Captain Tight Pants takes on the Invasion of the Gunn-worms and The Real Mike Returns to the hunt for the Tall Man :: Saturday Horror Movies
Its that time again, time to grab your favorite snack and your favorite hand to hold when you get frightened, as we share another Saturday Night Horror Double Feature. This time around we decided on an early film from Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn, a film my husband actually did background work in as one of the many bodies/hands within Michael Rooker’s wormified creature. The whole family had recently enjoyed the hell out of Guardians at the theater, which got us talking about James Gunn, and movies he’d done in the past. Of course, this was paired up with the next installation in the Phantasm franchise that we are making our way through in preparation for the fifth and final film. It was nice to see the main cast return to this universe, with no oddly cast replacements for any of them. This one may be my favorite of the series (so far).
We started with Gunn’s early film that starred one of his key players, Michael Rooker, who played Merle in The Walking Dead cable series, and was also most recently seen in Guardian’s of the Galaxy as Peter Quill’s somewhat foster Father, Yondu. The movie also featured one of my favorite’s, Nathan Fillion, as well as Elizabeth Banks and a blink and you might miss her appearance by Jenna Fischer, as a smalltown version of The Office’s Pam. The movie is part horror, part smalltown love story, part comedy, and part Sci-Fi alien invasion. Oh, and it features a couple of cheesy 70’s-80’s songs that are way worthy of being part of one of Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Tapes (Guardian’s of the Galaxy), another recognizable “Gunn-ism”.
Back to the original Morningside crew, and this time it is the original crew, we watched the third in the series. This was a good next in the series, miles and miles better than the second film, so much so that I honestly think you could skip the second and jump to the third with just a brief prologue to fill in the fact that The Tall Man has taken his human consumption/abduction show on the road. This film also had a lot of fun/funny moments that made for some choice banter between Charles and I, and by the end it sets up the fourth film perfectly, leaving you wanting to know what happens next (something I did not feel at the end of the second). My only real complaint is I wish they’d let just one of their female characters stick around for more than one movie (but at least this one didn’t die by the end).
Alright, so sit down and join us for this installment of the Saturday Horror Movie Feature. As a reminder, we will be doing these reviews every other week, trading off with our year-by-year drive-in feature, so stay tuned for more and please send us your horror movie suggestions. You can give us some titles in the comment section, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.
Written & Directed by James Gunn
The small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina, is not very memorable really. It is full of small town people with small town dreams, some slightly bigger than others, but none that take them very far from their comfort levels. You have the new sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who looks a little too handsome for the town, and seems a little too smart, too, but his unrequited love for his high school sweetheart seems to keep him from moving on.
Said sweetheart, Starla (Elizabeth Banks, who is honestly ALWAYS Miri from Zack and Miri Make a Porno to me) had dreams of a better life which led her to marry the older, but not so wiser, Grant Grant (yes, first name same as the last, played by Michael Rooker) who seems hopelessly devoted to her. Starla is a teacher in town and appears likable and friendly to everyone she comes in contact with, yet very disinterested in the advances of Grant in the bedroom.
One more night of rejection leads Grant to wander out to the local karaoke bar which gifts us a very awkward and scared delivery of Boy George’s The Crying Game. The karaoke performance is spot on to many a singer I’ve seen in my own nights at karaoke, as does the rest of the bar’s patrons, who all seem like just who you would find going in to those kind of somewhat divey establishments. Grant is approached rather aggressively by Brenda (Brenda James) who is the younger sister of someone Grant once dated, and who has carried a torch for this double-named guy since she was ten years old. She drags him out to see the tree she defaced with their initials and tries to have her way with him in the forest. He shuns her advances, saying his wife will worry, and is about to escape unharmed when a meteorite type rock crash lands in their proximity.
They go to investigate and Grant finds a slimy looking pod thing that oozes and is bug like in appearance. It releases a stinger that lands right in Grant’s chest and we are off to a half-zombie/half-alien small town takeover.
The movie has a lot of gross-out moments that I could have done without, a reliance that comedic horror films sometimes overdo, but the characters and their wit and banter kept me watching and enjoying. Nathan steals many of the scenes, especially when it is he and teenage survivor Kylie (Tania Saulnier) on the run, and Kylie rescuing him from a slither-fied deer (though Nathan’s Bill will swear it was the other way around). The scenes between Grant and Mrs. Grant, serenaded by Air Supply, have their moments, too. Though it did have quite an ick factor when Grant and Mrs. Grant do it in his possessed by slither-worm-alien things state (how did this have no effect on her?)
