Wednesday, February 11, 2015


THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989; Dwight H. Little)
Yet another movie that slipped by me all these years, though I do remember seeing the VHS cover for it at my video store job. I think I must have associated it with a production of PHANTOM that was either put on at my high school or one that was very popular with the theater geeks in my class. I seem to recall countless t-shirts that said geeks would wear all the time. I guess that crowd must have annoyed me so I swore off PHANTOM for life. 
I did know Robert Englund of course and now that I think of it, I was probably in the midst of a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET burnout. The Freddy Krueger character just became too annoying for me to take so I took a break from those movies. Since I obviously associated Englund with that character I'm sure thst contributed to me writing off this movie as well. It's an unfortunate thing these silly prejudices of youth, but it does allow for an open-eyed introduction to films like this later in life. I cannot deny that it's a good part for Robert Englund. While it doesn't allow him to go Freddy Krueger big, it does let him go over the top in a very entertaining way. Melodrama in the best sense of that word is how I believe Englund himself described it. That's one of the benefits of a Golan production though (Menahem Golan's 21st Century films produced the movie). Both Golan and Globus have always had an affinity for larger than life performances. "Go Big or Go Home" was certainly a slogan they must not have shyed away from. And in going big, they seemed to encourage doing so not just in performance, but also in violence. They definitely knew what their audiences were looking for and gave them just those things. So Englund's turn here is befitting of the Cannon films lineage from which it sprang. I was reminded how much I do truly enjoy him as an actor. The cast is lovely on the whole though. Not only is Jill Schoelen simply adorable and a perfect fit for the part she plays, but the movie also features the great Bill Nighy in an early-ish role. Nighy is really great here and it's a reminder that he has always been a talented actor. Also, Molly Shannon has a small role which was a smile to see.

Special Features:
-An Audio Commentary with director Dwight H. Little and star Robert Englund. This is a very affable track and the two gents have a very friendly rapport that makes it a pleasant listen. They discuss locations, how sequences were shot, and     how they both were very much into the idea of this film being an homage to the old Hammer horror movies they loved in their youths. Being that this film was fully of the filmmaking period of practical effects, there are lots of talk here regarding the tricks that had to be employed to get the effects done.
-"Behind the Mask: The Making of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA":
An nice  37 minute retrospective piece about the making of the film (lovingly dedicated to the late Menahem Golan). It features interviews with Robert Englund, Dwight H. Little, Jill Schoelen, screenwriter Duke Sandefur, composer Misha Segal and several of the effects artists (including John Carl Buechler). Englund has some nice things to say about the honor that he found in being part of the group of amazing actors that had played the Phantom over the years. Englund has a delightful reverence for cinema and actors of the classic Hollywood era and beyond. That's always refreshing to hear. Dwight Little has a neat story about being approached by 21st Century films which was Menahem Golan's company at that time. Menahem had just directed THREE PENNY OPERA in Budapest and had had these very elaborate sets built. On top of that, the rights to the Phantom of the Opera property had just fallen into the public domain. Dwight Little was fresh off of HALLOWEEN 4 when he got the call from Golan about using these sets and making this new version of the classic story. It's very cool to hear this wonderfully creative group of people chat about the process by which they went about adapting this new version and what new things they brought to it and what old things they paid less attention to. 

Robert Englund, Dwight Little and Kevin Yagher Talk Makeup:

ONCE BITTEN (1985; Howard Storm)
This is one of those movies that got rented a lot at our local video emporium when I was younger. I'm not even sure why. It's a cute movie and though it's rated PG-13 for its sexual themes, it is an incredibly tame movie by today's standards. It's obviously a movie that is most remembered for an early starring role for Jim Carrey. It's easy to see why. He's goofy and funny and showing the beginnings of the comedy legend that he would become. The 80s is littered with high school movie dance sequences. Some are more memorable than others though and ONCE BITTEN's dance scene is one of my favorites. It's up there with (but not better than) the one in RAD. The song "Hands Off" it's the perfect 80s cheese confection and Jim Carrey demonstrates his rubbery physicality in a most agile and entertaining way.
I love the way they used to design bars and clubs in 80s movies. In ONCE BITTEN there's a particularly groovy bar where Jim Carrey and Lauren Hutton first meet. It's a phone-themed place and every table has it's own phone and a number that is visible to the other patrons. So the tables can call each other to chat. Oh, and did I mention the phones on the tables are those classic 80s red lips phones. Amazing stuff. Even in this day and age of cell phones, I'd still go to a bar like that (were I a little younger).

LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979; Stan Dragoti)
Had only heard of this George Hamilton vampire classic, but had never gotten around to watching it. It's an interesting vampire comedy for the fact that it has a cast of actors who were more popular in the 197os and prior. Outside of Hamilton, you have Susan Saint James (who I must admit I remember from KATE & ALLIE in the 80s), Richard Benjamin, Dick Shawn, Arte Johnson and of course Sherman Hemsley & Isabel Sanford (from the Jeffersons). Basically, the setup is that Count Dracula (Hamilton) and his trusty servant Renfield (Arte Johnson) are booted out of the ancestral castle digs and make their way to New York City. As you might expect, Dracula doesn't exactly fit in and it makes for some wacky fish-out-of-water humor. Director Stan Dragoti had gotten his start previous to this with DIRTY LITTLE BILLY, a Michael Pollard as Billy the Kid western in 1972. He would go on to helm such classic 80s comedies as MR. MOM, THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE and SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (with Tony Danza and Ami Dolenz). 

VAMPIRE'S KISS (1989; Robert Bierman)
There are Hollywood movie stars and then there's Nicolas Cage. There are also some unhinged performances to be witnessed in cinema and then there's VAMPIRE'S KISS. You may only be familiar with the "A, B, C, D..." scene from this movie, which is amazing don't get me wrong, but it doesn't do Cage's whole performance justice. The whole thing is a sight to behold. There's an internet montage out there called "Nicolas Cage Loses His Shit" and one of the main resources for clips in said montage is bits and pieces of VAMPIRE'S KISS.
I've found it a rather fascinating thing to see VAMPIRE'S KISS go from being nearly reviled to the cult classic status it enjoys today. Back in 2012, Scott Tobias wrote about it for his wonderful "New Cult Cannon" column in with the A.V. Club. It's a lovely article and within it he brings up the fact that both VAMPIRE'S KISS and Martin Scorsese's film AFTER HOURS were written by Joseph Minion. He also talks about how the two movies are kind of companion pieces to each other. I like this idea a lot. I'm a huge fan of AFTER HOURS and count it among my favorite Scorsese films and my favorite fims across the board. I even prefer AFTER HOURS to RAGING BULL (as sacrilegious as that sounds). I think it's a fascinating thing to think about AFTER HOURS and VAMPIRE'S KISS together. Both are darkly comic (though AFTER HOURS is more outright funny ) New York movies and both deal with a certain character grappling with losing his mind. Cage really loses it though in VAMPIRES KISS. He makes a lot of choices that would perhaps be considered questionable in another movie. I'm not saying they are all bad choices and especially in combination with each other, they make for one of his most memorable roles ever.
Special Features:
-An Audio commentary from Nicolas Cage and director Robert Bierman (ported over from the old MGM DVD). An interesting track for sure. I'm not aware of too many commentaries that Nic Cage has done (though there could be many), so it's nice to hear him on one. Early on he talks about how he was pressured by his people to initially pass on VAMPIRE'S KISS as it seemed an ill conceived move after MOONSTRUCK (I had totally forgotten he did this movie right after MOONSTRUCK). Cage also admits that this is one of his favorite performances. Cage has a lot of affection for the movie and it comes out throughout the course of this track. He addresses a lot of his acting choices (including the accent that he takes on). I was very interested to hear him reflecting on his methods as an actor when he was younger. It's a really enjoyable commentary overall.

HIGH SPIRITS (1988; Neil Jordan)
My recollections of this movie fall into the vaguest of vague category. I think I remember being interested in Steve Guttenberg movies for a period after seeing him as Mahoney in the POLICE ACADEMY films. I even remember renting BAD MEDICINE on VHS at one point because he was on the cover looking Mahoney-ish. One of the plotlines that showed up a few times in the 80s was the "fixing up the failing business" story. In this instance, the failing business in question is an old castle/bed & Breakfast run by a classically flamboyant Peter O'Toole. The  castle is on it's last financial legs and O'Toole and bunch have two weeks to drum up some cash or lose the lease. He comes up with the brilliant stroke of making the place into a "haunted" hotel. I works (sort of) and some of their new guests include Guttenberg, Beverly D'Angelo, Jennifer Tilly and Peter Gallagher. They start out by making an attempt at faking ghosts, but that fails of course and we find out that there are real ghosts in the castle. It's a bit of a goofy film and one that reminded me of independent comedies of the late 1990s like WAKING NED DEVINE or THE FULL MONTY. It's not as outlandish as those two, but it has the zany spirit of those before they ever existed. It has that zany spirit, but was clearly made on a much larger scale and (partially as a result) with some bigger stars. I had totally forgotten that Neil Jordan wrote and directed this thing. And that it features a very young Liam Neeson as well as the always lovely Daryl Hannah. The film is an interesting supernatural farce and a time capsule of 1980s filmmaking. 

1 comment:

Franco Macabro said...

I'm getting the Love at First Bite and Once Bitten one....I've been meaning to watch Love at First Bite since forever...and I want to rewatch Once Bitten...haven't seen it in ages!

The High Spirits/Vampires Kiss double feature is a good one as well.