Two winners and two losers this week in the Journal. As we look at zombies eating yummy nummy brains, the second pairing of Tom Hanks and John Candy, a thriller that became one of them most controversial films of the year and a period fantasy that became one of the year’s biggest bombs.
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 61
THE BRIDE (1985) – This is a film that is at the same time a sequel to THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and a “what if?” scenario. It opens as Dr. Frankenstein (Sting) is building a mate for his monster. Much like the end of James Whale’s film, things don’t go as planned and the monster (Clancy Brown) brings the entire castle crashing down. Unlike Whale’s film, the story doesn’t end there. The monster is blown free and soon befriends a persecuted dwarf (David Rappaport). Meanwhile, the doctor has survived and saved the woman he created. But it isn’t Elsa Lanchester with a Marge Simpson hairdo. It’s Jennifer Beals, who is able to speak in more than hisses. Dr. Frankenstein takes her under his wing in a bid to create the new woman – smart, independent and able to anything just as well as any man. But for all his proselytizing, he is just as arrogant, lustful and possessive as the brutes he criticizes.
THE BRIDE is an interesting concept for a film, offering a more emotional and cerebral take on the material. It’s ambitious and clever. Unfortunately, it’s also as entertaining as watching paint dry.
Yes indeed, THE BRIDE suffers from the ultimate malady. It’s boring as hell. After an opening that is literally electrifying, Franc Roddam (QUADROPHENIA, THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE) directs this film with all the flair of a second-rate Merchant-Ivory film. There is so much great potential floating around this film, but good luck staying awake for any of it.
Casting is another problem. Sting does a fine job as Dr. Frankenstein, hampered only by the stilted dialogue. Jennifer Beals on the other hand is terribly miscast as the title character. I am not sure what the problem is here, as Beals is a fine actress in her own right. This was only her second film (FLASHDANCE being her first) and she seems out of her depth here. Throughout the film, the character has to evolve from newborn to prodigy to independent free-thinker. This is a heady task for any actor, and perhaps Beals was not ready for it yet. My guess is that if THE BRIDE were made five years later, we would have seen a very different performance from her. ★½ out of ★★★★
THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) – While working his new job at a medical supply warehouse, Freddy (Thom Matthews) is told that George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was loosely based on a true story. That the government did have a zombie outbreak in a small town, due to a chemical agent getting released, but that it was all hushed up. As proof, Freddy’s boss (James Karen) shows him the canisters which contain corpses and the gas. And that’s when the canisters spring a leak. After dealing with a couple of zombified creatures at the warehouse, the chemical gets released into the atmosphere and comes down as acid rain. This wakes up all the corpses in the nearby graveyard where Freddy’s punk rock friends are all partying.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD originally started life as a project written by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD co-writer John Russo. The deal was that since he and Romero didn’t see eye to eye on where to take the series, Romero could continue the films using the word “Dead,” (DAWN OF THE-, DAY OF THE-, LAND OF THE-, etc.) and Russo could make his own series using the term “living dead.” It was originally a very serious film to be directed by Tobe Hooper in 3-D. Things changed. Hooper took on LIFEFORCE instead, the 3-D angle was ditched and when the great screenwriter Dan O’Bannon was brought on to revamp the script and direct, he knew audiences probably wouldn’t go for another straight zombie flick.
Hence, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is undoubtedly a horror comedy. There is a deadpan humor running through the whole thing that shows all the pratfalls and exaggerated characterisations are on purpose. The film is fun, fun, fun and should never be taken seriously. It’s got a great ensemble cast including Clu Gulager, Don Calfa and the great Jewel Shepard. And the there’s Linnea Quigley as Trash – a sexy, funny, iconic bit if there ever was one.
I’ve seen this film a million times and will probably watch it a million more. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
VOLUNTEERS (1985) – Lawrence Bourne III (Tom Hanks) is a rich Harvard graduate who is on the run from loan sharks in 1963 America. He swaps places with his college roommate and reluctantly winds up joining the Peace Corps. Arriving in Thailand, he has no interest in helping the people of the third world. Nevertheless, he finds himself building a huge bridge with the help of the other volunteers. Unfortunately, the bridge is coveted by everyone from drug lords, commies and the United States Army.
For years after this film was released, Tom Hanks called it his favorite film. While Hanks may be a fine actor, there’s no accounting for his taste. This is another film that has good intentions but is just criminally unfunny.
