Morbid Curiosity Files: The Spirit

Spirit PosterEven in the Morbid Curiosity Files, where the acknowledged purpose is to watch films that I expect to be bad, there are sometimes different viewing reasons that come into play. In the case of 2008′s The Spirit, it comes down to a form of self-imposed obligation. I may have long since stopped reading comics, but I remain a comic book fan in principle. I enjoy superhero movies as a genre. I like discussing them with other fans of the genre. This means that even if I don’t expect greatness out of a film in the genre, I usually want to see it anyway just so I can participate in the discussions.

In the case of The Spirit, there’s an extra wrinkle in the form of intellectual honesty. As I have made clear more than once in the past, I am not a fan of Frank Miller; I dislike him as a comic book writer, and I have disliked everything of his I’ve seen on film. He wrote the Sin City graphic novels, which I disliked, and co-directed the first movie adaptation (and its upcoming sequel) with Robert Rodriguez. I didn’t think the change in medium improved it. He wrote the graphic novel 300, which Zack Snyder adapted into a movie that I found hysterically funny even though it wasn’t meant to be. He wrote The Dark Knight Returns, a Batman story that I’m in the minority of disliking severely, both on its own merits and for the long-term damage it did to the character’s portrayal.

So when I learned he would be writing the screenplay for The Spirit, and that it would be his first solo directorial effort, I was concerned. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Troll 2

Troll 2 PosterIt just wouldn’t be Halloween without looking at at least one film that’s horrifying not by intent, but simply because of how unwholesomely terrible it is. And so it’s time once again to open the Morbid Curiosity Files, and this time I’m taking a look at a film that is sometimes dubbed the “Best Worst Movie”, and is often in contention when the worst movies of all time are being discussed: Troll 2, released in 1990, direct to video. The film was directed by Italian director Claudio Fragasso, under the pseudonym Drake Floyd. Surprisingly, it’s not his first film, as he had directed several others before it… often under different pseudonyms. This is the sort of thing that should raise suspicions.

The film is notorious among horror movie fans, and fans of pure schlock. The reason can be summed up with a simple question, and the answer. What does Troll 2 have to do with the original Troll? Absolutely nothing. It’s not a continuation of the story, it isn’t from the same director, and it doesn’t feature any trolls. The script was apparently originally entitled Goblins, but it was changed upon its release to try and pick up extra sales from fans of Troll. When your distribution company decides to boost sales by tying into a title that only diehards have ever heard of, that’s a really bad sign. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Prisoners of the Lost Universe

PotLU-PosterI’m a fan of 1980s science fiction and fantasy films, and it has never bothered me that the bulk of them come with a large side of cheese. But I’m not blind to the faults of B-movies, and every so often it’s possible to tell ahead of time that a film is going to fall on the wrong side of the line dividing cheesy-good and cheesy-bad. This does not, however, preclude watching the film anyway and enjoying it as a film that’s so bad it’s entertaining in a whole different way. Such is the case with Terry Marcel’s Prisoners of the Lost Universe. Prisoners of the Lost Universe is his second fantasy film (after Hawk the Slayer), and he wrote and directed both. Everything about it, from the title to the poster, suggests a low-budget homage to old serials. The poster looks like something out of the 1950s, except it’s from three decades later.

Unusually for this sort of film, the actors are actually halfway recognizable. None of them are big name movie stars, but each has had some small success in minor roles or television, and the male lead is somebody who would have been a plausible choice for a sci-fi/fantasy action film star. The role of Dan, the hero of this film, is played by none other than Richard Hatch, who you will recognize if you’ve ever watched Battlestar Galactica — either version, as he played Apollo in the original and Tom Zarek in the remake. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Never Been Kissed

NBK-PosterAs I’ve noted before, I’m far from the target audience for romantic comedies, so normally I would never give Never Been Kissed a second glance. But I’m also something of a completist by nature. The movie was one of ten digital downloads I received free from VUDU (the service’s choice of movies, not mine, obviously), and I can’t stand to have a film in my collection remain unwatched indefinitely. I own it, I can’t get rid of it, I might as well watch it at least once.

