Tag Archives: comedy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 20th Anniversary by Billy Crash

 

Welcome to the Hellmouth

On March 10, 1997, creator, writer, and oftentimes director, Joss Whedon unleashed Buffy the Vampire Slayer upon the world in a television series that drew in fans from a multitude of demographics and a multitude of countries. The show featured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a high school student forced into accepting her fate as vampire slayer in mythical Sunnydale, California.

With a kickass theme from Nerd Herder, and her watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy kept her “Scooby Gang” close (Nicholas Brendon as Xander, Allyson Hannigan as Willow, and someone just as reluctant as Buffy, the “better than you” Cordelia Chase, played by Charisma Carpenter), as she tackled, drop-kicked, and staked vampires, destroyed demons, and more in an effort to thwart the Hellmouth and save the world.

Each week, we’d find something different than the average show at the time, and for a dramatic comedy/horror/fantasy/action series, Buffy had more drama in one episode than a month’s worth of “ER” or “Chicago Hope.” Unlike other television shows that entertained and faded away by morning, people just didn’t talk about the show at the office, they incorporated the “lexicon of Buffy” in their speech, much like many of “Twin Peaks” fans who know that you can trust the Bookhouse Boys, but “The owls are not what they seem.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t just a television show people talked about, but an event that changed how they talked.

Prophecy Girl

Beyond words, we had a vampire slayer who fell in love with not just one vampire, but two, while still kicking ass and never turning her back on her friends, the world, and the woman she was becoming. Other than “Xena the Warrior Princess,” it’s hard to think of another show that presented woman as strong, powerful, and self-assured, and who wouldn’t give a man the satisfaction of seeing her fail. Where men rescued women at nearly every turn throughout television history, Buffy saved every man, woman, and child she ran into. And even if she told others to run for safety, Buffy didn’t stand tall to play martyr or find sympathy or become a legendary figure, she just wanted to fight and win every damn time.

And with strong females at the center of the show, Joss introduced the love of two young women without exploitation or apology, and once again, the show only became stronger, more multi-faceted, and more ahead of the curve in social consciousness. If anything, on this front, Buffy brought us some of the most depth-ridden romances ever to appear on the small screen regardless of gender.

As Buffy grew, so did her Scooby Gang: Cordelia became a woman who respected others instead of laughing at them, Xander developed a spine, and little Willow Rosenberg became a witch of epic proportions. Others came into the gang, from vampire lovers Angel (David Boreanaz) and Spike (James Marsters), as well as Tara (Amber Benson), Oz (Seth Green), Anya (Emma Caulfield), and baby sister Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg). Wait, Buffy had a sister?

New Moon Rising

I remember when Dawn appeared at the beginning of season five. Michelle Trachtenberg not only appeared in the opening credits as if she had been there forever, but Buffy and her mom (Kristine Sutherland) acted like she’d had a room in the house the whole damn time. A head scratcher for certain, and many of us didn’t know the key to this sudden introduction, but that’s what Joss Whedon always did: He kept the story fresh without jumping the shark, having a special wedding episode, or the worst damn thing imaginable, the birth of a child. Instead, we got Dawn, unexpected deaths, bad-grrl Faith (Eliza Dushku), Buffybot, a slew of evil adults from high school administrators to scientists at a secret base, and an endless flow of demonic forces with their own cruel agendas. Joss changed Buffy like a pro bono plastic surgeon: He improved the exterior but didn’t mess with the heart and soul.

At one point, Buffy stated, “My mother said my life is fruitless. No fruit for Buffy.” But the entire show bore fruit. “Angel” became one of the best spinoffs of all time, and people even gave the failed Buffy the Vampire Slayer film another chance, where Pee Wee Herman’s Paul Reubens crushed it as vampire kingpin, Amilyn, and Seth Green played a vampire – which makes him the only actor to appear in both the movie and the series. The stars went on to other projects on television or the silver screen, and twenty years later, Buffy continues to be recognized and appreciated by first generation fans to Millennials and Generation Z as if the season finale had taken place last week.

