Capsule Reviews: October 2016

First off:

Now that we have that taken care of…

Submitted for your approval, please find capsule reviews of Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau and William Friedkin’s obscure early-’90s horror effort The Guardian.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

United States, 2014. Directed by David Gregory. 97 minutes.

In the mid-’90s, New Line hired maverick South African filmmaker Richard Stanley—whose early films Hardware and Dust Devil became minor cult classics—to adapt H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. Various movie stars got involved (most notably, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer), the project suffered a series of Gilliamesque setbacks, and Stanley proved unable to cope. New Line replaced him with John Frankenheimer, and the end result stank.

It’s clear from the word go that Stanley’s vision, had he been allowed to complete the film, would have been more watchable than what we actually got. Yet his firing also seems predestined: he may have meant well, he was obviously in waaaaaay over his head. Not even the Crowleyan magic(k)ian Stanley hired to help him land the New Line deal could help him with that. Sadly, most of Lost Soul’s entertainment value departs with him; the working environment just seems too damned boring under Frankenheimer, despite Kilmer and Brando’s attempts to keep things lively with their respective egotistical demands and eccentric whims.

The moral of the story is, of course, that some indie maverick auteur filmmakers can cope with studios handing them eight- and nine-figure budgets. Stanley wasn’t one of those and learned his lesson the hard way. Happily, he returned to low-budget genre filmmaking, and seems to have a project or two in development. In the meantime, I get to add Hardware and Dust Devils to my list of “films I need to see, eventually…”

The Guardian

The Guardian

United States, 1990. Directed by William Friedkin. 92 minutes.

I also joined Todd on Forgotten Films to discuss The Guardian.

The Guardian is about as good as movies about baby-stealing druidic tree women tend to get, which is to say, not very. Sam Raimi was originally attached to make the film; William Friedkin took over, and directs as if he wished Raimi had stuck with the project. Indeed, the film features several Raimi-esque touches, including a tree that sprays gouts of blood. Also, it’s fun to play “If Raimi had directed this, what role would Bruce Campbell have taken?” My guess is either the Brad Hall character, or the leader of the punks that threaten the aforementioned baby-stealing druidic tree woman in the film’s most gonzo scene.

Still, it is enjoyable in a weird way, thanks to some imaginative effects, the primary cast’s vigorous performances—lots of shouting and exaggerated facial expressions, especially toward the end—and a histrionic score from Wang Chung lead vocalist Jack Hues. If nothing else, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman have (implied) consensual sex with a tree, so I’m grateful for that, I guess.

Apropos of nothing, The Guardian begins with a caption reading “For thousands of years a religious order known as the druids worshipped trees…” and if you don’t at least mentally follow that up with “…no one knows who they were, or what they were doing,” you’re clearly watching the wrong kinds of films.

A scene from DAWN OF THE DEAD.

I Also Watched…

That’s it. I had hoped to revisit the Romero zombie films ahead of my appearance on episode #345 of the LAMBcast, “Podcast of the Dead,” but I ended up not having the time. Thankfully, I’ve pretty much memorized NightDawn, and Day, and have recently reread my reviews of LandDiary, and Survival, so I think I did well.

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