Category Archives: Sequels

Gator (1976)

gator2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rubbing-out a friend.

Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds) is back living in the swamp lands of southern Georgia with his Father (John Steadman) and young daughter (Lori Futch) with no interest of working for the police again. Then one day federal agent Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston) comes by in his boat asking Gator to work with them as an undercover agent to get incriminating information that can be used in court to convict local mob boss ‘Bama’ McCall (Jerry Reed), who just so happens to also be one of Gator’s former buddies. Gator at first resists, but eventually agrees. Bama seems excited to have Gator onboard with his team and even hires him as one of his collectors, but Gator gets turned-off by Bama’s penchant for drugging underage girls and then using them as prostitutes.  Bama eventually lets Gator leave his organization, but this only strengthens Gator’s resolve to put Bama behind bars, which leads the two former friends into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

The film was written by William W. Norton, whose colorful life,  was far more interesting than many of his banal scripts, which include such stinkers as I Dismember Mamaand in fact when Norton was on his deathbed in the hospital a nurse asked him if she knew of any of his movies and his response was “I don’t think your IQ is low enough”.  Despite Norton having written the script for the first film, White Lightningthat this movie was a sequel to, Reynolds was initially not interested in doing it and referred to the script as being “terrible”, but when the studio offered him the option to direct it he called it “wonderful”.

Like with many first-time directors the film has many long takes, but overall I felt Reynolds’ virgin effort behind the camera wasn’t too bad. The best part is the opening boat chase shot at the Okeefenokee State Park in southern Georgia that nicely captures it’s picturesque swamp topography as well as some exciting stunt work. Unfortunately after this bit the film goes downhill.

Much of the reason is the script’s inability to keep a consistent tone. The appeal is the spunky humor and action, but by the second act this all disappears and it becomes too serious and slow until it almost starts to resemble a drama. There’s also a few moments of jarring violence that completely losses sight of the playfulness that it had at the beginning.

Reynolds doesn’t seem into his part either, maybe because he was spending so much focus in directing, but in either case he walks through the role and phones in his lines. He also sports a mustache even though in the first installment he didn’t and for consistency he should more or less look the same as he did in the original. The mustache and wavy hair make him look older and the country boy charm that made his character so infectious in the first one is missing here.

Jerry Reed on-the-other-hand is great and shows the necessary energy to keep the scenes that he’s in interesting. Jack Weston is quite funny as the clumsy and constantly exacerbated agent and I was disappointed that he wasn’t in it more as the movie required him to be with Reynolds at all times in order to keep it engaging. I’ll even credit Alice Ghostley as the eccentric cat lady, but Lauren Hutton as the love interest is all wrong. She at least makes fun of the gap in her teeth, which I liked, but the romance angle comes-off as forced and unnecessary and does nothing but bog down the pace, in movie that’s too slow and choppy to begin with.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Burt Reynolds

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Caddyshack II (1988)

caddyshack2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very bad sequel.

Kate (Jessica Lundy) is looking to fit-in with fashionable society by becoming friends with snooty Miffy (Chynna Phillips) whose parents (Robert Stack, Dina Merrill) run the affluent Bushwood Gold Club. Miffy tries to get Kate and Kate’s father Jack (Jackie Mason) to join the club. Kate, wanting to move-up the social ladder, convinces her father to send in an application and since Jack is financially well-off he’s quickly accepted. However, once Jack arrives his oafish personality and gaudy attire make him a turn-off to the other members. Miffy’s parents also don’t like him since he wants to build low income housing in their ritzy neighborhood. Jack is soon kicked-out of the club and told never to return, which causes Jack to buy the course and turn it into an amusement park and the only way Miffy’s family can win it back is if they challenge him to a golf game.