Once More, With Feeling

Some shows have survived the test of time: “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” “Seinfeld,” “The X-Files,” and “Firefly” because they were “big damn heroes,” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues in that off-the-beaten path vein of absolute coolness. Yet, at the end of the day, Buffy hasn’t held up for twenty years simply because it’s cool, but it had something to say about youth, exploration, love, bureaucracy, judgment, parenting, friendship, goals, desires, humanity, and ultimately sacrifice. Even so, at its heart, at its very core, Buffy wasn’t afraid to venture into the darkest regions of the brightest characters or find blinding light within the abyss of demons. If Whedon taught us anything, it’s that there’s good and bad in everyone, and we all need to do our part to not only help bring that greatness to the surface, but to forgive those who falter at times, and give them love, respect, and a second chance.

Because when it’s your turn to save the world, you never know who’ll be fighting by your side. So hush…

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Buffy from Buffy Wikia.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Writer Isaac R. Thorne

The Last Knock

Isaac R. Thorne may look like a steampunk captain extraordinaire, but he has a penchant for mixing horror with comedy in intriguing and unsettling ways. In this interview, we’ll find out how he ticks, what he likes, and how horror got him there. We’ll also find out about his teleplay “Because Reasons” with the Carmen Theater Group and his other projects coming your way.

You can learn more about Isaac from his website, find his great horror work on Amazon, and you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Crash Anaylsis: BIG ASS SPIDER (2013)

A Big Ass Blast!

Horror/comedy at its creature-feature best

Mike Mendez, the man behind the often overlooked THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006), maxresdefaultwhich is one of the best of the “Films to Die For” series, brings us BIG ASS SPIDER a horror/comedy of immense, eight-legged proportions.

Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) is an exterminator who just can’t seem to enjoy his day off. After helping out an old lady in need of pest removal, he’s bitten by a brown recluse spider and ends up in the emergency room. But he’s better off than the dead guy who just rolled in – which leads to the spawning of a very special arachnid. And this is just the beginning of our hero’s quest as he sets out to save Los Angeles and win the day.

While watching BIG ASS SPIDER my wife, Ally said she hadn’t heard me laugh that loud in a long damn time. That’s because Gregory Gieras nailed the idiosyncratic dialogue and brought the comedy in fantastic ways. Better still, there was a laugh a minute.

Grunberg delivers as the snarky, sarcastic side commentary guy who’s neither a wimp nor a wallflower. He comes fully loaded with the confidence to be the man of the hour, and regardless of obstacles, presses on. His “Mexican Robin” sidekick is the equally awesome Lombardo Boyer who plays Jose Ramos – the security guard devoid of the stereotypical rent-a-cop trappings. Together, this two-man crew is out to prove to the military that an exterminator, with his trusted partner, can bring down a spider monster without launching sidewinders from fighters in the city of angels. But Major Braxton Tanner, played straight by the always amazing Ray Wise, which creates its own level of hilarity (think Slim Pickens in DR. STRANGELOVE), won’t take orders from a blue collar like Alex. Even his number one, Lieutenant Karly Brandt (Clare Kramer) pays little heed to any of Alex’s pleas or demands – because she’s cocked, and locked, and ready to rock.

And this is the best thing about BIG ASS SPIDER – no weak-minded characters. All of them are strong and ready for action, which leads to conflict because all comers think they have the best solution to their monster-sized dilemma. It was especially wonderful to see a strong female character in Lt. Brandt that didn’t need to be “transformed” to face up to the challenge. Even Jose stepped up into his role as if he refused to play second fiddle.

The only weak spot some have noted is the CGI. It seems as if all the money went into the spider, and the rest is akin to something from the Syfy Channel. But the low budget CGI actually caters to the comedy, as if a nod of nostalgia to the cheesy B-movie monster films of the fifties.

The comedy is fabulous and the horror is more about a BIG ASS SPIDER than gore or jump scares. Even so, Mike Mendez’s movie is a non-stop entertaining treat and highly recommended. In fact, I’d love to see a triple feature with BIG ASS SPIDER, SLITHER, and GRABBERS. Now that would be a creature-feature frenzy of epic proportions.

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from You Tube.)

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Crash Analysis: GRABBERS (UK/Ireland, 2012)

Grab it  – Before it Grabs You!