Casting may be the biggest obstacle. Hanks hams it up more than he ever has before or since as a rich snob with an aggravating phony aristocratic accent. John Candy has a bit part in the film and while his character is appropriately annoying, he’s not charming in the least, making it impossible to like him. Of course, one reason why Hanks undoubtedly likes this film is that it was where he fell in love with his future wife, Rita Wilson. She plays Hanks’ eventual love interest here. Longtime followers of Film Geek Central may remember that I have almost no good feeling towards Rita Wilson. I don’t find her funny or talented in the least and hence she only succeeded in making a painful trip worse.
Good premise with a good director (Nicholas Meyer). All the same, I’d rather contract malaria than watch VOLUNTEERS again. ★½ out of ★★★★
YEAR OF THE DRAGON (1985) – Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) is a zealous, racist, Vietnam vet who is assigned to rein in the youth gangs in New York’s Chinatown. But White knows that the youth gangs are just part of the problem. Using tradition and complacency as an excuse, the older Chinese crime families have been allowed to control Chinatown for years. Now the old gangs are getting stronger and White suspects that Joey Tai (John Lone) is using the youth gangs to cause chaos as he makes his bid for unlimited power.
White immediately butts heads with the old families as well as the establishment. His superiors are constantly telling White to back off, but White smashes through their crime syndicate like a bull in a china shop (no pun intended), giving the police chief a lot of headaches.
I love Michael Cimino. The guy may have had an ego that was out of control, but you can’t deny that he showed an intricate care for the films he made. YEAR OF THE DRAGON was his first film after the mammoth bomb HEAVEN’S GATE, which is a masterpiece even though Cimino’s handling of the film effectively crippled artistic expression in Hollywood. This follow-up shows him tackling what should be a more straight-forward narrative. But in the hands of Cimino, it becomes a multilayered examination of how in the face of apathy, a crusader for justice can seem insane. White also stands as a symbol for the disenfranchised Vietnam vet in modern-day society.
The script is written by Cimino and Oliver Stone and it is perhaps Stone’s contributions which may hamper the film. Let’s face it, Olver Stone will never be known for his subtlety. So there is perhaps one too many monologues where lessons on Chinese history are shoehorned in. Yes, it shows that the writers did their research but it also sounds scripted. No matter how much I am enjoying the film, you do get just a little tired of the brass telling White to look the other way. Towards the end of the film, his boss tells him he cares too much, to which White responds, “How can you care too much?” It’s true of course. But it doesn’t sound genuine.
Still, I point out these flaws to note how they only hamper what it otherwise an incredible film. With some polish and a little less black-and-white, this could have been a masterpiece. I still highly recommend it and wished I could give it a higher rating. Technically I can’t, another reason I’m getting disenchanted with the star-rating system. But that’s another story.
Cimino’s direction is gorgeous and Rourke does an amazing job as Stanley White. It’s the type of explosive performance that has made Rourke one of our most talented and misunderstood actors. John Lone makes for a ruthless adversary. Ariane also does a great job in her debut performance as a Chinese-American news reporter. Not sure why she didn’t do more than the handful of films she appeared in, but she had great potential here.
People weren’t done making Cimino pay for his antics on HEAVEN’S GATE, so this film was savaged in the press even while getting mostly favorable reviews. One bit of controversy was the condemnation on the part of Chinese-Americans who believed it showed them in a negative light. It does, actually, and while there are a few bits to show that the writers didn’t mean it to be one-sided, you can understand their frustration. But what needs to be understood is how, like TAXI DRIVER, YEAR OF THE DRAGON puts us in the mind of an angry and racist man. If we are looking at the world through his eyes, even while his flaws become evident, we are going to see a worldview tarnished by the cancer of racism. YEAR OF THE DRAGON is more complex than your standard cop thriller and it would be nice to see it rediscovered. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
BOX OFFICE CHAMPS – AUGUST 16-18, 1985
1. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1,517 screens) $7.3 million ($108.2 million – 7 weeks)
2. VOLUNTEERS (1,560 screens) $5.2 million (1st week)
3. PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (840 screens) $4.405 million ($12.9 million – 2 weeks)
4. THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1,506 screens) $4.403 million (1st week)
5. YEAR OF THE DRAGON (982 screens) $4.1 million
6. SUMMER RENTAL (1,595 screens) $3.7 million ($12.8 million – 2 weeks)
7. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION (1,350 screens) $2.7 million ($40.7 million – 4 weeks)
8. FRIGHT NIGHT (1,110 screens) $2.4 million ($17.8 million – 3 weeks)
9. REAL GENIUS (956 screens) $2.2 million ($6.7 million – 2 weeks)
10. COCOON (789 screens) $1.77 million ($63.2 million – 9 weeks)
11. THE BRIDE (955 screens) $1.76 million (1st week)
source: Box Office Mojo
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 275
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