I love the people in this film, who are genuinely innocent, more than even they know.
Bottle Rocket was a revelation to me when I was 14. I first heard about Wes Anderson’s directorial debut when he won the MTV award for Best New Director in 1996. I immediately sought out the VHS and watched it three times in two days. There was something refreshing about the meandering plot and low stakes crime. I never knew where it was going and I still think Dignan (Owen Wilson) and Anthony (Luke Wilson) wore perfect book store robbery disguises.
I loved everything about Bottle Rocket. I understood the film despite the fact that I was a 14-year old kid who never stole from his parents or planned a robbery with James Caan. Roger Ebert didn’t write a glowing review for Bottle Rocket but he nailed what is special about it and what was to come.
“Bottle Rocket” is entertaining if you understand exactly what it is: if you see it as a film made by friends out of the materials presented by their lives and with the freedom to not push too hard. Its fragile charm would have been destroyed by rewrites intended to pump it up or focus it; it needs to meander, to take time to listen to its dialogue, to slowly unveil character quirks, particularly Dignan’s.
It’s the kind of film, in fact, that a festival like Sundance is ideal for. An audience that knows about the realities of low-budget independent filmmaking will probably find a lot of qualities in here that might elude wider audiences. I can’t recommend the film – it’s too unwound and indulgent – but I have a certain affection for it, and I’m looking forward to whatever Anderson and the Wilsons do next.
The best monologue of 1996
Bottle Rocket revolves around two bored guys trying to become criminals. The movie starts with Luke Wilson’s character Anthony “escaping” from a relaxed mental asylum. The escape is unnecessary because he could’ve simply walked through the front door. However, Anthony’s friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) has come up with a 75-year plan that begins with Anthony escaping from a place he doesn’t have to escape from. After the successful “escape” they steal from their parents, rob a bookstore and go on the lam. They hold up in a small hotel and Anthony falls for the maid that works there. Eventually the dynamic duo splits up and they end up perpetrating the worst theft ever.
Bottle Rocket is a weird little film that showcases everything that would make Wes Anderson great. We are introduced to underachieving men who suffer from “exhaustion” and have obvious issues with their family. They are outsiders who don’t think they are outsiders and they plug along despite constant setbacks. They are totally earnest in their pursuits and I love how non-cynical the whole thing is. Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson loved the characters and their personalities shot from the screen in ways I didn’t think possible.
Wes Anderson’s films aren’t for everybody but I love every single one of them. The reason Bottle Rocket is my favorite is because it solely focuses on creating likable characters. It doesn’t have the flashy set pieces of The Grand Budapest Hotel or visual pizzazz of Moonrise Kingdom. It features several characters being weird and engaging in trivial activities. The characters felt familiar and the film has never gotten old because the themes are timeless and truly unique.
Watch Bottle Rocket!
This is a follow-up article to:
The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: looking back 20 years to 1995
There are great horror films (e.g., Saw, The Conjuring), there are typically color-by-numbers trope-rich sequels (e.g., A Nightmare on Elm Street after part 3) and there are zany, gory, low budget direct-to-video releases (e.g., Puppet Master and almost everything by Full Moon Entertainment). Generally we see maybe one or two greats, several enjoyable trope-rich flicks, and countless DTV releases in any given year. We recently did some articles on more recent “best moments” in horror: 15 Images for 15 Years of Horror, Part 1 (2000-2014): some of the greatest, goriest, most shocking and most memorably defining moments in horror since 2000 and 15 Images for 15 Years of Horror: Part 2: The Good, the Bad and the Hilarious. But I think we all know that The Best Horror came from the 80s!
Now the year of 1996… I know what you’re thinking: “John, Scream came out that year. How can ’96 be a bad year for horror?” And to you I have two answers:
1996 was a part of the 90s. As a blanket statement, all years of that decade were generally bad for horror fans. A few good gifts under the Christmas tree from mom and dad don’t let us completely overlook a stocking full of coal. Check out my Horror Index and you’ll find very few 90s horror reviews. There’s a reason for that!