The UK’s best horror/comedy – take that SHAUN OF THE DEAD!

Upon a recommendation, from artist/teacher/Polish movie poster collector, Douglas McCambridge, I rented Jon Wright’s grabbers_ver6_xlgGRABBERS. From the posters it was clear I’d be in for a comedy creature feature, and I certainly needed a brain break from life, so I tossed it in and sat back. Little did I know the ride would be so entertaining that my troubles would be laughed away.

In GRABBERS, the lovely and polished Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is a Garda coming to a small Irish island to fill in for a couple of weeks. She soon meets up with her alcoholic partner, Ciaran O’Shea (Robert Coyle), and learns that much doesn’t happen on the fishing island. Until a storm comes in and brings with it a monster from outer space hellbent to feed on anything big – like humans. But Lisa never realized that the only way to save the island’s inhabitants would be to get as drunk as her partner.

Beautifully shot, thanks to Trevor Forrest, we’re ensconced in a small town environment without the usual tropes. Locals don’t give Garda Nolan the stink eye, and she doesn’t act too much like a fish out of water – just a cop that needs to take it down a notch. In Kevin Lehane’s well crafted script, characters are as idiosyncratic as one would hope without going into ludicrous territory. We can relate for certain, and laugh along with the islanders as they try to determine what the hell is snatching people from their homes, ships, and the pub.

The pace in GRABBERS is pretty quick, and once again, tropes be damned. Sure, Nolan and O’Shea have a hard time believing a town drunk about a sea monster, but in short order, everyone’s on the same page and searching for answers. Of course, due to a coming storm, they’re on their own, but they do understand that they have one weapon working in their favor: A drunk human makes the beast vomit. This idea came about during a hike Lehane once took. To keep mosquitoes at bay, he turned to alcohol. Ta da. GRABBERS was spawned, and in short order, he had backers and the whole production was in motion.

In the fishing village, the few in the know want to keep panic to a minimum, so they invite the locals to the pub for free drinks. Sure, Lehane played off of the Irish stereotype, but he’s from Cork and it’s all in good fun, so leave him the hell alone. While everyone’s getting drunk – but not too drunk, one hopes – the monster makes it move…

Yes, CGI abounds because a guy in a suit certainly wouldn’t cut it, but as director Jon Wright said, the special effects have come such a long way, he wasn’t afraid of giving it a go. Paddy Eason, the visual effects supervisor, and his fabulous team, did one hell of a great job in bringing the beast to life. In fact, some of the effects are downright awesome.

The balance of horror and humor is spot on. Unlike SHAUN OF THE DEAD (UK/France/USA, 2004), which bored the hell out of me, GRABBERS kept me in the perfect state of mind to enjoy every frame. Admittedly, at times I wish the movie had been serious, but with alcohol proving to be the bane of the creature’s existence, a more dramatic angle would have failed. Lehane chose the right path, and with Wright’s directing and an excellent cast and crew, the stars aligned. Some may know Wright from his comedy/horror TORMENTED (UK, 2009). That film had much potential but ultimately failed due to some jarring edits, far too many scene changes, and an often questionable storyline. But the director certainly grew from that mess and delivered a solid sea shanty.

Can our Garda heroes save the day? Will the small fishing village live to see another dawn – or another sequel? You’ll have to indulge in GRABBERS to find out. So if you like laughs with your decapitating monsters, give this feature a shot – of single malt Irish whiskey, that is. Thanks for the sorely needed entertainment therapy, cast and crew. I’ll definitely have another round, and I’m buyin’ Doug…

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis: [REC]3: GENESIS (Spain, 2012)

And what a wreck

A lovely wedding annihilated by the new plague

Paco Plaza’s [REC] from 2007 had its moments, but I wasn’t as wowed like the majority of fans. Yes, he kept it real and atmospheric, and the conflict amongst characters provided great storytelling strength, but a fullblown suspense element seemed to be lacking, and the end took the story in a bad fantasy direction. I felt the same about the American version aka QUARANTINE (2008). Still, as found footage goes, this was pretty solid. The writer/director took us into the same nightmare with a different source, a SWAT team instead of a news crew riding with firefighters in 2009’s second installment. Like the first, he had kept the tale sharp and dramatic, but this appeared to be more like a shoot ‘em up video game, which allowed for little character development. The third, however, is a complete travesty.

