Throwback Thursday: Riding The Bullet (2004)

“The Bullet is constant.”

Released in 2004, Stephen King’s Riding The Bullet is a generic thriller that tries desperately to be more than it is. The film has flashes of brilliance that are spread too far apart by long sequences of awkward interactions, failed attempts at art house-styled scenes, and mundane moments. It was directed and adapted by Mick Garris and starred Jonathan Jackson, David Arquette, Barbara Hershey, Matt Frewer, Erika Christensen, and Nicky Katt.

In the film, Jackson portays Alan Parker, an art student who gets into an argument with his girlfriend, tries to commit suicide, and then ends up hitchhiking home to see his dying mother. While hitchhiking, Alan meets a number of unique characters, may or may not have a few hallucinations, gets chased by murderous rednecks, and eventually rides shotgun with a phantom who gives him a choice: your life or your mother’s life.

Garris was already familiar with adapting and directing King’s work for both the big and small screen. He directed the 1992 film adaptation of King’s Sleepwalkers and also directed and/or wrote/produced a number of television shows and mini-series based on King’s work including The Stand (1994), Quicksilver Highway (1997) and The Shining (1997). He also worked on shows like Amazing Stories (1985) and She-Wolf Of London (1990), so his bizarre direction of Bullet has me a bit perplexed.

The film just can’t seem to find its rhythm. It throws in bizarre sequences where Alan has a conversation with his conscious, a literal second Alan that pops up throughout the film, that become increasingly more annoying with each interaction. It has a lot of misplaced or just plain dumb jump scares as well.

The film’s acting is pretty bad as well. Jackson isn’t a bad actor. He just cannot carry this film for some reason. Matt Frewer’s brief appearance feels forced and is poorly executed. Erika Christensen never really gets to show off her acting chops. Cliff Robertson’s role as an extremely creepy, elderly fellow that picks up Alan is awkward. Perhaps confusing everyone with bizarre characters was Garris’ intention. If so, he nailed it. If he was doing anything else, he failed miserably.

Not all of the performances were bad. Nicky Katt shines as a draft dodger who picks up Alan on his way to see his mother. Barbara Hershey is also quite excellent as Alan’s mother. The real star here is David Arquette, who plays against type as George Staub, a fifties-styled greaser who gives Alan the last ride to the hospital. The kicker? Staub is dead and is in town to take a soul with him to the afterlife. He uses fear, humor, and rage to manipulate Alan and he does a fine job of it in this film.

It’s a shame that this film is such a dud. It has a solid cast, an experienced director, and source material from one of horror’s living legends. It ultimately doesn’t translate well to the screen, however, and makes this one of my least favorite Stephen King adaptations.

Did you enjoy Riding The Bullet? let me know in the comments section. As always, thanks for reading.

Throwback Thursday: The Mist (2007)

“There’s something in the mist….”

Frank Darabont adapts a Stephen King story for the fourth time with 2007’s The Mist. Darabont already did The Woman In The Room, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, but this was the first time that Darabont tackled a full blown tale of terror from King. With amazing performances from the likes of Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Marcia Gay Harden, and Toby Jones, it’s no wonder that this film is so amazing. Top it all off with four future members of the cast of The Walking Dead and that show’s make-up supervisor, and you’ve got the perfect storm for a great film.

In the film, a powerful storm blows through a small town in Maine. David and Stephanie Drayton and their son, Billy, assess the damage to their home and David and Billy head into town for supplies. Along for the ride is their occasional neighbor, Brent, an attorney who has had a number of run-ins with David in the past. While all of this is happening, a mysterious and thick mist rolls across the small town and the surrounding areas. While in the grocery store, David, Billy, and Brent become trapped inside the building after the mist covers everything and everyone. Alarms sound, screams and roars are heard, and a small group of store employees and patrons hunker down to battle an unseen enemy. As the day grows long, factions begin to form throughout the group. Brent heads up one of these factions, the “Outsiders,” made up of vacationers and visitors from out of town. Mrs. Carmody, a local religious fanatic, begins to make proclamations and prophecies about what is happening and quickly forms another, more bloodthirsty group. A third group headed up by David also forms. It features level-headed members of the local community and a few of the store employees. Brent’s group heads out into the fog, hoping to find help. Carmody’s group seeks out sacrifices to the beasts and turns on David’s group. David and his faction make a desperate attempt at escape. Who lives? Who dies? Who are what are the real monsters in The Mist? Watch it to find out what happens!