This is another sequel that had no business being made since the original had a perfect ending and no need for any continuation. Harold Ramis, who directed the first one and gets onscreen credit for co-writing this script, was not interested in making it, but eventually decided to dive in at the insistence of Rodney Dangerfield, who had figured prominently in the first film and wanted to take part in another one. Unfortunately Rodney became displeased with the quality of the scripts that were sent to him and eventually bowed out, which caused Ramis to leave the project as well. Bill Murray didn’t want to recreate his role and neither did Michael O’Keefe, while Ted Knight had already passed away leaving only Chevy Chase to return unless you count the gopher who figures more prominently here. Chase, who later regretted being in this, is the only funny thing about it, and seems for the most part to be ad-libbing his lines as it went along.

The biggest problem is that many of the performers add nothing to the story. This is especially true for Dyan Cannon, who at 50 looks great and would be considered these days as a ‘MILF’, but her character serves no other function other than to fall in love with Mason and appears only sporadically. Jonathan Silverman, who fills-in for the role played in the original by Michael O’Keefe, is barely seen and could’ve easily been cut-out. The normally reliable Dan Akroyd, who plays the part that Bill Murray would’ve, is wasted while speaking in a high-pitched voice that is more annoying than funny.

What I found most irritating is the presence of Robert Stack, who is stiff and pale and looking like an old guy with too much plastic surgery. Ted Knight, who played the role in the original at least had a colorful way of conveying his lines, but Stack speaks his lines like an over-rehearsed robot, which makes his presence quickly forgettable. I was also dismayed that he took over the antagonist role from Dina Merrill, as it initially seemed like she’d be the one to be Jackie Mason’s nemesis, which is a shame as a strong, powerful, yet ruthless woman going up against a putzy guy like Mason could’ve brought out some interesting dynamics that gets lost when it’s just between two aging men.

I was also confused why Randy Quaid is in this as he plays Mason’s obnoxious lawyer, but says things that Mason’s character could’ve easily said himself. I suppose in an attempt to make Mason more likable the writer’s decided to give the more edgy lines to Quaid, but the result is throwing in another character that really isn’t necessary. Apparently had Dangerfield agreed to be in it then his friend Sam Kinison would’ve played this role, who would’ve been better.

The film also fails to recreate the day-in-the-life feel of a country club, which is what had made the first one so engaging. In fact there are a lot of scenes that don’t even take place at the golf club. I also couldn’t stand how Mason renovated the place into a tacky miniature gold-like course, which seemed like a desecration and made me actually want Robert Stack to win the final match, so that he, even as much of a jerk that he and his wife were, could’ve turned the place back into a sensible looking golf course that it should’ve been.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Hulu, Amazon Video, YouTube

Return to Oz (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nobody believes Dorothy Gale.

Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) has returned to Kansas and the home of Auntie Em (Piper Laurie) and Uncle Henry (Matt Clark), but she continues to talk about her adventures in the Land of Oz and can’t get any sleep. Both her aunt and uncle think she’s become delusional and decide to send her to a doctor (Nicol Williamson) who practices electro shock therapy. It’s there that she’s left under the care of Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh) while also hooked-up to one of their machines only to be saved when a lightning storm knocks the power out. Dorothy then escapes out of the hospital and runs into a river where she climbs aboard a floating raft and makes friends with a talking chicken. She then gets whisked back to Oz, but this time finds everything in ruins including the citizens of the Emerald City who’ve been turned to stone.

The plot is loosely based on two of L. Frank Baum’s other novels: ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz’ and ‘Ozma of Oz’. The rights to the story had been purchased way back in 1954 by Walt Disney with plans to turn it into a film that would’ve starred Annette Funicello. It was to be a live action movie called Rainbow Road to Oz, but while filming had started and even preview segments aired on TV it was never completed as producers ultimately feared it would be compared unfavorably to the highly popular Wizard of Oz, so the production got scrapped. Then in 1980 film editor Walter Murch convinced Disney executives to give the idea another shot and since they were ready to lose the story rights anyways decided to green light the project with Murch acting as the director. Things though did not go smoothly as Murch had no directing experience and fell behind in the shooting schedule, which got him fired 5-weeks in only to be reinstated when his good friend George Lucas (the two had worked together on THX-1138) convinced Disney to give him another chance by promising that he personally would step-in to direct if Murch was unable to complete.