[REC]3: GENESIS begins as if an homage to CLOVERFIELD (2008). We are introduced to many characters who all come together for an event, this time a wedding. This means a slow start, but it’s all for the characters so we know who to root and cry for. Sticking with the expected found footage subgenre, Plaza gives us several angles and interpretations from a few video cameras thanks to a hired wedding videographer Atún (played perfectly by Borja Glez. Santaolalla in his first acting role), and young Adrian (Alex Monner) as well as the bride’s younger sister. But once the carnage begins during the secluded reception, the groom destroys Atún’s camera and the editing transition from a fade to black cut brings us out of found footage mode. Instead, we are suddenly left in a typical Hollywood-like realm for the second and third acts. I guess no one wanted to film daddy eating Aunt Cecilia. The story not only loses its intimacy and authenticity, but the entire tone changes, and even Mikel Salas’s music becomes hokey as if we’re headed into sitcom central or the very worst of Sam Raimi. What once seemed to be a thrilling hellride to come, disintegrated into hackneyed and campy idiocy that will leave audiences scratching their heads at such a ludicrous and off putting turn for the worst.

It’s Clara (Letitia Delora) and Kolda’s (Diego Martin) wedding day, and nothing could be better: happy family, blue sky and fun all around. But Kolda’s concerned about the nasty dog bite on his vetenarian uncle’s hand, though no one seems to notice that the jovial doctor disintegrates into “weirdness”. All seems well until the reception when the good uncle turns bad and starts taking his own bites out of people.

Granted, the lovely Letitia Delora navigates many emotions, as does Martin, but their spirited performances are not enough to salvage an awkward, uneven and ultimately poorly written tale. Even Pablo Rosso’s almost too perfect cinematography and the wonderful effects paled as the original feel, tone and storyline went way off the rails to B-movie campiness and trite humor.

So what the hell happened? I’m not certain, but one must wonder if Plaza wanted to sabotage the franchise in order to prevent future features, like [REC]10: PLANET TAKEOVER or something, or maybe he dropped acid, or maybe he simply doesn’t give a damn. Whatever the reason, it’s led many fans I know to gasp and simply ask, “Why?!”

Additionally, Plaza got lazy. In the first and second features, it’s clear he’s paying attention to every detail in order to deliver a poignant narrative that keeps audience members on their toes. But several strange things happen. Once the uncle starts to chow down, the partygoers suddenly seem to be inundated by crazed zombie-like freaks from every nook and cranny – and we’re a far cry from where the original story takes place. At one point, it also appears that this may be Adrian’s story, yet after the first act, the boy and all youngsters vanish. They don’t even return as carriers. The dumbest element took place when characters in the kitchen tried to escape through a grate. The videographer had a screwdriver on his pockect knife, but it fell through the open metal slats. However, the kitchen is loaded with knives and other silverware, enough to warrant using one as a tool to remove the pesky grate, but that never dawned on anyone in the damn room. The worst part of all is that we’re thrust into a magical, mystical realm when the “zombies” can be frozen in place by chanting Roman Catholic prayers, and the reflections of the carriers appear as even more monstrous demons. Umm… What?

I have never seen a franchise deviate in such an atrocious manner from the foundation of its first two films. Well, not since HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), the only installment without slasher freak Michael Myers.

Granted, I expected a cool, honest and genuine fight for survival, but the comic nature of SpongeJohn (a guy dressed up as a SpongeBob ripoff to avoid copyright infringement), a chainsaw hostile bride, and the silly gorefest that follows (a far lesser version of Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE (New Zealand, 1992), left me with heavy sighs and a headache from rolling my eyes too often. Act two silliness completely obliterated all suspense and tension.

The thirty-nine-year-old writer/director has nothing coming up movie-wise, and that’s a good thing. Plaza needs to rest and clear his head, and maybe even detox (or maybe start drinking for that matter). Otherwise, if there is another [REC] venture, few may watch.

The 1.5 stars goes to the acting, cinematography and special effects makeup. Instead of proving how found footage could be done, Plaza made himself a laughing stock by wrecking his own series – probably for good.