Darabont does an amazing job of showing us just how quickly humanity can spiral out of control. The people in the store initially help one another fight off the beasts that attempt to kill them but quickly turn on one another. All of this is delivered in a chaotic fashion that only adds to the suspense and terror of the film. The CGI creatures look pretty good, but Nicotero’s practical effects really shine in this film. Thankfully the mist manages to hide many of the shortcomings of the CGI.

The cast is amazing. Everyone delivers an amazing performance. Thomas Jane carries the film as David, but he gets a ton of support from Andre Braugher, Sam Witwer, Alexa Davalos, Toby Jones, Frances Sternhagen, and many others. Marcia Gay Harden steals every scene that she appears in as her character, Mrs. Carmody, embraces her divine destiny as the leader of religious zealots. Rounding out the brilliant cast are four future castmates from The Walking Dead. Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn have prominent roles in the film and it also features Juan Gabriel Pareja and Melissa McBride in small roles. McBride is of special note, as her character is only on the screen for a few minutes but they are very powerful minutes.

This film’s ending is brutal. I won’t spoil it here, but do know that if you’ve read Stephen King’s novella, Darabont took some major liberties with the film adaptation. In fact, King loves the ending that Darabont used in the film. The first time I saw it, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s simply wonderful.

The Mist (2007) Directed by Frank Darabont Shown from left: Laurie Holden, Thomas Jane and Nathan Gamble

This is definitely one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations. The story is interesting, paced extremely well, and shows us all that the worst monsters in the world are actually folks that look just like you and me. Be sure to check out the madness that is The Mist.

Thanks for checking out my review! See you again soon!

Firestarter (2022)

A slow burner that ultimately flames out

Heads up, folks. I’m going to be making a lot of bad fire related puns in this review but I won’t spoil the film.

Yesterday I visited the original Firestarter film from 1984. You can check out my thoughts on that film if you’d like in this post. Put briefly, I enjoyed the film but wasn’t really impressed by it in any way shape or form. I watched it in order to prepare myself for the 2022 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel from 1980. After watching the 2022 version, I’m left with many of the same feelings for it that I had with the original.

In 2022’s Firestarter, Zac Efron takes on the role of Andy McGee and Ryan Kiera Armstrong portrays his daughter, Charlie. Both of them have amazing powers. Andy can “push” people mentally to make them believe and/or do whatever he wishes. Charlie has the power of pyrokinesis. She can set things on fire with her mind. She also has a combination of her father and mother’s abilities. Sydney Lemmon plays Charlie’s mom, Vicky McGee, who can move things with her mind, communicate telepathically, and has premonition abilities as well.

Andy and Vicky have been successfully hiding from “The Shop,” a government agency that ran tests on the couple as college students that resulted in them gaining their powers, for over a decade. When Charlie was born, agents for The Shop attempted to kidnap her so that she could be studied and, ultimately, weaponized. The McGees managed to get away and have been on the run ever since that time. As Charlie has grown older, her powers have increased and she finds it harder to control or suppress them. When she has an explosive accident at school, The Shop goes back on the hunt by bringing in an assassin named John Rainbird to eliminate the McGee adults and collect Charlie for the agency.

The original film focused primarily on the hunt for Charlie and Andy. It dismissed the character of Vicky early in the movie. Firestarter 2022 takes about an hour to establish the McGee family situation and to build up Andy, Vicky, and Charlie as characters. It’s a slow burner that simmers throughout the first hour and then heats up quickly once John Rainbird catches up to Andy and Charlie. Rainbird is a strange anomaly in this film, as his character arc takes a unique turn compared to what he did in both the original film and the novel. I won’t spoil what happens, but I didn’t really care for what his character ends up doing in the film. It’s kind of aggravating for me because I really like how sinister and cold Rainbird is for almost all of the movie.

The original film felt more like a science fiction adventure than a horror film in my opinion. The 2022 film turns up the heat on the horror. Charlie seems to enjoy burning things at times, even prior to the film’s climax. She also throws in a few line of dialogue that let you know that she’s not necessarily a fan of her daddy at times. She’s calculating and downright wicked at times as well. This makes her seem like much more of a threat than innocent little Drew Barrymore came across in the original film.