As a whole, at least in the beginning, I really liked the gothic look of the set design and while some critics complained about the dark tone I actually felt this made it more appealing. Despite being a children’s book the story does have, when you think about it, some very creepy aspects to it, so approaching it in a darker way made sense and the imagery especially during the first half is pretty cool. I particularly liked when Auntie Em takes Dorothy to the doctors via a horse carriage, in which you see a longshot of the carriage traveling across the flat brown prairie, which really brought the desolate quality of Kansas to life, (far better than the original film did, which was shot on an indoor soundstage) with the only irony being that was filmed in Salisbury Plain in the U.K., but the lay out of the land of the Sunflower State, of which I’ve been to many times, still gets replicated authentically.

Initially I liked the way the Land of Oz gets captured as well including the Wheelers, who come off like a punk street gang who have wheels in place of hands and feet. Unfortunately so much has changed here from the original that this ultimately doesn’t seem like a sequel, but a completely different movie instead. There’s no yellow brick road (only shown briefly in a decrepit state, no wicked witch or flying monkeys either.) There is the tin man, lion, and scarecrow, but their look has changed significantly including having the scarecrow appear more like a wide-eyed ventriloquist dummy and not the friendly, amusing character that we’re used to.

The story as it gets played-out is not as interesting. There’s no sense of plot progression, but instead just a constant flow of dangers that Dorothy and her newfound friends get into that are too loosely connected and become more redundant than tense. Dorothy never gets overly upset about anything, which impedes the viewer from becoming emotionally wrapped-up into her peril. After all if she’s taking the whole thing in stride, no matter how dangerous things may initially seem, then why should we. Jean Marsh creates a colorful villain, I enjoyed her closet full of different heads and how she can take one off and put on another one, but she ultimately gets too easily taken down.

The film received only a lukewarm reception and despite working off of a $28 million budget managed to recoup only $11 million. Many felt that director Murch, while showing great eye for visual detail, failed to match it with a riveting story and despite some good elements it’s a misfire.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Murch

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, 

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Elephant in a truck.

Truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) becomes enticed by an offer brought to him by Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams) to haul some secret cargo from Florida to Dallas for $200,000, which later gets upped to $400,000. Cledus readily accepts, but finds that Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is in no shape to make the run as he is holed-up in a seedy hotel and drunk over his break-up to Carrie (Sally Field). Cledus solves this issue by getting the two back together and then getting Bandit back in shape. Yet when they finally get to where the cargo is stored they realize it’s an elephant that is pregnant and transporting her to another state becomes a logistical nightmare especially with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) on their tail the whole way.

To some degree I’ll give this film credit because unlike most other sequels it doesn’t try to replicate the formula of the first. There’s definite attempts to instill different ideas into the plot that were not in the first one, which is commendable as so many other sequels come-off like just a vapid redo of what we’ve already seen. Unfortunately it goes too far with it becoming too campy and surreal for its own good.

Hauling the elephant in a truck through 4-states is particularly problematic as no mention is made about what the animal will eat on the way there. This is a big creature that will most assuredly need a lot of food and yet it’s never brought up nor anything shown about getting the elephant water while it’s stuck in the hot truck for many hours, or the massive mess it would most likely make inside the truck when it has to poop and pee.

Reynolds is the best thing about it as he keeps each scene he’s in engaging in an almost effortless way. The opening bit of him drunk in a hotel is quite amusing as is his confrontation with an unappreciative fan that comes about later on at a gas station.

Field’s presence though isn’t as interesting and she has stated in a 2016 interview that she considers this to be the worst movie that she’s ever done. I don’t mind having a sensible character present during all the absurdity, but why would she want to marry Junior (Mike Henry) the son of Sheriff Justice. It’s one thing to be slightly dim-witted, but Junior is so clueless it’s like he should be institutionalized, so why would this otherwise sensible woman want to get into a relationship with him especially if it meant dealing with a cantankerous father-in-law? It’s stupid logic like this that really kills the enjoyment of the movie quickly.