I really struggled to put together 10 decent movies for this list. Granted, for 1995 I included The Granny and The Ice Cream Man…making 1995 twice as bad as ’96, for which the only wild card was Head of the Family (1996). Thank God I didn’t need to turn to Carnosaur 3 (1996).
In the 1990s there were almost no sequels to please fans of proven franchises, few DTV releases worth mentioning, and the best movie referenced in this article (Scream) was probably treated as a “thriller” instead of a “horror” in your local Blockbuster store since slashers fell into that now-forgotten category. But, in honor of our “1996 Year in Review Week” we turn back the clock 20 years to reflect on the more memorable moments that 1996’s horror had to offer. So here are some moments from ten movies, in no particular order…
Scream (1996) made phones terrifying again, reignited our fear of stupid masks and got us to start talking about the dynamics of horror.
Why? Because this was a metamovie, a film that permitted its characters to discuss the nature of the film itself and filmmaking.
As their classmates are killed our lead horror analyst actually explains the things one does that creates or protects victims.
We actually discuss this at length in our Scream on Elm Street podcast episode.
From Dusk ’til Dawn (1996) seems to be the Baskin’ Robbins of vampire flavors…
Cheech Marin turns into a Klingon vampire.
Danny Trejo turns into an Incredible Hulk vampire with powerlifter traps!
Salma Hayek turns into a snake demon vampire
And Quentin and George wish she just stayed hot like before…
The Frighteners (1996) was exactly the kind of game-changing movie Michael J. Fox needed after playing just too many overly likable roles (Doc Hollywood, Back to the Future, Homeward Bound) or unconvincing shlubs (Life with Mikey, Greedy, The Hard Way).
It has an awesome, scary poster that reminded me of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
Aaaand Jeffrey Combs (Lurking Fear) is in it! #Winning
The Craft (1996) was one of those films I thought was just plain perfect when I saw it in high school–yes, I’m that old. It’s so great that it’s getting a remake! Not that movies need to actually be good in the first place to earn a remake.
This film brought together a group of teen misfits with magic and levitation.
But power corrupts and Fairuza Balk gets crazy and we get a most excellent aerial catfight.
Thinner (1996)…I really loved this movie despite it’s incredibly lame script and acting. It is, after all, a great Stephen King story.
Mob lawyer is really, really fat.
He accidentally kills the daughter of this scary gypsy from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
On this new diet he can eat whatever he wants and still waste away into nothing.
And this film features the absolute lamest threat via acid and deadly pie in film history!
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) brought a sense of 90s badness and style to Pinhead’s franchise. It both went to space and presented three stories in an anthology.
Bordello of Blood (1996) was that bonkers-tastic Tales from the Crypt movie that we all know is bad, but we all know is AWESOME! Let’s look at the facts, shall we…?
Angie Everhart gooily tears off heads and ends up covered in gore herself…
She turns into this ridiculous monster even sillier than anything from From Dusk ’til Dawn…
and Corey Feldman becomes a vampire with an excellent hole in his chest!
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) is a remake of the 1977 classic of the same name. Now I’ll admit I never saw the original, but it couldn’t have been as batshit crazy as this.
Some of the Moreau monsters are played by Ron Perlman and martial artist Mark Dacascos.
And the doctor/creator is played by Marlon Brando accompanied by the diminutive Nelson de la Rosa (to his left, below).
And oh my goodness…is Fairuza Balk in two movies on this list!?!?!
Mary Reilly (1996) is the serious choice for someone who simultaneously wants to watch a horror movie, but also wants to impress his/her friends or date with this deeper, more intellectual horror period piece. I mean, it has Julia Roberts and John Malkovich. No one can veto this simply on the basis of it representing the horror genre. No…there’s more here.
Head of the Family (1996) is my “oh, crap, I need a 10th movie to round out this list” pick for 1996. This zany film was really just a good excuse to show us ex-adult film star Jacqueline Lovell’s (Hideous!, The Killer Eye, Femalien) boobs…again…as she does in pretty much all of her Full Moon releases–and God bless her for that! But honestly, this salty little flick was kind of like direct-to-video horror’s answer to the suburban pseudo-horror The ‘Burbs (1989).
