Okay, back to business. In today’s Journal, we will utilize my revised rating system to look at a few notable films from the 1980s. We’ll cover the pubescent allegory TEEN WOLF, Dario Argento’s supernatural giallo PHENOMENA and the thriller F/X. First, a reminder of the new system:
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.
What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 62
PHENOMENA (a.k.a. CREEPERS) (1985) – Somebody is killing the young girls at a posh European boarding school. Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly in her screen debut) is a young American girl who is sent to the school by her famous actor father in one of the more egregious examples of parental bad timing. An outcast, Jennifer has always felt alienated from other kids her age. Many find her strange, even creepy. Indeed, Jennifer has an empathetic, telekinetic bond with insects, a gift that could wind up saving her life.
It’s true that there has been a decrease in the quality of Dario Argento’s films over the years. There is an ongoing debate on just when the decline began. Some people point to this film, saying it was nonsensical to the point of stupidity.
Ridiculous, I say.
With PHENOMENA, Argento combined the style of his great giallos (DEEP RED, TENEBRE, etc.) with the fantasy elements of his Three Mothers films (SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, etc.). He combined his trademark strange mystery thrillers with the gorgeous, intoxicating beauty on display here. It’s hard not to fall in love with certain sequences of the film – Jennifer’s sleepwalking, or the amazing scene when she overcomes the taunts of her peers and professes her love of the insects who have swarmed to her aid. And yes, the film gets downright loopy towards the end. I submit that this improves and does not detract from the greatness of PHENOMENA. If you are watching an Argento film for logic or realism, you are not only missing the point of his films but of European horror in general. Also, this is Argento’s personal favorite of his films. So, you know, suck it.
Connelly is great, as are the other luminaries such as Donald Pleasance and Daria Nicolodi who feature prominently in supporting roles. This was around the time that Argento and Nicolodi were separated, so she’s made far more ogrish than she was in DEEP RED or TENEBRE. But taking stuff out on family members is an Argento tradition. Years before Dario would subject daughter Asia to scenes of terror, he murders his other daughter, Fiore Argento, in the first scene.
The film also contains perhaps my favorite theme music of any horror film, with the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman’s great instrumental, “The Valley” (which I’ve included at the end of this column). Goblin supplies the rest of the music, though they contractually were unable to use that name.
Like many other Argento films, this film was butchered for its U.S. Release. It was cut by almost a half hour and renamed CREEPERS (though the U.S. Poster art is iconic). This review is of the uncut 110 minute version, made available by Anchor Bay around fifteen years after its release. Highly Recommended
TEEN WOLF (1985) – Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) is going through changes. He’s getting strange urges, sometimes his voice shows a deeper register and hair is sprouting everywhere. Yes, it’s exactly what you’d think it is. He’s a werewolf. But instead of being hunted down by a torch-wielding mob, Scott instead becomes a local celebrity. He’s able to slam dunk with the best of them, gets the hot girl and sort of becomes a dick in the process.
I’m going to upset a lot of 1980s purists. TEEN WOLF is a terrible movie. Scott Howard turns into a jerk after he wolfs out. But it also could have something to do with the fact that he surrounds himself with and looks up to equally obnoxious people. This film, which seemed amusing when I was nine, is actually pretty dire in the chuckles department. It doesn’t age well is what I’m saying.
It should be noted that Fox gives his all and is charming in the lead. Also, there’s Boof (Susan Ursitti). I have a thing for the nice girl who the lead actor should be with instead of the blonde skank.
This film was actually made before BACK TO THE FUTURE. When that film became a huge hit, Atlantic Releasing moved the release up and gave this film an extra push in the publicity department. Obviously, it paid off. Awful
F/X (1986) – Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) is a special effects man with an awesome reputation. So good in fact that the justice department approaches him with a special kind of job. They want Rollie to simulate the assassination of a mobster (Jerry Orbach) so he can enter the Witness Protection Program. But as we all know, you should never trust the government when they offer you a secret assignment. And when the guy offering it to you is Cliff De Young? You might as well sign your own death warrant right there. Sure enough, it looks like he’s killed the mobster for real and the people he was supposed to be working for now want him dead. A hard-nosed cop (Brian Dennehy) gets on the case when the bodies start piling up, but something doesn’t smell quite right.
Though there are some surprisingly grim twists, this is a surprisingly fun thriller. The entertainment value comes with Rollie using his bag of tricks to foil both the police and the people who set him up. F/X is briskly paced and never outstays its welcome.
Bryan Brown was one of the more unlikely leading men to come out of the 1980s, and he’s a welcome sight in the lead. This is someone you can buy as an effects guy. As I’ve stated earlier in this column, I happen to think Brian Dennehy is damn cool and one of the things the films suffers from is not including enough of him.
F/X is a film that couldn’t be remade. The use of flash pods and mannequins seems quaint today. But if the film were made for modern audiences, Rollie would be a guy sitting at a computer terminal, manipulating pixels only to have know-it-alls on the internet erupt with cries of, “That looks Shopped.”
Robert Mandel does a good job as director. He followed this up with two box office disappointments, TOUCH AND GO and BIG SHOTS. Even still, it is strange that he has done mainly television work over the last few decades (This is back when that was seen as a different level in the filmmaking latter. The two did not intermingle as well as they do today.). His last film was THE SUBSTITUTE, which has spawned a cult following and several sequels. Anyhoo, Mandel’s a fine director, no matter what medium he’s working in. Recommended
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 279
Miss any of the previous Journal entries? Check them out here!
And tune into my new web series, Moviocrity!