The film isn’t terrible, but it’s nothing special either. For a film about a kid that can make fire with her mind, the cinematography is decidedly dull and dark. Many scenes were extremely dark, possibly to hide any shortcomings of the CGI used in the film even though I thought that the CGI was done extremely well. Also, I’m okay with director Keith Thomas focusing on the family unit for the first hour of the film but I really wish that he hadn’t rushed the final half hour in order to end it all with a long and laborious climax. I wanted more of the chase, more development of Rainbird and blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Dr. Wanless (Kurtwood Smith). Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) talked a good game but she wasn’t in the film long enough for me to care about her. The whole film just feels to rushed and too slow all at once. I willsay that the film’s score, done by legendary horror icon John Carpenter, his son, Cody, and Daniel Davies, is excellent. l might try to pick up a copy of it for myself.

As far as the cast is concerned, it’s a complete 180 from the original film. Where the first film had a nice litany of great actors, the acting overall was subpar. The 2022 film has lesser known actors in most of the roles but all of them turn in stellar performances. As already mentioned, Armstrong walks a fine line between innocent and sinister as Charlie. Michael Greyeyes, the first actual Indigenous actor to portray Rainbird, who is Cherokee in the book, knocks it out of the park. His performance was great, Kurtwood Smith wasn’t in the film long enough to do much and Gloria Reubens was a tad over the top as Captain Hollister. Sydney Lemmon did a great job as Vicky. Zac Efron, the only “major” star in the film, did a great job as Andy, Charlie’s overly cautious father who often finds himself at odds with both Vicky and Charlie. Efron continues to impress me with his versatility as an actor,

So is it worth checking out? If you have the Peacock streaming service, yes, it is. I recommend watching it on the streamer. I don’t know if I would plunk down any hard earned money to see it in a theater, though, as it comes across as more of a well done, nicely budgeted made-for-TV film than a major motion picture. It’s okay, but much like its predecessor, it’s nothing amazing.

Thanks for burning a little of your time with me by reading my post. See you again soon!

Throwback Thursday: Firestarter (1984)

“I’ll burn you up! I’ll fry you!”

I was a child way back in May of 1984 and the PG-13 rating was was just a few months away from making its debut with the film Red Dawn. Had Firestarter been released in August instead of May of that year, it quite possibly could have received the first PG-13 rating. Instead, it was given an R rating and somehow my parents still allowed me to watch it. I remember enjoying it. I remember feeling sad for Drew Barrymore’s character. I also have very vivid memories of the standoff scene at a friendly farmer’s home where Drew lights up a bunch of nasty government agents. This film stuck with me over the years, and with Blumhouse releasing a new adaptation of Stephen King’s 1980 novel on May 13, I decided to revisit the original film adaptation before diving into the new one.

I found out that I had forgotten more about the film than I remembered. I forgot how the cast was loaded from the top to the bottom with great actors including George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Heather Locklear, and Art Carney. I also forgot that despite the cast, some of the performances were subpar. I also forgot how cheesy the fireballs looked in the film’s climax. I also didn’t have the same feelings about the relationship between Drew Barrymore’s Charlie McGee and David Keith’s Andy McGee. I definitely forgot the very pedophilia-like vibe that George C. Scott’s Rainbird gave off when he first described how “attractive and young” Charlie was in his eyes.

Despite these facts, I still really enjoyed this film. If you aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a brief rundown: Andy McGee and his daughter, Charlie, are on the run from “The Shop,” a government program that’s in the business of underhanded experimentation on humans. Andy has the ability to influence minds. His wife, Vicky, had similar powers. Both of them were products of the Shop and after falling in love, they married and had a child. Their daughter, Charlie, has the power of pyrokinesis. She can create, control, and emit fire. When the Shop shows up to collect Charlie in order to weaponize her, they kill Vicky. Andy catches up to the agents, blinds them with his mind, and then he and Charlie go on the run. Along the way they run into a friendly farming couple named Irv and Norma. They have another standoff with the Shop agents (the one I have vivid memories of from my youth), and continue running. Eventually the Shop catches them and separates them. You’ll have to watch the film to find out what happens next.

The film is considered by many to be one of the most loyal adaptations of a King story. Andy’s part of the tale is cut out almost completely, but we get to see Charlie’s full story. As a kid I felt that the relationship between Andy and Charlie was very strong, but it doesn’t hold up as well for me as an adult. It’s more like a big brother/little sister relationship. Andy and Vicky’s whirlwind love story is glazed over and we really don’t get to see much of Heather Locklear at all in the film. The special effects are pretty hokey but they don’t deter from the movie as a whole. George C. Scott is a bit underwhelming and pervy as Rainbird. Martin Sheen doesn’t have much to do but he is a key player in the film’s climax. Overall, David Keith and Drew Barrymore give the strongest performances, especially Keith. He looks worn out and tired of running the entire time. He also looks very vulnerable whenever he tells Irv (Art Carney) the truth about his situation.