If you enjoyed this weird article, please check out last year’s edition:
The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: looking back 20 years to 1995
Bad Movie Tuesday: The Quest (1996), Van Damme’s unofficial reimagining of Bloodsport as a period piece with strong Kickboxer influences and a sprig of Lionheart.
MY CALL: Much hokier than Bloodsport (1988), Kickboxer (1989) or Lionheart (1990), but with “some” better fighting, stunts and martial artists. MOVIES LIKE The Quest: Other Van Damme movies, of course! Especially Bloodsport (1988) and Lionheart (1990), which both feature hush-hush Fight Clubs that can’t keep a secret. But maybe this movie isn’t bad enough for you and you want something a bit more “campy bad.” If that’s the case, try China O’Brien (1990), Outside the Law (2002), Night Vision (1997) or Only the Strong (1993) for your Bad Movie Tuesday.
Okay, so this was actually written by the real life Frank Dux (the guy whose highly doubted story Bloodsport is based)—in that his “story” was the basis for it—and Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kickboxer, Double Impact, The Expendables 2, Time Cop, Bloodsport). Somehow I don’t expect much from a movie written by a guy who (by the opinion of many) fabricated a story about winning an invitational secret Kumite tournament, and the Muscles from Brussels who played this potential Kumite tall tale teller. Essentially, this is a fictionalized retelling of what may have originally been fiction in the first place and it’s directed by Van Damme himself.
In case this Dux-slamming seems mean and unfounded, please understand that since the 1988 movie’s release his story has always been considered a highly probably lie. Here’s an article (CLICK HERE) from 2015, and another, and another, and another way back from 1988, pointing out the inconsistencies and dubious claims. Van Damme even doubted its validity while filming Bloodsport.
Well now that you know who wrote it, it should come as no surprise that this opens much as Bloodsport (1988) did, but with neither of the magic nor style, with preparations for the big secret tournament. They form melted gold into a dragon statue and send scrolled invitations in person to their recipient fighters, including interrupting a Sumo wrestler’s bath and a Nazi’s fencing lesson. He’s not really a Nazi, but for some reason they make him seem despicably mean.
Then we meet street urchin Chris Dubois (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who combines Oliver Twist’s Fagan and Robin Hood as he cares for a group of homeless orphan pickpockets. Dubois is an acrobatic thief with some pretty decent fighting skills, but he is forced to flee and leave the kids when the consequences of his criminal actions catch up to him. Of course, he promises the children he’ll be back.
During his escape he sneaks on to a ship and is taken prisoner. He is rescued by Lord Edgar Dobbs (Roger Moore; A View to a Kill, Octopussy) and his assistant Harry (Jack McGee; Drive Angry), and subsequently ditched halfway around the world in on Muay Thai Island.
So eventually a caption graces the bottom of the screen: “6 months later.” Not sure how long it takes a small vessel to sail from northeastern America to Thailand or how long he was on Muay Thai Island before his “owner” decided to train him, but in combination it must’ve been 3-4 weeks. Let’s call it a month—plus “6 months later” is about 7 months from the time the first Ghang-gheng (that’s our Kumite equivalent in this movie) invitations were sent out. That’s a long time in advance to send out an RSVP.
Revisiting Thailand, Lord Dobbs has made the acquaintance of an attractive young journalist Carrie (Janet Gunn; Carnosaur 3, Silk Stalkings) who is looking for a great story…just like Bloodsport…and they bump into Dubois, who has climbed the ranks and become a feared Muay Thai fighter. In order to repay Dubois for wronging him, Dobbs is to help him gain the “Golden Dragon” from the tournament in the Lost City where the greatest fighters of the world compete in secret. And again, just like in Bloodsport, there’s a secret competition that folks know about who weren’t invited! In this case, it’s Dubois who wasn’t invited to the party. So how did he know? When his trainer on Muay Thai Island was invited did he have a party to celebrate and announce it to everyone? Did he tape the invitation on his Thai fighting office communal refrigerator as a reminder? Does the whole island know? Or are only their enslaved American fighters afforded such privileged secrecy?
