Have You Ever Seen...
Down By Law (1986)
I love Tom Waits so I'm not really sure why I dragged my feet on checking this film out. I'm not entirely sure if you would call this neo-noir or just noir adjacent, but either way it's an engaging independent film that's an odd mix of a prison escape story (but not really) and a slice-of-life piece.
The film follows three characters, initially focusing on Jack the pimp(John Lurie) and Zack the disc jockey (Waits) as they are both set up to take the fall for various crimes and go to prison. They eventually become cellmates and later share their cell with Bob, an Italian tourist who knows minimal English (played by Life Is Beautiful star Roberto Benigni in his first international role). The film is more of a character study and charming comedy than it is a crime or prison story, to the point where it really doesn't care to tell you exactly how they escape and instead focuses on their relationships throughout the escape. It's a pretty simplistic plot that prioritizes the characters and the tone more than anything else. I absolutely loved that aspect, and the three actors play off of each other perfectly throughout. Toss in some really nice cinematography that infuses the cityscape and atmosphere of the film with its own character and it's just really easy to get sucked into the movie.
Definitely worth checking out for a number of reasons, from technical to visual to the scripting and more. In the end though, it's just full of a lot of little human moments that make you smile.
9 out of 10
Class Action Park (2020)
I haven't really watched many documentaries as of late, but this was as fascinating as it was bat-shit insane.
Focusing on Action Park which opened up in New Jersey in 1978, the film chronicles its founding and fame/infamy through the eyes of various ex-patrons and employees. The front half of the film focuses a lot on the insane rides, including the waterslide loop that would eventually have enough patron teeth embedded into its sides to stab other patrons on the way down. Y'know, fun stuff like that. The last third of the film deals mostly with the numerous deaths the park caused as well as a lot of the legal schemes and cover ups the owner was involved in. While the majority of the people interviewed throughout maintain a sense of 'this was all bad', there is still also a bit of nostalgia present in some of their interviews that feels, well....shitty. They later focus on the various fatalities that occurred at the park and the interviews with the family of one of the victims hit me pretty hard. So any later interviews with patrons who contextualized the park in a warmer way just felt straight up crappy after that.
Side note, one of the frequent interviewees was driving me crazy because I couldn't place them at the time. And while I should know Alison Becker from her role in Parks and Recreation, I remember her more for her role in the Badman shorts which I'm just gonna link here because I still love those.
I had never heard of this park before, so all in all this was just a unique deep dive into a world of greed and safety oversight.
7 out of 10
Pumpkinhead (1988) & Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)
Pumpkinhead was sort of always a staple of my household as my mother loved the film, so I've seen it numerous times over the decades and have always enjoyed it. It's been a while though since my last viewing and I was able to appreciate it even more this time around, partly because I don't know if I previously recognized that Pumpkinhead himself had a gleefully cruel personality.
If you've never seen, the film follows Lance Henriksen as he sells his soul to summon a demon to murder a group of city kids who accidentally killed his child. It's a pretty simple premise but it's full of a lot of atmosphere and solidly paced for Stan Winston's debut as a director. Winston gave design control to artists Alec Gillis, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant and Tom Woodruff, Jr. and they gave us one of my favorite movie monsters of all time. It's just such a unique design with a lot of range in its facial features, which go a long way in emoting the sadistic nature in which he stalks the idiot kids. And boy are they idiots. There's really not much to make us feel a lot of sympathy for them as they are basically just fodder for cool kills, with the final girl being telegraphed pretty early on and still not having any real personality to cling to.
All of the emotional storytelling lands on Lance Henriksen, who fills an interesting role as a mixed protagonist/antagonist. I will say I'm not a fan of the immediate 180 he does after summoning the demon because c'mon Lance....ya knew what ya were doin'. You don't spend the time to drive your son's dead body to a witch and then unearth a corpse in a pumpkin patch to bind your soul to with the express purpose of slaughtering vain city folk who wronged you only to change your mind at the first hint of bloodshed. Commit to your goals, is all I'm sayin'.
Pumpkinhead always holds a special place in my heart (which is a really odd sentence to write now that I look at it), and while it does have some flaws it's also a perfect monster movie because of those flaws. So if you've never checked it out and you're in the mode for some good slasher/demon horror with some additional great Henriksen action then I highly recommend checking this out.
Pumpkinhead- 8 out of 10
But you can probably skip the sequel.
I'm going to start with listing a few positive things:
- The film stars Andrew Robinson, who played Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space 9. And I do love him so as Garak, and he does try here.
- Scream Queen Linnea Quigley pops up briefly, it's always nice to see her.
- The Pumpkinhead suit is actually not too bad, considering the original was destroyed so they had to redesign from scratch. There are actually some scenes where he looks really good.
- I do sort of enjoy that he breaks peoples backs and looks more like a wrestler than a demon while doing it, plus he comes with his own lighting extravaganza whenever he pops up.
So yeah. Those are things that we can salvage, but I am sort of hard pressed to say you should watch this soulless cash grab. Lore-wise it has virtually no connection to the original, and tonally it feels more in line with a daytime soap than the dark and lonely atmosphere of Winston's film. A lot of that has to do with it being a direct-to-video release, so it literally was a cheap cash grab but I'm pretty sure I've seen some DTV films with more care in their execution. Pretty much every other actor besides Robinson is terrible or just mailing it in. The plot is...well, it has a plot. That's something.
Y'know, just don't watch it. Just watch that clip I linked to above, it's probably the best scene of the film.
Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings- 3 out of 10