Of course, I went into this with no small amount of skepticism. The premise of the film is fairly ridiculous. Drew Barrymore, as a would-be journalist in her mid-20s, is sent back to high school to do some undercover investigative journalism. It didn’t sound like an idea with promise, especially for a rom-com; it might conceivably have worked for a straight-up comedy had it been written with that in mind. But as it turned out, the film was even more pitifully absurd than I had anticipated. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day PosterToday, if you’ve somehow avoided the annual advertising blitz, is Valentine’s Day. Throughout the day, hundreds of thousands of people, from grade schoolers to loving couples, will be giving each other gifts. At least some of those gifts are bound to be unwanted. I have my own unwanted gift to deal with, in the form of one of several free digital movies given me by VUDU: Garry Marshall’s 2010 romantic comedy, Valentine’s Day. I’d never seek this film out to watch it on my own initiative; even at a casual glance, it exhibits six of my Top 10 Warning Signs of a Bad Romantic Comedy. But I hate having an unwatched film in my collection, even if it isn’t one I selected for myself. And if nothing else, it’s certainly a film which is appropriate to review today.

The film is as difficult to stomach as I had feared. I find most rom-coms to be a bit saccharine anyway, but I suspect that even the most devoted fan of the genre would find Valentine’s Day to be excessively syrupy. With seven or eight criss-crossing storylines that all demonstrate the triumph of love against all odds, there’s the potential for an uplifting message, and Marshall clearly believes he’s delivered. But there’s no meat to it, no flavor. It’s the cinematic equivalent of fondant; it’s vaguely sweet, and it looks pretty, but it should not under any circumstances be construed as sustenance. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Santa-Claus-Conquers-The-Martians-posterNote: Due to time constraints and a spotty internet connection, I wasn’t able to get a new review written today. So I dug up a review I wrote in 2009 on another site. I apologize for the recycled content, but as less than 1% of my regular readers have seen it before, I figure it’s better than missing an update. It doesn’t feel as “polished” as my current reviews, which considering I’m aware I still have room for improvement makes it a little strange for me to read. Nevertheless, aside from a few minor corrections, I have left the text unaltered.

Strangely, this film is not quite as gloriously bad as it sounds. Oh, it’s bad all right. But you won’t see Santa Claus strapping on an AK-47 and laying waste to Martian phalanxes. The conquering is, sadly, more metaphorical than that.

Made in 1964, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is obviously meant more for kids than for adults. It opens and closes with a song, “Hooray for Santa Claus”, which spells out Santa Claus’s name, emphasizes that this is the proper spelling, and then consistently fails to call him anything but “Santy Claus” throughout the whole song. And it’s not just my ears hearing it a particular way, as the closing credits show the words so you can warble along, and it’s definitely “Santy Claus” everywhere except where the song tells you how it’s spelled. Continue reading

Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure

Christmas Vacation 2 DVD CoverThe overlap between Christmas Cinema and the Morbid Curiosity Files is fairly small. Sure, Hallmark and Lifetime produce hundreds of “Christmas” movies every year that are nothing but saccharine romantic comedies and pedestrian musicals featuring people who never should have been allowed to sing, but there aren’t very many Christmas films that look as though they’ll have that special cheesy kind of badness to them that makes me curious enough to check them out. But when I saw there was a spin-off of Christmas Vacation, one of my favorite Christmas films, but not starring Chevy Chase and instead focusing on Cousin Eddie, I knew it was one I had to check out.