Well now Dobbs, Harry, Carrie and Dubois want to go to the Lost City…but how will they find it? It is a secret, right? No problem, after a single phone call Carrie knows that the invited World Champion boxer from America Maxie Devine (James Remar; Tale from the Darkside) is about to arrive right where they are in Thailand en route to the Lost City. So evidently the first reporter she spoke to in America asking about the secret tournament knew not only that the tournament was happening, but who was invited and that he was on his way and his travel itinerary! This takes place in 1920. Even with the internet and phone taps this would be impressive!
So now the plan is for Dobbs, Harry, Carrie and Dubois to pose as Maxie’s hosting entourage to escort him to the Lost City.
Remember the “entering the tournament hall” scene in Bloodsport when everyone doubted the American fighter (now Maxie Devine), Dux did the Dim Mak (now the Mongolian breaking the table) and Chong Li had some words (now the Mongolian’s sneers)? Yeah, so that all gets replayed here.
So we’re all in the Lost City, whose “secret location” was most definitely aided by the huge German Zepplin flying in and landing on location, and it looks a lot like the Kickboxer (1989) arena with the Bloodsport officials. This is where we get to meet everyone and Maxie outs Dubois as an imposter, to which the elder officials state that unless he “proves himself a worthy opponent” and wins the first round there will be some pretty serious consequences. But wait, does this mean that everyone who loses in the first round—half the fighters!!!—is now categorized as “unworthy?” Seems a bit harsh. And moreover, now that we know Dubois and his gang are imposters, is no one concerned about Dobbs, Harry or Carrie (the fkn undercover reporter!!!)? Isn’t this whole thing supposed to be a secret? I’m beginning to think this is the first year of this tournament!
You’ll notice a lot of these opponents have been in other Van Damme movies. It seems Van Damme keeps a stable of friends like Adam Sandler, doesn’t he? There’s the feared Mongolian Khan (Abdel Qissi; Lionheart, The Order), who seems way bigger than 6’2” the way they present him; Phang (Jen Sung; Under Siege 2) the Siamese fighter; another boringly unimpressive Sumo wrestler (Kitao Koji; Wrestlemania VII); the mean Nazi (Habby Heske; Mr. Nice Guy); the French fighter (Takis Triggelis; Legionnaire, Savate); the ripped Turkish guy who only landed one cheap hit and went down in one stupid hit; the sensational Brazilian capoeirista (César Carneiro; Only the Strong); the big Greek guy (Stefanos Miltsakakis; Cyborg, Lionheart, Maximum Risk); the stylish Spanish fighter (Peter Malota; Double Impact, Nowhere to Run, The Order) who looks a little like Antonio Banderas; the African Zulu-esque warrior (Winston Ellis; Operation Condor); that poor Okinawan (Ong Soo Han; Kickboxer, Street Fighter); the lame Russian (Brick Bronsky; Troma movies); the Scotsman (Mike Lambert; Knock Off) who gets it in the balls; and the Chinese five-animal kung fu master (Peter Wong; Bulletproof Monk) who was AMAZING!
About now I’d like to pause and assess how we know this is a bad movie:
Van Damme in old man make-up AND in mime make-up. Need I say more?
There’s no chase scene, no training splits, no dressing like a male escort, no Belgian butt shot, no splits during a fight, no sex scene, no tandem jump spin kicks…where’s the Van Damme-iness we all came to love? At least his sweaty biceps glistened. But why did Van Damme sub in the Turk for the standard butt shot for the ladies? #BareButtFail
The old “Van Damme slip” escape scene. He does using the shower in Bloodsport (1988) and now he uses a sack of grain with his jacket wrapped around it. This is some Bugs Bunny cartoon-level work.
He is caught as a stowaway on a ship and is forced into servitude…just like in Lionheart (1990). How many of his old movies will he borrow from?
After people from around the world visit the Lost City, is it still lost? I mean, these people suck at keeping secrets about secret martial arts tournaments. So it’s fair to say that once they get back, the world will know. And if the competition is always held in the Lost City, are we to assume that this was the first batch of competitors who can’t keep a secret? After all, the invitation came with a map as if no one could ask how to get there.