The start of the film (pre-Grant being stung by the slither) and the last half of the film, when Grant and his posse try to fight back/escape are the best bits. The middle of the movie got away from itself for awhile, and lost me some in the process – especially the bad fat suit gone enormous Brenda, who has been binge eating in the barn, explodes millions of worm babies – if you think that sounds gross, it was worse to watch.
All in all, I am glad I saw it, especially to glimpse the start of Gunn’s style, take in some of the witty dialogue, and for Nathan Fillion (pretty sure I’d enjoy him standing against a blank wall reciting the alphabet, though), as well as Tania Saulnier (who looks a lot like Juliana Hatfield to me) who plays Kylie.
Thoughts from my husband:
With the success of Guardians of the Galaxy we felt the need to pop out James Gunn’s first studio release, Slither (although one of his earlier writing credits is one of my favorite movies, The Specials – check it out sometime). And while his directing has matured over the years, fortunately his humor hasn’t.
Having had the pleasure meeting and working with both James Gunn and Nathan Fillion while working on Slither, I can assure you my opinion of this film is not biased. It is a fun take on the alien/zombie genre – a lot less serious than his earlier writing credits on the remake of Dawn of the Dead.
From the believable one-liners, to the honest representation of a small, Southern town (who would have known there were that many rednecks in Canada, where the bulk of the movie was filmed), the movie constantly pulls you in, even during the lull spots. For a directorial debut, Gunn finds a way to make camera shots enhance some of the hokey effects, and Nathan Fillion is hilarious as a small town sheriff.
The writing holds up better than many big budget horror movies, even self-explaining what could have been considered a major plot hole near the end (when Bill survives the half-slither tentacle attack and it is explained that it takes both to turn someone). Definitely worth checking-out seeing as it covers the three major “B’s” blood ()A LOT, breasts – a couple, even if they aren’t Elizabeth Banks (though you do get some side-boob action), and beasts (quite a few, from Rooker’s metamorphosis, to Jabba the Hutt’s cousin, to the giant head and womb monster).
Check it out sometime.
My husband, Charles, getting zombified for Slither‘s premiere.
My husband (zombie in the back) with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion, at the film’s premiere.
A few fun facts:
Actress Jenna Fischer disclosed on a TV talk show that she got the role of Shelby as a “birthday present” from her spouse at the time, director James Gunn, after another actress dropped out of the movie. Being a big fan of zombie films, she always wanted to play a zombie; upon hearing the news, she screamed with joy.
Rob Zombie has a cameo as the voice of Dr. Karl, talking to Starla on the phone.
Writer/director James Gunn has a cameo as a fellow teacher as Starla’s school.
Dangled above the street at the beginning of the film and on stage later at the Deer Cheer celebration you can see “Henenlotter’s Saddle Lodge presents Deer Cheer” signage, a clear reference to cult horror writer/director Frank Henenlotter, famed creator of Basket Case (1982) and Brain Damage (1988).
At about the 48-minute mark, When the mother tells her two daughters to go to bed, the one on camera right is reading a “Goosebumps” story by children’s horror author R.L. Stine entitled: “The Girl Who Cried Monster.”
In the opening scene as they pan down the street, you can see “RJ McCready’s Funeral Home“. RJ McCready is Kurt Russell’s character in The Thing.
Sam Raimi’s patented “Evil Force Cam” is used during the beginning when the monster is discovered.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, the alien slugs from Slither can be prominently seen in a display case in The Collector’s collection
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)
Written and Directed by Don Coscarelli
My first reaction to our return to the Phantasm universe was….welcome back Mike (A. Michael Baldwin). Previously replaced by James Le Gros who I moaned and groaned about in our last installment, since the third film was not backed by a major studio, Coscarelli was able to work with whomever he wished.
The original Mike wasn’t the only one to return to the third Phantasm, we also saw the return of Mike’s dead brother, Jody. It was nice to see his character come around, and plot-wise worked for Jody to communicate between both realms, though if he was taken when he was dead into the other dimension, why did Jody continue to age? (besides the obvious, that the actor, Bill Thornbury, obviously had aged).