Gleason is certainly good for some laughs especially his running commentary about everything that he comes into contact with. That fact that he constantly has a cigarette in his hand even while driving I found funny too, but having a Sheriff chase around the Bandit far outside his jurisdiction gets a bit ridiculous. The scriptwriters should’ve had him become a part of the highway patrol if he was going to do that, but they don’t. His car wrecks become too cartoonish as well. Where is he finding all of these brand new police cars to drive in while the other ones get completed totaled including having one submerged with water when it falls into a river?

The film’s biggest transgression though it that there isn’t enough car chases, which is the sole reason audiences came to see this movie. There is one at the very end, but it’s done in an enclosed area and features hundreds of police cars playing a game of chicken with hundreds of trucks, which is too over-the-top and silly. The only other car chase occurs in the middle part and features Sheriff Justice chasing Bandit underneath a an old roller coaster, which by using footage of the destruction of the Greyhound Coaster being torn down in Atlanta, Georgia, they inadvertently destroy.

There’s a plethora of famous faces showing up in bit parts including Terry Bradshaw with a full head of hair, the stuttering Mel Tillis, and country music legend Brenda Lee. You can even spot Chuck Yeager the man who broke the sound barrier who is seen at a party, but with no speaking lines. However, non of these cameos are interesting or make watching this film worth it.  Even the blooper reel that gets shown over the closing credits, which became a staple of Hal Needham movies, is flat and dull.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark holds a grudge.

It’s been 9 years since the last shark attack in Amity. Since that time Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) has died from a heart-attack, but the rest of his family continue to live in the area and carry on his legacy. His son Sean (Mitchell Anderson) like his father, works in the police department and one chilly night gets assigned to repair a disabled buoy out in the harbor. It’s there that he’s attacked and killed by a great white shark, making his mother Ellen (Lorraine Gary) believe that the shark is intentionally hunting down the members of her family, she even has nightmares about it. She warns her other son Mike (Lance Guest) to stay out of the water, but since he’s an underwater research scientist this is not possible, which starts to create friction between the two.

Just when the public thought it was safe to go back to the theaters again another formuliac shark movie got propped-up. This one was the brainchild of Universal CEO Sidney Sheinberg, (who was also the husband of the film’s star Lorraine Gary) who wanted to promote the new Jaws ride at Universal Studios theme park. In order to keep the story ‘fresh’ they decided to add-in a mystical element to it, but it’s not thought out enough to make any sense. I would think a shark would view people the same way people view sharks in that they would all look alike. How would a shark know when a Brody family member was in the water? Better yet how would the shark know when the Brodys move from New York all the way down to the Caribbean?

In the early versions of the screenplay, as well as the novel version of the film, the mystical factor gets explained as having been caused by a witch doctor named Papa Jacques who has an ongoing feud with the Brody’s and uses voodoo to compel the shark to kill them, but this idea got nixed in the final draft as it veered too much away from the actual shark. In some ways this was probably a good thing because in the novel there are several chapters done from the shark’s point-of-view where he becomes confused about why he’s killing the Brodys, which would’ve been too ludicrous had that been put into the movie.

The film sorely misses Roy Scheider, who’s only seen in brief flashbacks, and Richard Dreyfuss, who both refused to do the sequel. Had they been the elements of the shark’s revenge and having the nightmares only to decide to go out together on a boat ride to conquer those fears, this might’ve been worth catching.

Lorraie Gary’s presence is not interesting as she had been only a minor supporting player in the first two. She’s not the only one to reprise her role as Lee Fiero, who played Mrs. Kinter the mother of the young boy who gets killed by the shark in the first film, can be seen very briefly. Fritzi Jane Courtney, who played Mrs. Taft in the first two movies, is also on hand reprising the same character, but by this time her hair had turned all white and I didn’t immediately recognize her.

The presence of Michael Caine has to be the biggest head-scratchier. Granted he was notorious for doing what became known as ‘paycheck movies’ where no matter what the quality of the script he’d take the offer if the money was good, but his part here is quite minor and there’s long stretches where he isn’t seen at all. He later admitted that he has never seen the film and is well aware that it’s a flop, but the house it helped build with the money he made is ‘really nice’.