How heavy is the Golden Dragon…well over 1000 pounds, right? Gold is HEAVY! Today gold is about $1400 per ounce! Can these Lost City monks afford to be giving away so much gold? That’s in the neighborhood of $20 million!
They quote Bloodsport with the line: “What kind of a deal?”
They steal the Kickboxer (1989) bar fight scene when he sweeps the guy’s hands from leaning on the table.
Dubois’ fight against the Spanish fighter looked striking similar to Van Damme’s fight against the same exact actor in maybe the same shirt in Double Impact (1991)!
Maxie is basically a replacement for Bloodsport’s Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb; Transylvania 6-5000), only without the ‘Murica-level brain damage. Dobbs and Harry seem analogous to Agent Rawlins (Forest Whitaker; Species, Battlefield Earth) and Agent Helmer (Norman Burton; American Ninja 5, Deep Space), and Carrie is clearly Janice (Leah Ayres; The Burning).
This martial arts movie transforms our hero into a serious fighter, yet there is no training montage. In Bloodsport we get a JCVD montage and an opponent training montage! How is there no training montage? #TrainingMontageFail
Remember in Bloodsport how through its entirety Bolo Yeung’s lines were: “Very good, but brick not hit back…You are next…You break my record, now I break you like I break your friend…Matte.” Khan the Mongolian says even less! Not one line! And I’m not even kidding. He has zero lines! Which makes me wonder if Qissi had any lines in Lionheart (1990) when he played Attila.
Dubois clutches Phang’s Muay Thai headdress like he did Ray Jackson’s Harley Davidson bandana after the Khan Tong-Po-back-breaks Phang like he did his brother in Kickboxer (1989). Then Dubois wears it, just like in Bloodsport.
They show some of the same fighting footage TWICE during Dubois’ fight against China! And then against Khan, they play the same punch combo footage FOUR TIMES!
What is it with Van Damme and back breaks? In Bloodsport the Sumo wrestler also performs TWO back-breaks, then Tong Po in Kickboxer, and now Khan does one here.
Dux finishes off Chong Li with four tandem jump skin kicks to the head, which is the only time replaying footage is okay. So where are the tandem jump spin kicks in The Quest? Here we get only one in the final fight. ONE! #VanDammeFail
For the most part, this is not a movie for technical fight choreography snobs who love Tony Jaa (Ong Bak), Scott Adkins (Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning), Michael Jai White (Undisputed 2-3) or Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption). The fights are generally unimpressive by today’s standards, although quite decent outside of Hong Kong cinema in the 80s. Although, a couple of fights were of higher caliber.
The opening fights are terrible. Spain v Russia and Japan v Okinawa are super short. However, France v Brazil features some seriously cool stunts (especially for an American-made 90s martial arts movie) and China v Korea introduces us to the hands-down best martial artist in the movie, here showcasing snake-style kung fu. Peter Wong’s opening flare techniques had me rewinding a few times just to figure out what exactly he did with that jump spin kick that included attacks to the front and the rear. In Brazil v China, he does monkey-style kung fu—also a dazzling splendor of stunts, not to mention a playful monkey punch to a pair of Brazilian balls.
I don’t think Van Damme likes Scotsmen (e.g., Lionheart). Here the Scottish guy loses to a punch to the balls right under the kilt from the Turk. In fact, someone always seems to get hit in the nuts (e.g., that Brazilian, Sumo wrestler in Bloodsport). This Turk, by the way, looks like ripped Hank Azaria from The Birdcage (1996) and he goes down in the best possible stupid way against the Sumo wrestler. I think Van Damme ha a soft spot for Sumo wrestlers because they seem to get the funniest fights in his movies.
And oh my God, the Kickboxer (1989) influences! Khan the Mongolian has Tong Po hair, Phang taught Dubois Muay Thai and then loses to a back break against Mongolian, mathematically speaking Khan = Chong Li + Tong Po, Phang’s master Khao resembles Mr. Xian who trained JCVD in Kickboxer, the guy who played Khan is the brother of the guy who played Tong Po (Michel Qissi; Kickboxer, Bloodsport), and BOTH brothers were in Lionheart (1990)!