We were also introduced to two new characters, another young boy (younger actually, and tougher, than Mike was at the start, and another female character to join Reggie in the quest to rescue Mike and destroy the Tall Man.
Tim, played by Kevin Connors, was a survivalist who was making it on his own a’la Kevin McCallister (Home Alone) style times a thousand. His toys turned to weapons were one of my favorite things about the movie, creative and inventive, this infused some lightness and humor to the movie. His rapport with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) was as strong as Reggie’s connection with Mike, and a older brother/younger brother relationship develops quickly.
Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) is another survivor who is wandering about with her presumed girlfriend when she happens upon Tim and Reggie in the mausoleum. Her girlfriend dies pretty quickly, leaving Rocky to either go off on her own or team up with Reggie and Tim. The latter predictably happens, and Reggie becomes his typical douche-self (he’s a decent character until ANY women around), but Rocky shoots him down over and over again, the best when she handcuffs him to a motel bed. Rocky’s character reminded me a little of The Walking Dead’s Michonne.
Of course, Rocky does not stick around, much like all the other female characters that come along in this franchise. She lives, but goes off on her own, leaving Reggie and Tim, and also leaving the movies. I hope we get to see her again – after all, she was the only female to not die, or become one of the Tall Man’s minions, in the franchise.
Mike is revealed to be part metallic ball/sentinel (we get a name for the possessed, evil Pokemon type balls) under his skin that left us wondering if he and the Tall Man are related (is that why Tall-ey is always after Mike, who he calls “BOY”?)
As I wrote in the post’s introduction, I really enjoyed this movie and think it is as strong, if not stronger, than the first movie. I think if you keep in mind that the Tall Man takes his show on the road (though we still don’t know why) — the only real plot point revealed in the second film — than you could just skip it completely, much like the original Mike had to.
Now, all I have to say is, bring it on part four, bring it on.
Thoughts from my husband:
On the road to getting my wife prepped for Phantasm 5, we finally arrive at my favorite of the four films. This is my favorite because you combine the higher production value from the second film, with the dreamy pacing of the first film, sprinkle in a few subtle explanations with a liberal dosage of mythos that are finally given names (i.e. the balls being called sentinels, and the bodies that are allowed to maintain some personality being called “Lurkers”), and you get the third installment of the Phantasm franchise.
We find out that the sentinels are the brains of the abducted dead, and the dwarves are the bodies. We are also left with the nagging suspicion that the Tall Man is nothing more than a “meat puppet“, as well (we’ll cover that in the fourth film – stay tuned). And, as in the previous two films, we get to watch Reggie’s attraction towards girls young enough to be his daughter unfold fruitlessly.
While not as heavy in the gore department as the previous two films, its still a spooky, road trip as you move from deserted town to town that the Tall Man has left in his wake. And while some may consider these towns up and vanishing a “plot hole“, I submit that they are all small towns in Idaho, and who gives a shit about those (editor’s note: I do not subscribe nor condone to my husband’s defacing of parts of the world, like France and Idaho and Connecticut).
After this comes the origins of the Tall Man.
A few fun facts:
After the mild box-office results of Phantasm II (1988), Universal Studios chose not to personally pursue a sequel but did offer to distribute it should Don Coscarelli and associates make it themselves. With no casting restrictions this time, Coscarelli offered the role of Mike to his original performer, A. Michael Baldwin, who returned to the role after almost 16 years.
An alternate ending was filmed but not used: Reggie and Tim travel up to the wild regions of Alaska. Reggie digs a small hole in the ice and Tim places a little case (containing The Tall Man’s gold sphere) inside. Subsequently, Reggie puts a metal plaque over the hole and seals it up. The plaque reads “Here Lies The Tall Man – R.I.P.”. Reggie then says “Now, all we have to worry about is global warming” and they walk off.
Reggie Bannister was the only cast member to be present on set every single day of principal photography, either acting or helping behind the camera.
Production started in late 1992 and wrapped in mid 1993. The distribution of the project was then put on hold by Universal for almost a year. After a very limited theatrical release in 1994, the movie went straight to video in 1995.
The interiors were shot at a real mausoleum called “Angeles Abby Mausoleum” and situated in Compton, California.
The dream sequence where Reggie and Jody rescue Mike from The Tall Man’s lair is the first time in which the four main actors in the series, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury and Angus Scrimm are all reunited again on-screen after 15 years.