In fact the only performance that I was really impressed with was that of Judith Barsi, who plays the daughter of the Mike character. She’s perky and precocious when it’s required, but also believably frightened when it’s necessary making her untimely death, at the hands of her own father just a year after this film was released, all the more tragic.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most controversial moment has to do with the ending in which too variations were filmed. One has Gary ramming the shark with her boat and killing it while the other one has the beast exploding. Both versions show the cast jumping into the water as the boat they’re on breaks apart, but no explanation for how they ended up finding their way back to land, which is a big cop-out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Probably the most amusing thing about this mess is the interview director Joseph Sargent gives on American Archives in which he mockingly laughs at his own film. He goes on to muse about Caine taking the part and shocked that he would think it was a ‘good script’. He then ponders about how ‘grown, intelligent men’ could ever work on a project that is so  stupid and admits that it was the money and power, as he acted as the film’s producer, that lead him to make the fatal mistake of doing it, which he knew was a really bad idea from the very beginning.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Jaws 3 (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer shark attacks Seaworld.

A new theme park has opened up in Orlando, Florida. This one has been designed by Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) and will feature underwater tunnels and an aquatic pool with dolphins and whales. However, just before the grand opening a great white shark and its offspring sneak in through the park’s closing gates. It’s now up to Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) the son of Chief Brody from the first two Jaws movies, and marine biologist Kathryn (Bess Armstrong) to stop the shark from attacking the people as they venture into the water and tunnels.

This sequel was originally conceived as being a spoof and the title of it was going to be Jaws 3, People 0. John Hughes was commissioned to write the screenplay and Joe Dante was slated to direct. It was even going to have the author of the ‘Jaws’ novel, Peter Benchley getting eaten by a shark right at the beginning in his very own backyard pool, but Steven Spielberg became aware of the idea and threatened to pull out of the deal he had with Universal if they went through with it, so it was nixed, which is a shame because even if the humor had been lame it would still have been better than anything you’ll see here.

Like with most sequels there aren’t enough new elements entered into the mix to make what we see interesting. It just replays on the same tired formula including the scene where Quaid frantically warns everyone to get out of the water much like Roy Scheider did in the first one, which comes off as derivative and uninspired. The idea of having the two male characters be the sons of Chief Brody, in an apparent desperate attempt to tie this one in with the first two, is really dumb. The odds that the Brody offspring would continue to get into situations that would involve killer sharks are quite low and the fact that they do makes the family seem like they’re affected by some sort of curse.

The storyline dealing with Brody’s younger brother Sean (John Putch) who comes to visit and his extreme fear of going into the water, due to is childhood trauma of the shark attack years earlier, is stupid too especially since he immediately goes into the water with the coaxing of bikini clad Lea Thompson. If his fear was that severe no woman, no matter how beautiful, would get him to go against it. Why even enter in this plot element if they’re just going to have him get over the problem right away? Why not put it to good use by creating a scene where Quaid is trapped in the water and relying on his younger brother to overcome his fear so he can jump in to save him and thus create tension with the viewer wondering whether he’ll be able to do it or not?

The shark attacks take too long to get going and then when they do they happen too quickly. The 3D effects, like having a severed arm floating towards the viewer, are cheesy and not scary at all. Although with that said, the brief sequence showing a man being eaten by the shark from inside the shark’s mouth is pretty cool and the only reason that I’m giving this film any points at all.

I also found the entire cast, and their benign side-story issues, to be completely boring. The viewer is supposed to have some concern for the welfare for these individuals, but I had none. Simon MacCorkindale is semi-colorful and gets thrown in to act as a potential jerk to the rest, but this doesn’t get played-up enough.

Spoiler Alert!

I had a lot of issues with the climactic sequence too. For one thing it features the cast standing inside an underwater control room watching the shark coming at them through the glass window causing them to simultaneously scream at the same time, but it’s shown in slow-motion making it come off as corny and unintentionally funny. My biggest beef though is that the shark is able to burst through the glass without any problem. I’ve been to underwater aquariums and the glass that is used is of a much thicker variety than ordinary windows in order to withstand the water pressure and yet here the shark shatters it away in seconds like it was the same type of glass used for your living room window.