I find this to be among the most recent Van Damme movies that I consider rewatchable. It’s hokier than most, but still a lot of fun and nostalgically satisfying for me—of course, I saw this in theaters when I was 15, so I’m just the right age to love it.
If you enjoy this stuff, buy it, watch it, then join our nostalgia by listening to our Van Damme podcast episode!
The cinema of 1996 taught me some very important life lessons. I learned that hockey players can become star golfers and aliens could be knocked out with one-punch. The films taught me everything I need to know about life and my 14-year-old self became a world weary adult after watching Beautiful Girls, From Dusk Til Dawn, Scream, Trainspotting, The Frighteners, Primal Fear and The People vs. Larry Flynt.
The following post features 10 life lessons that the movies of 1996 taught me. These life lessons made me the man that I am today and I’m certain they can help everyone on the planet. Enjoy the post! You are welcome!
Never Leave a Ridiculous Amount of Voice Messages
I love Swingers. It taught me that I should never impulsively leave like a billion awkward voice mails on a women’s answering machine. Just stop at one! Wait a couple days! Be money!
Never Let One of My Clones Clone Itself
You should never clone yourself. However, if you pull a Multiplicity and clone yourself don’t let your clone replicate itself. The results will be terrible and the dumb yet sweet clone will eat all your pizza and threaten dolphins.
Show People Money
You gotta take care of your clients. In Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise learned that he needed to show his clients the money. When you show your clients the money they are guaranteed to be happy AND wins Oscars.
Gum is Evil
If you’ve cornered a rogue spy and he pulls out gum be very scared. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) uses his evil exploding gum perfectly in Mission Impossible and forever changed the way our world views secret agent gum.
Secure Cows When a Storm is Nigh
Do you like your cows? Do you pay attention to your cows? Do you want your cows to be carried away by a tornado? If you answered yes/yes/no then always make sure to secure them when a tornado is close. I love the movie Twister but I feel terrible for that cow. A dead cow became a punchline.
Don’t be Cheeky When Naming Your Band
If you want to name your band The Wonders name it The Wonders. Don’t be cheeky and name your band The Oneders. Nobody will pronounce it right and you will be constantly correcting people. That Thing You Do! is the best.
Never Trust a Bowler and his Unified Fund
Bowlers are shifty people (I have zero proof of this). The film Kingpin lets us in on the shady world of Unified Funds. Who knows where the money is going and what the bowlers are doing to single moms. Never trust Bill Murray when he is in bowler mode.
The Drug Scene in Edinburgh isn’t Glamorous
My 14-year-old world was rocked when I learned that the drug scene in Edinburgh wasn’t glamorous. However, I did learn that the monologues are awesome. Watch Trainspotting now!
Always Make Sure You Aren’t Entering an Ancient Temple Full of Vampires
I understand that criminals often make rash decisions when on the lam. However, they should always scout the locations before they enter them. A lot of problems would’ve been solved if the characters in From Dusk Till Dawn looked around the back of The Titty Twister to make sure they weren’t entering an evil temple full of vampires. Rookie criminal mistake.
Small Town Missouri Musical Productions Can Go Terribly Awry
Waiting for Guffman taught me that tiny musical productions can capsize quickly. If you are looking into musical theater make sure the director isn’t a maniac. Be wary of bastard people!
If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!
The MFF podcast is back and we are talking Suicide Squad, BBQ rib eating, DJ Qualls and a Pretty Woman remake called Pretty Man. If you are a fan of DC annoyance and The Life of Brian you will love this pod. You will hear us break down the DC Extended Universe and ponder what is next for Harley Quinn, The Joker, Deadshot and a totally different Suicide Squad.
As always, we answer random listener questions and ponder whether Mary Elizabeth Winstead should remake the Kurt Russell classic Breakdown. Sit back, relax and listen to us talk about the CGI blobs in Suicide Squad and the awesomeness of Margot Robbie.
If you get a chance please SUBSCRIBE, REVIEW, RATE and SHARE the pod!
John’s Horror Corner: The Company of Wolves (1984), featuring two of the most stylishly weird transformation scenes in the genre.