1.5 of 5 stars

RED VICTORIA (2008)

Witty, low budget, horror/comedy splendor Red Victoria

A reluctant horror writer finds his deadly muse.

Not another movie about a writer… Well, get over it (In fact, this is the 237 such film: http://christinakatz.com/free/236-movies-about-writers/). This one’s different. And I mean that. In fact, Tony Brownrigg’s venture is so good, the clichéd notion of the premise proved irrelevant.

As one of the best opening credits roll, the audience may get the idea this movie is going to be a real nightmare. Not in the thrills and chills sense, but because Brownrigg is the star, screenwriter, director, visual effects supervisor, cinematographer and producer. Usually, when one sees this, unless Alfred Hitchcock’s at the helm, the movie normally disintegrates into a garbage heap of bad acting, bad direction, bad writing – and everything else. Thankfully, Brownrigg kept an open mind and had faith in his cast to bring it all together. Better still, he thrust his own ego aside and listened to his stars. Smart man.

In RED VICTORIA, Jim’s (Brownrigg) a fledgling screenwriter looking for the big sale. Since he writes sappy, existential work, there’s no awesome payday any time in his future. But his agent, Peter (Joshua Morris), insists Jim write a horror for a quick sale. Besides not wanting to take part in such drivel, Jim never gets scared because he’s close to being a real-life, emotionless Vulcan. Of course, he needs the money, so he does what he can to get in the right frame of mind, but snooty Blake (Christian Taylor) and horrorgeek Carl (Edward Landers) can’t help their friend. Then, one day, as Jim’s desperation grows more intense, dead girl/demon/muse/dark fantasy maiden Victoria (Arianne Martin), ends up a bloody and decaying mess in his bed. And she’ll do her damnedest to help Jim embrace his dark side, though one wonders if he realizes his soul may actually be up for grabs.

This may seem like the foundation to a romantic comedy, but Brownrigg’s writing skirts around all the pitfalls of the banal and jejune. Yes, he consistently flaunts with the tired and mundane, but the wit, comedy, drama and surprises certainly reveal that the man is more of a dancer than a writer. In fact, Jim’s constantly calling out the cliché’s that undermine horror cinema right before the viewing audience is steered in another direction.

The comedy element is wonderful here because Brownrigg and company do not go overboard with schlock and third-rate, low-brow stupidity. Even in the film’s funniest moments, the dialogue and situations are sharp and inviting. RED VICTORIA is far removed from the likes of hokey horrors and pathetic pretentiousness as REFLECTIONS OF EVIL (2002) and ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (2008) – where that element of being pretentious comes from filmmakers who think they are doing something cool for the genre when they’re doing nothing but undermining it even more. Satire reigns in RED VICTORIA, and instead pretention, its more like a close examination of the genre. Most important, the comedy assists in establishing theme: How far will one go to make something happen for himself or herself, even at the expense of strangers and loved ones.

The cast is wonderful and everyone hits their marks. Martin stands out because of her coolness, and how well she can mix comedy and drama while remaining Jim’s beautiful siren. Regardless, all the characters are intriguing and well developed, including the Receptionist (Mary Ann McCarty) and Wolfgang (John Phelan) who have but a few moments of screen time.

Evil John Mays’ special effects makeup is quite solid, as well as Brownrigg’s visual effects. Both aspects conspire to remind us that this story isn’t all fun and games, and several scenes may give the viewer pause as the tale marches towards the heart of the matter.

Brownrigg proves once again that you can create something magical, intelligent and fabulous with a mere five grand. Sure, naysayers seem to attack this film right off the bat, but I can not recommend this one enough for the horror fan that wants a movie with something to say while having a little fun along the way. For my money, this is one of the best low budget horrors – and definitely one of the very best comedy horrors – I have ever seen. Happy Halloween and enjoy!

Other great horror comedies to consider: VAMP (1986), DEAD ALIVE (New Zealand, 1992), TREMORS (1995), BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), SLITHER (2006), MURDER PARTY (2007), SUCK (Canada, 2009) and TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL (Canada/USA, 2010).

4.5 out of 5 stars