The movie was released in 2003; I initially thought it was direct-to-video, but some research reveals it actually debuted on television first, carried by NBC. It’s directed by Nick Marck, whose previous and subsequent credits consist almost entirely of episodes of television shows. The writer on the film is Matty Simmons; he actually does have a prior association with the Vacation franchise, in that he’s been a producer or executive producer on all of the films. He was not, however, a writer on any of them. His previous writing credits include the Baby Huey Easter special, Two Reelers and Delta House. You might recognize those last two as projects you’ve never heard of; both are failed TV series. Delta House is notable in that it was an attempt to spin Animal House into an ongoing television series (with John Belushi as Bluto replaced by his cousin “Blotto”). So Simmons does have prior experience making spin-offs of hit National Lampoon movies that lack the qualities that made the originals hits. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Scared to Death

Late night movie shows can be fun to watch as much for the host as for the show, at least in some cases. I was a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a kid, and I’ve occasionally caught other programs. Recently I decided to check out the show hosted by the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira’s Movie Macabre. The show was first aired in the 1980s, and was brought back a couple years ago with new episodes. Hulu has a few of them available, which I felt was convenient as I’m not entirely sure what station airs them. My viewing selection was Bela Lugosi’s only starring role in a color film, 1947′s Scared to Death.

I was aware that, like MST3K and other programs of its ilk, Elvira isn’t exactly known for choosing A-grade movies. So I went into it with the expectations that this was a film for the Morbid Curiosity Files, and I was not disappointed in that front. Lugosi is both underutilized and poorly utilized in this film… it’s honestly a bit of an embarrassment for the veteran horror actor. Now, one might think that having Elvira periodically interject some quips in the film and having her comedy segments at the regular intervals for commercial breaks might distract a bit from the movie, and that’s a fair assessment. But after about 10 minutes of the film, I think most viewers will be looking for a distraction. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Mr. Accident

Once, when I was around ten years old, my parents rented a film called Young Einstein, and I watched it with my family. I enjoyed it, I thought it was silly, and I laughed, but it wasn’t one of those films where I sought to watch it again and again. In fact, I haven’t seen it since. I still recall it fairly well, though, and in hindsight it’s one of those films that I suspect probably doesn’t hold up particularly well as an adult, but probably isn’t offensively bad either. I remember it having some moments that would still cause me to laugh as an adult, but probably lacked any real second-viewing value. Looking at its page on IMDb, where it sits at a middling 4.7, it seems most people agree with my recollections.

Why do I bring this up? Well, if you look at the picture at right, you can figure it out fairly easily. Channel surfing early this morning, I came across Mr. Accident, a film released in 2000 that, like Young Einstein, is written by, directed by, and stars Yahoo Serious. I had no idea such a thing existed. Yahoo Serious had always struck me as a sort of cinematic one-hit wonder, and it didn’t occur to me that he had any films after Young Einstein. (Looking at his IMDb page, it turns out he has another writer-director-star trifecta with a 1993 film, Reckless Kelly.) Having discovered such a film, I of course had to check it out. After all, I couldn’t possibly pass up the chance to see if Yahoo Serious has grown as an artist, could I?

It’s just possible I may have Serious problems with my sanity. Continue reading

Morbid Curiosity Files: Pay It Forward

Once again, Flixster has graced me with a free movie, and once again I could tell right from the beginning it was a case for the Morbid Curiosity Files. Pay It Forward is, in some sense, about karma, and receiving it as a free movie (randomly again) certainly had me thinking about karma. Specifically, what on Earth I could have done to warrant this. Or, if karma is real, just what Flixster’s recompense would be for saddling me with this, 17 Again and Austin Powers while still taunting me with my inability to watch Dog Day Afternoon. Not that I’m really ungrateful, it’s a nice idea and certainly helpful for the blog, but the track record of the movies so far has been more of a torture session than a gift (though they did give me The Iron Giant, so they’ve got that in their favor).

The movie poster highlights the stars of the film, Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, and their respective critical accolades. It’s rather shameless in its attempt to position itself as a big, important, dramatic Oscar-worthy film. It’s not really any of those things, unless you count self-important and melodramatic. Continue reading