End of Spoiler Alert!

While a small cult in recent years has taken to this film it was lambasted quite justifiably by the critics upon its initial release with one calling it: “a cheese soaked ocean thriller with no evident reason to exist.” The film’s opening weekend did quite well, but once the bad word-of-mouth got going the box office receipts dropped sharply. Don’t be fooled by seeing Richard Matheson’s name listed on the screenwriting credits either. All he did was supply an outline, which he insisted got heavily revised later on by script doctors. He also labeled the final product, once he finally saw it, as a “waste of time”.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Alves

Studio: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misadventures in the desert.

Xiri (Eiros) and Xisa (Nadies) are the two children of Xixo (N!xau) and a part of a nomadic desert tribe of the Kalahari who go roaming off into the wilderness and encounter a truck driven by two elephant poachers (Lourens Swanepoel, Pierre van Pletzen). Having had no previous contact with modern technology the children become fascinated with the vehicle and climb into its water tank just as it drives off taking them many miles away from their home. When the children fail to return their father goes out looking for them and in the process comes into contact with a lawyer (Lena Farugia) and a zoologist (Hans Strydom) who are stranded after their small engine plane crashes as well as two soldiers (Erick Bowen, Treasure Tshabalala) fighting from opposite sides of the war and each precariously trying to get the upper hand on the other.

This follow-up to the run away hit was filmed in October, 1985, but took over 4 years to find a distributor and suffered many setbacks during its production, which frustrated writer/director Jamie Uys so much that he retired from directing after completing this one and never worked on another film. On the whole though it’s not too bad, but like with the first one it does start out a bit clumsily.

My biggest complaint had to do with the scenes dealing with the lady lawyer named Ann and her interactions with the macho pilot/zoologist Hans who takes her up in the plane, which to me became too sexist and too similar to the scenario played-out in the first film where a lady-in-distress being rescued by a male character more acclimated to the environment. However, in the first film this was funny because the male was so clumsy and inept it made him seem more like a lovable clod, but here the guy character resembles the male image, especially with his mustache, of the Marlboro man and his constant aggravation at this ‘ditzy lady’ isn’t amusing while her inability to understand technology played too much into the feminine stereotype that women can’t comprehend machinery must have a man come to their rescue.

I did find the small engine plane that they rode in, which was a modified Lazair Ultralight, fascinating as I found it interesting at how something so small and flimsy could carry two people and still get off the ground, but was disappointed to learn later that this was only because it got attached to a crane and in reality wouldn’t have flown. Although the filmmakers achieve this illusion pretty well the scene where the two fly above the clouds is clearly fake as you can tell the backdrop of the sky is a painting and in that regards the whole plane scene, especially since it really couldn’t fly anyways, should’ve been discarded and some other plot line created that would’ve brought the two together.

The two runaway children though are quite cute especially the frightened but resourceful little boy who grabs a nearby piece of wood to put on top of his head to fool the hyena that has been stalking him into thinking that he is taller than he really is, which actually ends up working. I was also most impressed with the scenes dealing the Honey Badger, which is known for its ferocious defensive abilities and lives up to its reputation here when he grabs a hold of Hans boot with his teeth and refuses to let go no matter how far Hans walks.

The last half-hour when all the various characters from the four divergent story lines eventually merge is when the film finally manages to hit its stride and it’s a shame this couldn’t have occurred sooner, but ultimately as a sequel it’s surprisingly funny and manages to retain much of the same charm from the first one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, YouTube

The Final Conflict (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Monks battle the Antichrist.

Damien (Sam Neill) is now appointed the US ambassador to England the position his adoptive father once held before he died. He uses this position as well as being the CEO of Thorn Industries to try to halt the Second Coming of Christ, which happens on March 24, 1981 during the alignment of stars known as the Cassiopeia Constellation, but problems occur when they don’t know which child it is. This causes him to order his assistant Harry Dean (Don Gordon) to kill each child born in England between midnight and 6 AM of that day unaware that Dean’s own child was also delivered between those hours and this secret he tries to keeps from Damien until it is too late.