MY CALL: One of the more stylish yet less substantial werewolf movies out there, this movie features two highly memorable transformation scenes worth the price of admission alone. MOVIES LIKE The Company of Wolves: The Brothers Grimm (2005), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Return to Oz (1985), and maybe even Deadtime Stories (1986). Viy: Forbidden Empire (2014) is dark fantasy, but I’d dare not call it good nor would I recommend it for anything but the transformation scene and a few other decent bits.
MORE WEREWOLF MOVIES: The best werewolf movies would have to be An American Werewolf in London (1981; semi-humorous), Ginger Snaps (2000; metaphoric), Dog Soldiers (2002; unconventional) and The Howling (1981; serious).
However, I’d advise you skip Red Riding Hood (2011), Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004), Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), Howling V: The Rebirth (1989), Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) and The Howling: Reborn (2011) unless you are a werewolf movie/franchise completist.
And for more stylish werewolf movies Meridian (1990), Cursed (2005; cliché-loaded and contemporary), Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004), Wolf (1994), Wer (2013), The Wolfman (2010), Wolfcop (2014) An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Late Phases (2014) and the Underworld movies (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012) are also worth a watch.
Waxwork (1988), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Van Helsing (2004), Monster Squad (1987) and many others also feature werewolves, but not to such centerpiece extent that I’d call them “werewolf movies.”
As if Disney and Grimm had an R-rated lovechild, this film lays on the fairy tale allusions thick with dreams, wicked sisters, animated toys and uber-creepy gingerbread men.
After the tragic loss of her sister (Georgia Slowe) to the wolves of the dark magical woods, young Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson; Snow White) accompanies her grandmother (Angela Lansbury; Murder, She Wrote, The Last Unicorn, Beauty and the Beast) through the woods. Don’t eat the berries and be wary of the beasts that lurk in the shadows, Granny warns… Never eat a windblown apple, never wander from the path, and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet. That’s not exactly the kind of advice you’d hear from Confucius…or a grandma!
While knitting Rosaleen a red garment, Granny warns that sometimes a wolf is more than a wolf and that they come in various disguises. She goes on to spin a “once upon a time” about a unibrowed travelling man (Stephen Rea; Underworld: Awakening, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us) who turns out to be more than he seems. This story is one of several stories told to and by our Red Riding Hood Rosaleen in this pseudo-anthology which features three transformation scenes—and two of them are your reason to watch this movie!
The first transformation scene begins with a subtle change in eye color to a sharp yellow. He proceeds to tear away chunks from his cheek and his forehead, stretching and yanking flaps from his neck and his chin. It’s quite deliciously gross. After tearing away the last of his skin and hair with bony hands he uncovers a fleshless head of sinew from which springs and extends his canine muzzle. It’s all practical effects, of course, and weirdly off-putting—it actually reminds me of the modern “Bodies” exhibit. Finally, his neck extends like a turtle’s from its shell as it unsheathes!
This scene may not be as brutally long and painful as An American Werewolf in London (1981) or as grimy and sloppy as The Howling (1981) or its Wolfcop (2014) successor, but it’s quite effectively uncomfortable to watch.
Another transformation scene in the movie feels brief and comical, more akin to Howling 3: The Marsupials (1987).
And a final transformation scene features a gross writhing tongue followed by the emergence of a wolf’s snout from a man’s wide open mouth (as seen on the movie poster) before it tears its way out of his skin as if it wore him as a suit (a more crude version of the “unzipping” werewolves we find in Trick ‘r Treat).
If you love these transformations, you should check out The Best Transformations of Horror.
This film casts an interesting tone. The mossy, misty woodland scenes will remind you of Labyrinth (1986) and The Dark Crystal (1982)… just without the Henson Muppet creatures.
I have a major soft spot for this movie…perhaps it’s the transformation scenes, perhaps its dark fairy tale nature. But make no mistake, overall this is rather slow-paced and far from exciting. This film is more style than substance, and that style would be best-defined as dark, off-color and aloof—but very cool!
John’s Horror Corner: The Rift (1990), the same deep sea Aliens rip-off sci-fi-horror you’ve seen before… with more mutant monsters.
