be some way of noticing, but no, aside from slightly impulsive behavior, they’re pretty much the same.

The special effects throughout Texas Blood Money were weak, no doubt about it, but the story here was so unengaging that it wouldn’t have mattered if Savini did them. Like I said, I’m not that much of a fan of the first movie, but boy, was it higher quality than this. If you want a solid late 1990’s vampire flick, just go with Carpenter’s Vampires. I wouldn’t really bother with a movie that’s destined to be a TBS rerun at 3:00 am.

5/10

Sorority Row (2009)

Directed by Stewart Hendler [Other horror films: Whisper (2007)]

I’m somewhat lukewarm when it comes to The House on Sorority Row. I thought some portions were certainly decent, and the movie does possess that 80’s atmosphere I value, but I wasn’t blown away by most of it. This re-imagining too has some okay parts, but boy, for quite a bit of this movie, I definitely struggled.

A movie following a bunch of bitchy sorority girls accidentally killing one of their own, only months later to be stalked and killed by a mysterious figure wasn’t much my idea of entertainment. This comes partially from the fact that literally none of the sorority girls, even the “good” one, Cassidy (Briana Evigan) are in the least bit sympathetic. Worse still, the most amusing one, Chugs (Margo Harshman) was one of the first to go.

For some reason that eludes me, I just couldn’t care that these terrible individuals were getting killed. A few of the kills were okay, to be fair (such as the tire iron being thrown), but I just didn’t get much a sense of tension for many of them, and when even the supposedly sympathetic characters, such as Cassidy and Maggie (Caroline D’Amore), turn out to be horrible, it just doesn’t do the film any favors.

What also doesn’t help was the identity of the killer, or more particularly, the reason behind the killing. That character always felt out of place to me from the beginning, to be honest, and once they’re discovered as the killer, the personality they have, that uber-crazy, psychotic serial killer à la Urban Legend, I just didn’t care.

Also, and maybe this is just me, but that house fire at the end didn’t look that great. The whole “epic battle while the house is burning down” wasn’t near as fun as I’d have hoped, but that’s this remake for you.

Sorority Row probably isn’t as bad as I might be making it out to be. It was definitely generic and pretty unremarkable, but I don’t think it’s terrible. I just can’t see myself really taking this movie that seriously, and while it might be okay for a watch every now and again, I have a hard time believing I’ll ever really like the movie, and if I want to see something like this, I’ll just stick with I Know What You Did Last Summer.

5.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the movie.

Lake Placid (1999)

Directed by Steve Miner [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), House (1985), Warlock (1989), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Day of the Dead (2008)]

What Lake Placid lacks insofar as story is concerned, it makes up for it, in spades, with it’s fantastic sense of fun. Lake Placid is a fun movie, and the cast too makes it a stellar watch.

With Bill Pullman (Independence Day), Oliver Platt (The West Wing), Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter, along with The Guard and 28 Days Later…), Bridget Fonda (a woman I don’t even know, to be honest), and some small appearances from Betty White, Lake Placid has a lot of star-power behind it, and they all work really well with each other, particularly the hilarious relationship between Platt and Gleeson. In a way, it was heartwarming, but the humor was certainly top-notch.

The story itself isn’t necessarily special, but the performances mixed with some decent tension and some mounting friendships really add up to a better movie than might be anticipated, and again, I can’t overstate just how much fun I have with this one.

Another thing I rather enjoyed about this one is the setting. It takes place in a Maine forest, and I thought, while simple, it had quite a bit of charm (and led to a few funny scenes involving Gleeson’s character). It’s always nice to see Maine come up outside of a Stephen King movie.

Lake Placid isn’t a movie that is likely to blow anyone away, and it’s one that some people would likely find more generic than anything else, but I’ve always found it a fun movie with a solid cast, and I always enjoy watching it when the opportunity arises.