This third entry is an improvement over the second film as it pushes the plot progression forward and enters in all sorts of interesting new wrinkles. The budget is high and allows for different setting locals including a genuine fox hunt, which I found entertaining. Neill plays the part pretty well and unlike in the first two is sinister throughout with his best part coming when he gives a prayer to the devil in a secret room next to a giant crucifix. The film also has a scene that reveals a secret underground movement of devil worshipers, which is made up of hundreds of ordinary, everyday people who get together at a secret, hidden location and take orders directly from Damien. This helps to explain where these people came from who help Damien in his cause, which is  something that was never shown in the second installment, but should’ve.

It also continues the trend of having novel deaths occur including a graphically brutal one that happens inside a TV studio that apparently due to its complexity took two weeks to film. However, the intended shock effect from these, that was so strong in the first film, gets lost here. Instead of being horrifying they become almost laughable especially since they mainly occur to the monks who are each given one of the seven daggers to kill Damien with, but they are so incompetent  that it becomes more like comic relief.

The killing of the infants, which Damien’s followers carry out, are equally goofy and include a segment where a baby carriage with the baby inside rolls down a hill, which will do nothing but remind cinephiles of the famous scene in the classic Russian film Battleship Potemkin. I was also confused during the baptism scene where the Priest supposedly kills the child while baptizing it with water, but it’s not clear what he does as we only see the shocked expression of the mother when he hands the baby back to her, which only creates more questions than answers. Like wouldn’t the priest get arrested for killing the child since he did it in front of so many witnesses and if so wouldn’t he unravel during the subsequent police interrogation and reveal Damien’s plot to them?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest letdown though comes with its ending. Initially it seemed that Harry and his wife would be forced to go on the run to hide their infant from Damien, which could’ve involved a very exciting cross-country chase, but the film ruins this potentially interesting idea by having the mother get brainwashed by the devil dog to kill the baby herself.  It then ends instead where Damien travels to some church ruins where the Christ child is being hidden, but we never see the baby and no explanation for how it was able to avoid being killed by Damien’s followers. The novel version explains that it was born to a family of gypsies and therefore no record of its birth was made to the authorities, but this is something that should’ve been stated in the movie.

Having his girlfriend Katherine (Lisa Harrow) stab Damien in the back with one of the daggers comes off as being too easy and ultimately makes the climax seem anti-climactic especially after such a big buildup. It also gives off too much of a happy ending feel. This is after all still a horror movie and therefore the viewer should be left it with a certain unsettling feeling when it’s over, which this film doesn’t do.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Damien: Omen II (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Damien learns his destiny.

After the death of his adoptive parents, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) moves in with his Uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden) and his wife Ann (Lee Grant) in Chicago. Thorn is a rich industrialist and Damien lives a privileged life in the suburbs of Chicago alongside his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), who is set to be heir to his father’s company, but first the two boys are sent off to the military academy. It is there that Damien learns that he is the Antichrist and puts a plan in place where he can kill off Mark and his parents so that he can take over Thorn industries and use it for his nefarious purposes.

It’s unfortunate that David Seltzer, who wrote the script to the original Omen film, choose not to pen this one and instead Harvey Bernhard the film’s producer outlined the story and then hired Stanley Mann to write the script, but the plot is basically a retread of what occurred in the first one with the father this time played by Holden, going through the same realizations that Gregory Peck did in the original, while offering no surprises or interesting twists. Had Seltzer written it he would’ve had it begin where the first one ended with Damien inside the White House having been adopted by the President and his wife, which would’ve offered far more intriguing scenarios than anything that gets played-out here.

The film also suffers from having Damien, much like in the first one, not being all that scary or mean at least not at the beginning. For the most part he behaves like a nice kid. The scene where he takes revenge on a bully at the academy actually had me on his side as well as when he shows-up a teacher in front of the class by knowing all the answers. Having an aunt character, played by Sylvia Sidney, despise him and consider him a ‘bad influence’ doesn’t help things as this is something that the viewer needs to see for themselves and not just have described by another character.