MY CALL: A title like The Abyss (1989) for a movie that marries The Thing (1982), Leviathan (1989), Deep Star Six (1989) and Aliens (1986). MOVIES LIKE The Rift: Leviathan (1989), Deep Star Six (1989), The Thing (1982), Harbinger Down (2015) and The Abyss (1989).
Also released as Endless Descent, this movie isn’t trying to hide what it is at all. Essentially, this flick is competing with Leviathan (1989) and Deep Star Six (1989) to be the Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) of deep sea sci-horror submarine movies.
Some special ops guys awaken Wick (Jack Scalia; Red Eye) in his flea bag apartment to recruit him to find “his” lost submarine: the Siren-1. Of course, our hero is jacked, has a raspy voice and is recently divorced (like all late 80s, early 90s antiheroes).
Director and writer Juan Piquer Simón (Pieces, Slugs) has made some cult favorites in horror. But his skills haven’t exactly advanced. The writing/dialogue are atrocious, Wick looks like Sgt Riggs (Mel Gibson from Lethal Weapon), and it only takes five minutes of running time before Wick is on the rescue vessel the Siren-2. Oh, and just because The Abyss (1989) did it, Wick’s ex-wife is on the mission and she’s senior in rank.
Crewman Robbins (Ray Wise; Swamp Thing, Cat People, RoboCop, Twin Peaks) is Wick’s closest ally, Captain Phillips (R. Lee Ermey; The Terror Within II, Se7en, The Frighteners) is the hardass military leader helming this mission, and as if to forecast what was going to go wrong, one crewman is an expert in “biogenics” for no good reason at all.
After circumventing deep sea icebergs (if that’s even a thing) at depths of about thirty thousand feet down an “abyss” they encounter the Siren-1’s distress signal in an area surrounded by plants which, evidently, can’t grow down there due to the complete lack of sunlight. So they take a sample in the name of science. I feel like “let’s just take a sample for science” is the academic version of investigating a weird noise outside or saying “let’s split it.”
Turbulence is experienced as if aboard the Starship Enterprise complete with shaky cameras and the effects budget is incredibly low. When their sub is attacked by a giant sea slug this is made readily apparent. And why are they not making a bigger deal over the GIANT SEA SLUG!?!?! They just go on with the mission…like that shit didn’t even happen? They end up in a conveniently pressurized super deep sea subterranean cave system following the distress beacon of the Siren-1. The atmosphere is toxic and there is evidence of past human occupation.
Playing strongly off of Alien (1979), not only do both movies feature a Kane (Alien) character and an important escape pod scene, but like Aliens (1986) we also we see the crew’s vital stats on a monitor as they are attacked by insectoid monsters in a close quarters cave armed with flood lights and guns. We watch a digital on-screen schematic of the cavern layout with heat signatures for creatures.
Only now do we get any satisfying semblance of gore…and plenty of it as they attacked by some sort of giant worm, these fly-headed bug monsters, mutant piranha-eel fish and what seems like a mix between a Komodo dragon and a piranha! There are tentacle assaults and gooey slimy mutant monster fetuses in an egg chamber overseen by a giant mutant starfish plant monster. It’s senselessly random! It’s cool and all, but for my money I’d favor Galaxy of Terror (1981) or Forbidden World (1982).
Speaking of Forbidden World (1982), the innocuous plant sample taken on board has grown and infested the lab with crusty xenomorphic webby roots like the brood chamber in Aliens (1986). It’s all gushy slimy and pulsating, and it spews infectious gobbledy gook that melds (or melts?) to flesh like The Thing (1982).
What’s strange is that Leviathan (1989) and Deep Star Six (1989) came out not only the same year as The Abyss (1989), but they were released in January and March with The Abyss (1989) following in August. How did that happen when they feel like rip-offs??? Well I guess all of them play off the Aliens (1986) playbook.
And despite being such multi-film sci-horror rip-off, I thought this was every bit as entertaining as all of the other referenced Alien-rips—all of which I enjoy. It heavily delivers on the cheap gore and creature effects, hits a good level of creature diversity, and has its share of cheeky yet unoriginal plot twists. I recommend it to any B-movie fan.