Firestarter isn’t my favorite Stephen King film adaptation. It has a few slow moments, awkward pacing, and one casting misfire (Scott), but the individual performances of Keith and Barrymore are solid even though their father/daughter relationship doesn’t quite mesh.

The new Firestarter film is supposedly even more loyal to the book than this version, so I’m hoping that it turns out to be a good film. I’m also hoping that we get a cameo from one of the 1984 cast in the new film. I plan on reviewing it after seeing it this weekend.

Thanks for taking a trip back in time with me. Let me know your feelings about Firestarter in the comments. Also feel free to let me know if there are any films out there that you’d like me to revisit on Throwback Thursday.

Throwback Thursday: Stand By Me (1986)

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Based upon Stephen King’s novella The Body, 1986’s Stand By Me may not look like a typical horror story from King but it definitely has horror elements. I’m not talking about vampires or demons or werewolves or even teenage girls with telekinetic powers. Nope, the horror in Stand By Me is much deeper, scarier, and real. It’s about growing up, dealing with family issues, and finding one’s way in life. That’s a lot scarier than a vampire in my book.

The story is about four young boys about to enter junior high who decide to go looking for the body of a recently deceased young man. One of the boys, Vern, overhears his brother talking about finding the body and not wanting to mention it to anyone because it would tie him to a car theft. Vern decides to tell his friends and they set out to discover the body for themselves, turn it into the authorities, and become heroes. As they follow the train tracks to the site where the body was found, viewers learn things about each of the boys. Gordie wants to be a writer and is struggling with the loss of his older brother, Denny. Chris, Gordie’s best friend and protector, battles with the fact that his family’s reputation hinders his own dreams. Vern isn’t as mature as the other boys and comes off as dimwitted at times. He fights to fit in with the rest of the group. Teddy has to deal with an abusive and alcoholic father who physically beats him and even tried to burn off his ear. All four of them are uncertain about entering junior high.

As the boys hike, Vern’s older brother, Billy, and his gang of friends headed up by the sinister Ace Merrill, are also on the trail to find the body. The two groups square off with one another. I won’t reveal what happens, but just know that in the end, we find out what happens to each of the four boys. It’s an amazing coming of age tale that gives people a glimpse into the minds, hearts, and fears of youngsters about to become men.

The story is narrated by an adult Gordie. He has become a successful writer and he tells the story of himself and his friends as they search for the body. I see him as a representation of Stephen King and King has said as much in interviews over the years. King also claims that this is one of his favorite films based upon his work.

The film was directed by Rob Reiner. It was one of his earliest directorial efforts and it is definitely one of his best. That’s saying a lot considering how many wonderful films that Reiner has directed over the years. The film’s soundtrack features some great music from the 1950’s and 60’s and the boys sing along with many of the songs as they walk the rails. The cinematography is amazing as well.

Stand By Me (1986) | Pers: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell.

The film’s cast is loaded with future stars of film and television. Young Gordie is portrayed by Wil Wheaton. Wheaton would go on to portray Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as guest star as himself on multiple episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Wheaton continues to work today having done voice work, web series, and a number of other projects. Speaking of The Big Bang Theory, another guest star on that series was Jerry O’Connell. O’Connell portrayed Vern in Stand By Me and he played Sheldon Cooper’s older brother on TBBT. O’Connell has had a very successful career as a voice over artist, star of film’s such as Joe’s Apartment, and appeared on a number of notable television shows including Sliders. Corey Feldman portrayed Teddy. Feldman already had quite the pedigree as an actor and his star would soon rise even higher when he teamed up with Corey Haim in a long string of successful films. Chris was portrayed by the late River Phoenix. Phoenix was well on his way to a massive film career after appearing in movies like My Own Private Idaho and Running On Empty. He tragically passed away at the age of twenty three due to drug use. Richard Dreyfuss portrayed the adult version of Gordie. Stand By Me was just one more in a long line of successful films for the star. John Cusack, another major star in film, had a small role as Gordie’s deceased brother Denny who appears in flashbacks.

Ace’s gang features a number of excellent character actors such as Casey Siemaszko and Bradley Gregg. Perhaps the biggest star of the film outside of Richard Dreyfuss is Kiefer Sutherland. He portrays Ace and the character is an excellent harbinger of what was to come with Sutherland’s portrayal of the equally wicked vampire named David in The Lost Boys. A string of hit films and a successful television show would follow. Just a few of his films include Young Guns, Flatliners, The Three Musketeers, and Dark City.