8/10

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Directed by Tom Savini [Other horror films: Deadtime Stories (2009, segment ‘House Call’), The Theatre Bizarre (2011, segment ‘Wet Dreams’)]

To be honest, I was expecting something more from this remake of the classic 1968 zombie film, as I’ve generally heard positive things about from fellow horror fans, but after taking the time to finally watch it, I was very underwhelmed, and ultimately find the film a bit pointless.

The original Night of the Living Dead has never been a favorite of mine. Oh, I enjoy the movie well enough, and it definitely changed the trajectory of zombie movies, but it can sometimes feel a bit on the slow side. That said, I found a lot more to enjoy in that movie than I did here, and while this version tries to change some things up (such as the route that Ben takes toward the end), I can’t deny that it somewhat fell on deaf ears.

Tony Todd was perhaps the best thing about this movie. He wasn’t as good as Duane Jones, but he still brought a significant power to his character. Patricia Tallman was certainly a more useful Barbara here than Judith O’Dea was, but that’s one of those changes that I didn’t find myself loving. I pretty much think Tom Towles nails it, but still, compared to Karl Hardman, he’s not nearly as strong a personality.

Unless I’m missing something, I just don’t see what all the hoopla about this one is. It’s an okay zombie movie if you’ve somehow missed the original, or if you wish the original was in color, or if you like seeing a young Bill Moseley, but otherwise, I really don’t get it. Now, I understand that director Tom Savini had some clashes with Romero while working on this, and the remake itself was, in part, made to help Romero recoup his losses from the original film, but knowing all of that doesn’t make the film any better, at least not for me.

The original film is a classic for good reason, but this isn’t really anything I could ever see myself wanting to spend time on again. I went into this one hoping for a lot more than what I got, and I won’t say that I’m not disappointed with this one.

5.5/10

Mirror Mirror (1990)

Directed by Marina Sargenti [Other horror films: Child of Darkness, Child of Light (1991)]

A satanic mirror? Sounds like it has potential. And really, Mirror Mirror did, and I wish that I could have liked it more. For something like the first half of the film, I was enjoying it pretty shamelessly, but then the second half happened, and the route changed, leaving me an old and bitter man.

This same type of plot has been done in later films, such as the Canadian television movie Devil’s Diary, so it didn’t feel that fresh to me (despite the fact this came out 17 years earlier). It’s an interesting idea, what with a teenage girl becoming addicted to the power of an iffy mirror, but it went down a path I didn’t much care for, and while the end redeems a bit of the lost potential, it was too little, too late.

Playing the goth teen Megan, Rainbow Harvest (which is indeed her real name, apparently) really felt like a slightly older Winona Ryder’s Lydia. She had a solid punk/new-wave/gothic look that I sort of liked, so of course she was picked on mercilessly by others in the school. Her mother, the well-known Karen Black, was pretty solid, though I felt somewhat bad about where the movie eventually took her.

One of my favorite sub-plots in the film dealt with a class president election between bitch Charleen (Charlie Spradling, from Meridian, a movie I saw not long before this one) and the one nice girl, Nikki (Kristin Dattilo). I’m a sucker for politics, so seeing an underdog campaign being fought against the establishment bitchery was a solid source of entertainment. It didn’t hurt that Dattilo was an attractive actress, and Spradling had a lovely nude scene later in the film.

It’s when the mirror, which has been causing some distressing incidents in Megan’s life, such as a massive nosebleed suffered by someone during lunch, or a brutal asthma attack a teacher has, starts sharing the power with Megan, and she becomes almost a witch, that I start losing interest. Because at this point, the strange outcast girl becomes the dangerous, school-shooter type (instead of guns, she has an evil mirror, but what’s the diff?), and she loses much of the sympathy she fairly possessed beforehand.

Now, it gets a little better, as Nikki tries to save Megan from herself, but by that point, things are pretty much a lost cause (both Megan and and Nikki have lost loved ones, so any victory at that point would be hollow anyway). Still, we got a solid death by steam in a locker room shower, and someone else gets impaled by glass, so it’s not all bad. The suspenseful garbage disposal scene, too, was worth seeing.

As a movie overall, though, Mirror Mirror fell flat, which was a damn shame, as it really did start off decently well, only to lose it’s way as the movie goes on. It’s a movie that’s probably good for a single watch, but unless my view on this one changes the next time I see it, it won’t become a 90’s favorite of mine.

6.5/10

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet [Other horror films: N/A]

I didn’t think the third Alien was anywhere near as good as Alien or Aliens, but it was still serviceable. Alien Resurrection, though, strikes me as somewhat a disgrace.

There’s a lot of faces and names here I know, which makes it even more disappointing. I’ve never been a big fan of Ron Perlman, so it didn’t surprise me I wouldn’t take to his character, but with Brad Dourif, Raymond Cruz, and Winona Ryder, they couldn’t have come up with a better movie?

Winona Ryder was pretty solid here, and her character is probably one of the more interesting ones. Dourif doesn’t appear that much, but I definitely thought he should have been smart enough to realize that the blood of the aliens are acidic. And Raymond Cruz? It took me a few scenes to realize it was him, and I didn’t really know until after he finds out about an android, in which he excitedly speaks about it, in the exact same way Tuco would in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Seeing a younger Cruz here was fun, and I hope he had more appearances in the genre.

The story here is somewhat pitiful. After the events of the third movie, I would have been happy with Ripley never coming back. I liked her story arc there, and the fact they just bring her back by making a clone of her (that has super strength, agility, and other positive clone attributes) really, really rubbed me the wrong way. And the ultra alien queen? Yeah, no, count me out.

Honestly, there’s not a lot about the story I did like aside from the characters involved. The last act in particular was really difficult to care about, despite Dourif’s character popping back up. It just felt so off, and that’s really what can be said for the movie. The third one was more generic than anything, but this one is just bad.

If there are two scenes worth watching, I’d recommend the underwater sequence, which was decently suspenseful, and the scene in which they run into previous attempts to clone Ripley, which was quite a grotesque and troubling sequence. Otherwise, I don’t really think Alien Resurrection has much to offer. I know it has it’s fans, but I’m not one of them.

5/10

Alien³ (1992)

Directed by David Fincher [Other horror films: Se7en (1995)]

So, while I’d seen the first two movies (Alien and Aliens), I never voyaged past the second one, so I was sort of surprised to find that I enjoyed this a bit more than expected. Oh, it’s not a great movie, nowhere near as good as the first two, but some strong performances and a decent story pull it up.

I find it somewhat funny, though, that the only surviving character from the second movie is Ripley. Just a bit of a suckerpunch, given all she did to try and save others. Still, for the story, being that their ship crash-landed on a prison planet, it worked. The story, though, loses something after they all decide to work together and trap the alien – it was still okay, but it felt so much more average than the first half of the film.

What cannot be denied, on a personal level, is the impact Charles Dance had early on. I pretty much only know Dance from his role on Game of Thrones, and he looked much the same here, but he really brought a lot to the film. One of the few characters I legit liked, it was a shame to see that he doesn’t make it near as far as you’d hope, but I still really liked seeing him regardless.

It’s not as though without Dance, the cast is void of big names and solid performances, but I do think that Dance was definitely one of the best here. Otherwise, we have Charles S. Dutton (Gothika), who does okay with his character, the same of which could be said of Pete Postlethwaite. Both Brian Glover and Ralph Brown did well as ineffectual authority characters, and seeing Lance Henriksen come back (in a limited capacity) was a pleasure also.

The problem here is that, as I mentioned, past a certain point in the story, the events begin feeling much more generic. I do personally quite like the end of this film, but getting there is a bit of an unmemorable journey, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it was disappointing.

Alien³ is an okay movie. It’s a large drop-off from the first two, but I think this straddles the average rating. I think compared to the first two movies, it’s definitely much worse, but as a movie standing alone, Alien³’s okay. It’s nothing special aside from Sigourney Weaver and Charles Dance, but it’s by no means the worst movie of the 1990’s.

7/10