The Tommyknockers (1993)

Directed by John Power [Other horror films: Alice to Nowhere (1986)]

When I first saw this mini-series, adapted from a Stephen King novel, I’d not read the source material beforehand. Ultimately, while I know I watched the mini-series, I recalled very little about it. Having in recent times, read the novel, and watching this with the novel in mind, it’s not only forgettable, but somewhat terrible.

A little back-story, though, which might alleviate some of the sting of those words. Though I’ve only a single read-through to base this on, I didn’t care for The Tommyknockers. I liked it more than the Dreamcatcher novel (I think, but it’s a close call), but of the King books I’ve read, it’s solidly in the bottom half. I didn’t entirely mind the disjointed feel the meat of the book had, but I did think that portions of the came out a bit of a mess.

For much of the mini-series, things follow the novel closely enough to not warrant too many disagreeable portions (though I’m not fan of the novel, following the source material is probably the way to go when making a movie based of Stephen King’s work). Until the end, that is, when they take a very family-friendly approach to the conclusion, deeply neutering it.

It was neutered long before, though, what with being a television production. Much of the epic feel of the novel is entirely lost in the execution here. Some of the coolest scenes of the novel are nowhere to be found here, and those that make it are changed into a hideously friendly-for-television feel. Certainly other King mini-series have suffered from this (such as It), but because I have no nostalgic feelings for this one, there’s nothing to protect it from my less-than-charitable thoughts.

The cast was mixed bag. I really liked E.G. Marshall in his role as the grandfather, and if there’s any reason to really commend the acting, it’s him. Playing the sheriff, Joanna Cassidy does well, and doesn’t feel too dissimilar from her novel counterpart. John Ashton (Taggart from Beverly Hills Cop) was sort of nice to see, but was nothing like his counterpart from the book, nor was his path here nearly as interesting.

Pretty much everyone else ranges from mediocre to bad. Jimmy Smits didn’t do a thing for me as the main character (and it didn’t help that he didn’t look anything like I imagined the character in the book to). I was neither impressed nor displeased with Marg Helgenberger. Both Cliff De Young and Robert Carradine have a bit of charm to them, but ultimately, I think both are forgettable. Traci Lords, though, does pretty awful here (I’m guessing it’s intentional), and Allyce Beasley (who I recognize solely from an episode of Gotham, believe it or not) is utterly laughable during plenty of her screen-time.

I’ve seen The Tommyknockers twice now (despite, like I said, barely recalling my first experience with it), and it’s not a mini-series that I have any desire to see again. There’s plenty of King’s mini-series’ I’ve not seen yet (Golden Years and Rose Red, to name a few), but The Tommyknockers is a very forgettable and somewhat bad example of a book that, if adapted better, could produce a moderately entertaining movie.

Love the laser lipstick, though. Solid stuff.

4/10

Mr. Wrong (1984)

Mr Wrong

Directed by Gaylene Preston [Other horror films: N/A]

At many points throughout the film, Mr. Wrong feels like a traditional ghost story, and I think that it’s a feeling that works out pretty well, thought it doesn’t leave me feeling utterly wowed.

This New Zealand flick might be a bit conventional at times, and you can certainly see the ending coming from some miles away, but it has that spooky vibe that works. Featuring a woman who isn’t the generic beauty queen also helps out, and gives the film a somewhat more ‘everyman’s’ feel.

Heather Bolton does a good job as the main character, and at times, I think one can really feel the terror she too feels. David Letch has a good, ominous presence, though I would have liked a bit more back-story regarding him.

The biggest detriment this film has is the fact that while it certainly has chills, it’s extraordinarily light on actual kills. While I wasn’t expecting any gore (which was good, as there’s none to be found), I was hoping for a higher body count than what we actually got. Related, the movie occasionally feels as though it has a sluggish pace, and while there are really well-done and suspenseful sequences at times, it does drag a bit.

Still, if traditional ghost stories are your thing, then I think this would work out. It’s certainly nothing overly special, but it’s a very competently-made and compelling film, so if you can get beyond the New Zealand accents, I’d give it a go.

7.5/10

Last of the Living (2009)

Last of the

Directed by Logan McMillan [Other horror films: N/A]

This film pretty much feels like New Zealand’s answer to Shaun of the Dead (Zombieland came out some months after this, but that possibly influenced this also). A low-budget flick with a small cast but a lot of heart, Last of the Living is a generally enjoyable watch.

Despite using some techniques that I never much cared for (such as blood splatter hitting the camera), this movie did pretty well with the small budget they possessed. Plenty of fun fighting sequences, not to mention a few enjoyable collages, and just some stand-out smaller scenes, such as when the three main characters go shopping. It wasn’t anything special, but it just felt right, for lack of a better description. Special effects weren’t that amazing, but personally, I think the characters and the overall fun of the film sort of make up for that shortcoming.

The cast, with all due respect, are pretty much nobodies. Our three main male characters, played by Morgan Williams, Robert Faith, and Ashleigh Southam, all did pretty good with their roles, and all three were pretty likable characters (Williams’ character could be a dick at times, but he was still a mostly solid guy). Southam in particular was a fun actor, playing a somewhat nerdy, yet still efficient, zombie killer. Emily Paddon-Brown, playing about the only serious character in the film, was both a beauty to behold and honestly, probably put up one of the better performances in the movie.

Because there are virtually only four important characters in the film, it sort of helps add to the whole “last of the living” type vibe, even though we know there has to be more people out there. There were some pretty touching scenes, even, toward the end of the film, which came across sort of a surprise given this is pretty much your run-of-the-mill zombie comedy. The soundtrack was also pretty solid, for the most part.

The biggest flaw here is that the movie runs a bit longer than I’d have liked. Sort of felt a bit spread thin near the end, say the final ten minutes. If it could have been wrapped up in 80 minutes, and it easily could have been, I’d argue it’d come out a bit better. Not only does it drag a bit toward the end, but the ending itself wasn’t really what I’d have expected from a movie like this. Nothing is wrong with it, it just went a route I would’ve preferred the film left alone. Lastly, while most of the comedy is perfectly fine, there were a few small scenes that didn’t do it for me. That, along with some minor audio quality issues, weren’t that big a deal, but if you’re going into this looking to be disappointed, I think they’ll definitely stand out.

Sure, Last of the Living isn’t much different than Shaun of the Dead, and certainly didn’t introduce anything new (though I’d argue it’s much the same case with most zombie films), but it had some pretty fun characters, enjoyable and touching scenes, and overall a sort of low-budget party vibe to it. Does it run a bit long? Sure, but I can certainly see myself putting this in my DVD played again and giving it a third viewing. It wasn’t original, but I don’t think it was meant to be. It was meant to be fun, and I think Last of the Living succeeded.

7.5/10