This is an amazing film. I hope that you take a look at it if you haven’t done so yet. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and runs about an hour and a half long.

Thanks for taking a look back with me. See you again soon.

Day O’Horror #1!

MALACHAI!

It’s here!  The first night of thirty-one days of devilish deeds!  The first entry into my Days O’Horror series is 1984’s Children of the Corn.  Based upon a short story by Stephen King, this tale of terror is one of the earliest horror films that I remember viewing as a child.  Having watched it as a forty-one year old man, though, I now realize three things:

  1. This flick isn’t nearly scary as I thought it was when I was a kid.
  2. It would probably get a hard PG-13 rating today.
  3. Isaac and Malachai are still creepy and still the only memorable parts of the film.

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SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

The film opens three years in the past (1981) and we’re told a tale by young Joby (Robby Kiger) of how the children of Gatlin, Nebraska murdered all of the adults in their small rural community.  This takes place at the request of a young cult leader named Isaac (the devilishly enjoyable John Franklin), who claims to be speaking for “He Who Walks Behind The Rows,” and is headed up by Isaac’s apparent enforcer, Malachai (the equally awesome Courtney Gains).

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The story leaps ahead three years and we see a young couple, Burt and Vicky (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) on their way to Burt’s internship at a Seattle hospital.  Their road trip leads them through Gatlin.  When Burt accidentally hits a young man in the road and realizes that the boy’s throat had been sliced open prior to the wreck, he realizes that the sparsely populated area that he and Vicky were passing through held a dark secret.

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After seeking out the help of a roadside mechanic (R.G. Armstrong) and being turned away, the pair get lost on the road and are manipulated into driving to Gatlin.  Here they befriend Joby’s sister, Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy).  Burt unwisely leaves Vicky with Sarah and goes into town for help.  Vicky is taken prisoner by Malachai and she is tied to a cross in the cornfield to be a part of the sacrifice for one of the older children’s day of leaving (human sacrifice because he was about to turn nineteen).

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Burt gets attacked while breaking up a ceremony in the old church led by the zealous Rachel (Judie Maddalena) and then finds himself on the run from Malachai and some of the other children.  He is eventually rescued by Joby and they, along with Sarah, make plans to rescue Vicky and escape Gatlin.  Malachai successfully overthrows Isaac as leader of the cult and puts Isaac on the cross in the place of Vicky.

Burt successfully rescues Vicky, Isaac gets sacrified, and then Burt gets into a fight with Malachai.  Burt seems to open up the eyes of the children to the evil of the cult, but only in time to have a demonic Isaac return and take down Malachai.  Burt and Joby cook up a plan to destroy the demon in the field and succeed in burning him.  Burt is then attacked by Rachel who is hiding in his car, but she is knocked out by Vicky.  Sarah and Joby are invited to live with Burt and Vicky, and the film abruptly ends.

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A Decent Start

This film was a decent start to Thirty-One Days O’Horror.  I’ve probably watched this film three times (including today’s showing).  It isn’t the greatest film out there, but like I said earlier, Isaac and Malachai (and to a lesser degree, Rachel) are super creepy.  I totally forgot that Horton (of Thirtysomething fame) and Hamilton (the Terminator films) were the stars of this movie.  All I can ever remember is demonic Isaac calling out for “Malachaiiii.”

Courtney Gains (Malachai) actually had a pretty solid career after this film.  He has been in Back To The Future, Sweet Home Alabama, and Memphis Belle, among other successful films.  He’s a solid character actor and his IMDb proves that he has consistently worked in TV, film, and stage since appearing in Children of the Corn.  I’ve always been impressed by his work.

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John Franklin really shined in this movie as the manipulative zealot, Isaac.  While he didn’t get as much work as Courtney Gains after filming Children of the Corn, he still had consistent work.  He briefly became a teacher before returning to acting in 2015.  Some of his most notable work includes portraying Cousin Itt in The Addams Family films, co-starring on Highway to Heaven, and as Kipp on Star Trek:  Voyager.  Franklin also co-wrote Children of the Corn 666:  Isaac’s Return.

This pair of actors is truly the only reason you need to see this film.  Go in with low expectations, and I’m sure that you’ll love it.

Well, that’s one day down.  Thirty to go.  Thanks for reading.  Look for my second Day O’Horror  post tomorrow!