The characters played by Robert Foxworth and Lance Henriksen, who know about Damien’s secret and essentially ‘groom him’, is confusing because it’s never explained how these men would know this, or what their backgrounds are. If there’s a group of devil worshipers out there, or demons sent directly from hell in human form to help Damien in his evil quest than this needs to be elaborated instead of just having them appear knowing things that no else does, but without any explanation.

Like in the first one it’s the death scenes that make it worth watching and there are a few good ones including one that occurs under the ice of a lake and another very gory one that happens inside an elevator, but there’s also some where the victim just falls over dead due to Damien’s powers, which is a letdown. If the film is going to market itself on the death scenes then ALL of them need to be creative and memorable and not just a cherry-picked few.

The pristine, white wintry landscape is nice, although not exactly suitable for a horror film, and I did enjoy Lee Grant who plays the wife role in a far more multi-dimensional way than her counterpart Lee Remick did in the first one, she even gives the film its one unexpected wrinkle, which occurs at the end, but otherwise there’s nothing much else to get excited about here. In between the death there are a lot of boring segments with no tension at all. The movie, which is a bit overlong, does not have the terror increase as it progresses, but instead just gets more drawn-out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Taylor

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Oh, God! You Devil (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: God versus the devil.

Bobby Shelton (Ted Wass) is a struggling songwriter who is becoming increasingly frustrated at his inability to make it big. He blurts out at one point that he’d be willing to sell his soul if it could get him success and this catches the attention of the Devil (George Burns) who goes by the name Harry O. Trophet. He offers to become Bobby’s agent as long as Bobby signs a contract that gives him his soul after an indefinite period of time. Bobby, so desperate to reap the benefits of fame and fortune that has alluded him all his life, decides to take him up on the offer and soon becomes a world famous rock star named Billy Wayne. Yet Bobby misses his girlfriend Wendy (Roxanne Hart) who he can no longer see because he’s inhabiting a different identity. He longs to go back to his old way of life and tries to contact the services of God (George Burns) to dissolve the contact he signed and return him back to the way it was before.

After the critical shellacking of Oh, God! Book II the studio realized their mistake and attempted to take the theme in a whole new and hopefully fresh direction. They commissioned both Josh Greenfield and Andrew Bergman to write separate scripts and then ultimately choose Bergman’s over the other one. While the idea may sound funny the way it gets handled is not. All Bergman does is simply rework the Faust legend while offering very little that is new or inventive to it. The plot gets handled in an extremely heavy-handed and melodramatic manner that is neither funny nor engrossing. Bergman shows little feeling for the material and the story plods along in a predictable and boring way.

Wass, who no longer performs in front of the camera and has since 1995 worked exclusively behind-the-scenes as a director, is extremely weak. His performance is one-note and his constant deer-in-headlights expression is annoying. The film doesn’t do a good job of portraying his desperate situation either. Despite making very little money he’s still able to somehow afford a chic-looking apartment and maintain a relationship with a very hot-looking woman. I realize the point of the movie is to show that he already had a good thing going and just didn’t realize it, but his situation should’ve been shown to be more bleak in order to have his signing of the contract make more sense.

Burns is the only thing that saves it. He had never played a bad-guy before, so seeing him fall into the devil character as well as he does is fun and some of the lines that he conveys are the only amusing bits in the movie. However, the big showdown between God and the devil in which the two play a game of poker is not interesting at all and they needed to do something that offered more action, which is badly missing from the film otherwise.

This marked the final movie to date in the Oh, God! franchise. There were discussions a few years back about reviving it with Betty White playing the role of God, but because of her advanced age no insurance company would back it, so the idea got scrapped, which is a shame as this would be one reboot I’d be interested to see.  It would be nice if someone would make a film that more closely resembled the ‘Oh, God!’ novel by Avery Corman, which had a satirical tone that none of the three films replicated.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 9, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube