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Posts tagged “scary

Fire in the Sky (1993)

Fire in the SkyIt’s unusual to review a movie of this sort.  Fire in the Sky is based on a true story of alien abduction.  I know there are skeptics out there about this sort of thing, understandably so, and my stance is that I’m willing to believe, same as with the paranormal.  I can’t apply the same approach to a film of this sort, talking about characters like they’re fictional creations, or how clever the story is conceived and executed.  This is about how well the reality of these peoples’ lives are conveyed on screen, and the quality in which these events are portrayed.  What we have here is a great, solid movie that I really should have watched a lot more over the years.  I first saw it as a VHS rental back in the late 1990s.  I owned the DVDs for probably five or six years before I actually watched it.  So, I can accurately say that for this review, I watched Fire in the Sky for the third time, ever.

Six men saw it.  One man became a prisoner inside it.  But who would believe them?  In 1975, logger Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) and his co-workers discovered a hovering UFO.  Walton’s pals fled, but Walton was not so fortunate.  Whisked aboard the strange craft, he was subjected to a painful, unearthly medical study.  This is the amazing tale of that ordeal, and of the contempt and ridicule endured by his co-workers as they try to explain Walton’s mysterious disappearance.  Skilled investigator Frank Watters (James Garner) suspects their story may be a murder cover-up, but these men, led by Travis’ best friend Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), stand by the extraordinary events they recount.  When Walton is returned in a severe traumatic state, questions become even more fantastical with the answers being more disturbing than they could imagine.

This film is smartly structured starting out with the aftermath of the abduction, and then, having Rogers and the other loggers fill in the story with their own words.  Everything that is shown about Travis pre-abduction is done in lengthy flashback, and I feel that was the perfect way to start out the movie and present Travis – show him through the eyes of his best friend.  This also presents the idea of witness accounts showing us the story from a subjective point of view, and sets up the real life oppositions these men had to face from their fellow townsfolk.  Next to no one would believe such a wildly fantastical story, and the police would surely look for criminal motives for Travis’ disappearance.  They have to fight for every ounce of credibility they can get, and the film takes us on that journey while focusing very deeply on their emotional turmoil.

D.B. Sweeney does a wonderful job in these flashback scenes showcasing a very lively, fun, and enthusiastic young man full of aspirations.  He’s clearly the brightest personality amongst these men with the biggest heart.  Showing the audience these substantive glimpses into Travis makes the impact of his traumatic abduction all the more terrifying and disturbing.  The abduction scene itself is frightening, and still gave me choked up chills.  This is a credit to the realistic, grounded, and textured nature of the film.  Director Robert Lieberman makes the danger feel paralyzingly real, and gives the film honest, emotional weight.

The last time I watched Fire in the Sky I made a note reminding me of just how great of an actor Robert Patrick is.  He really is the lead for most of the movie holding the weight of emotion on his shoulders, and doing so in masterful fashion.  The absolute depth of pain and fear is soaked into every fiber of his performance with his eyes selling so much.  Patrick is both very sympathetic as well as full of conviction and fire.  As Mike Rogers, he is both a confident, passionate leader and a man dealing with his own internal fears and grief.  There is so much humanity and strength in what he does here that this should stand as one of Patrick’s best performances.  He genuinely made me feel every emotion that he poured out of his soul, and it was a very wide and complex range of humanity offered by him.  It is only a shame that the only accolades he was offered for this film was a Saturn Award nomination.  He clearly deserves a lot more notoriety for having this level of talent.

This film is also packed with a strong supporting cast.  James Garner puts in a very solid performance as the consummate investigator Frank Watters.  You can sense the fair and just manner of Watters from everything Garner does on-screen.  He never jumps to conclusions or to condemn these men.  Even at the end, he’s not convinced of what they all say is the truth as the evidence is simply not there for him to make a conclusion.  He’s simply willing to wait and see.  Peter Berg and Henry Thomas greatly portray two of Travis’ friends, David Whitlock and Greg Hayes, both with their shaken qualities.  Yet, both actors showcase strength where needed to show that these men were standing by their statements.  Craig Sheffer has a surprisingly excellent turn as Allan Dallis, one of the loggers who has a bad attitude and doesn’t get along with anyone.  I’ve only seen Sheffer in some really poor Dimension Films direct-to-video sequels, and has never impressed me before now.  I think he did a very solid job making Dallis a very strong element in this story as a sort of wild card in the mix.  Dallis almost went out of his way to make it known he didn’t like Travis, and Sheffer’s performance really brings that friction and tension to the forefront.  Lastly, Noble Willingham fits very comfortably into the role of the local Sheriff Blake Davis bringing a trusted, honest, firm quality.  Overall, every performance feels very authentic with both obvious and subtle depth throughout.

In the latter third of the film, when Travis Walton does return, he’s in a terribly traumatized state with Sweeney putting in a great performance.  The lively young man that he once was has been entirely eviscerated leaving only a shell of a man behind.  This abduction experience forges a hard, deep wedge between Travis and Mike.  Travis is so traumatized that he resents Mike for running away from the scene of the abduction instead of helping him when he had the chance.  Unfortunately, this aspect is not given much screentime as the film shifts its focus deeply towards Travis’ struggles.  I certainly would’ve liked to have seen that strained friendship drama play out more to see how hard it truly hit Mike, and the process of how it damaged his life.  Fortunately, the film doesn’t forget about this as it is given its proper due by the end remembering that it is the people and their lives that mean the most here.

When we are finally shown what Travis Walton experienced during those five days, it is the most visceral and terrifying alien abduction sequence ever committed to film.  The production design is stunning like something out of your most dreadful nightmare with its surreal qualities and purely absorbing, grim reality.  It is something that would leave you scared out of your mind, and leave you never being the same person you once were, if you experienced it in reality.  This is a very elaborate and long sequence that will freak you out down to your very core.  This is possibly the most paralyzing sequence I’ve ever seen in a film.  Even after it ended, it took me a minute or so to ease myself out of it.  To even consider that this might have actually happened to another human being is unfathomable.  Industrial Light & Magic did an unspeakably remarkable job on this entire sequence.  The aliens themselves are so finely detailed and textured that you’d swear they were real, and this adds further to how visceral this all is on film.  It is stunning work down to the smallest nuanc.  So much so that this deserved special awards recognition at the time as well, but sadly, received none.  Of course, it’s very little in terms of visual effects as it is an overall collective work of production design, cinematography, physical effects, animatronics, sound design, and music that made this sequence so chillingly effective.

And of course, the cinematography is damn good all the way through.  Bill Pope and director Robert Lieberman clearly worked very hard to create a look for Fire in the Sky that was firmly grounded in reality.  There is such texture and weight to every shot to maintain that solid grip on the fact that this is based on a true story, and directly avoid injecting even the smallest sense of fantasy into this.  I know that sounds a little peculiar due to the alien abduction nature of the story, but even that feels shockingly real down to the grittiest of details.  This film is shot exceptionally well with wonderful angles and compositions which complement the dramatic scope of the story, both internal and external.  In all technical qualities, this is a superbly executed film made by a very solid crew of creative forces.

Now, the thing that tends to make films based off of true events different than fictional films is that there’s rarely a traditional conclusion to them.  The lives of these people continue on, and not everyone gains closure from what is documented in the movie.  So, there’s only so much of a complete story the film can offer.  Thus, Fire in the Sky is more focused on the people involved instead of a traditional three-act structured plot.  I’m sure there were a few tweaks to reality, such as the filmmakers reducing the number of loggers from seven to six for ease of storytelling, but I’m sure the human emotion of what happened remained very much intact and accurate.  Also, unlike many true stories, this one still requires the audience to believe in something they may not be inclined to believe in terms of extraterrestrial life.  However, even if you are not a believer, there is still a very strong, human story to experience in Fire in the Sky.

This is an amazingly effective and masterfully executed movie that brings more impactful reality to an alien abduction story than I’ve ever witnessed on film.  A viewing is highly worth it for two things  – Robert Patrick’s deeply emotional performance and the entire terrifying sequence aboard the alien spacecraft.  Even the film’s trailer is scary featuring only brief glimpses of that sequence along with a very foreboding voice over.  Ultimately, this is a hell of a great movie that is definitely worth your time, if this genre is your thing.  Again, I would’ve liked to have seen more of Mike Rogers in the aftermath of Travis’ traumatic return to give their reconciliation more pay-off, and to follow through on how this entire experience affected Mike, in detail.  Still, what we are given is solid, fascinating, and disturbing.  Fire in the Sky is a unique film that surely deserves more credit than time has seen fit to grant it, and I hope my words of praise here will help a little in that regard.


Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

So, Jason Voorhees has been hacked to pieces, and Paramount decided to launch a new direction for the franchise.  Fortunately, it was short lived with this lower grade, poorly conceived sequel trying to position Tommy Jarvis as the new killer of the Friday The 13th films.  Quite frankly, this has a lot wrong with it right from the start, and it’s easy to see why Paramount quickly rebounded with the far superior Jason Lives.  I’ve just never really liked this entry much because of it’s very direct-to-video production quality, bland execution, and lack of decently written characters.  The director and screenwriters simply did not have the talent to make this a good movie, regardless of the MPAA cuts.

A few years have past for Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard) since he saw Jason Voorhees killed, and after some time in a mental institution trying to recover from those horrific events, he’s been transferred to a halfway house far from Crystal Lake.  Unfortunately, soon after his arrival, a volatile young patient named Vic Faden suddenly murders the young, obnoxious, and obese Joey with an axe.  Shortly thereafter, it seems as though Jason has been resurrected from the grave to murder more people.  Meanwhile, Tommy suffers from hallucinations of Jason repeatedly, and they are slowly driving him mad.  As the bodies stack up, and Tommy seems to have disappeared, suspicions intentionally fall upon him.  However, it eventually becomes clear to the audience that this is not the work of Jason, but of a mysterious imposter using the Jason lore as a façade for his murder spree.  The aftermath of this violent experience hints at a new direction for the franchise that would quickly be discarded after backlash from the fans.

Firstly, John Shepard does a partially good job as the new Tommy Jarvis.  I think a lot of the hallucination scenes are excellently handled giving Tommy an obvious mental imbalance.  However, a lot of Shepard’s screentime is him standing or sitting around silent and introverted.  Shepard doesn’t put any effort into making Tommy seem like a troubled young man outside of those hallucinatory freak out scenes.  The screenplay doesn’t give him anything to do to showcase such behavior.  He also has almost no character interactions in this movie, and thus, it doesn’t give Shepard much to work with.  So, it’s a fine line to divide this issue which can also cut towards director Danny Steinmann’s way since he also co-wrote the script.  Instead of directing Shepard to demonstrate that internal turmoil, he just has him be a blank slate that shows nothing of what Tommy is going through.  Still, in the vast majority of his screentime, John Shepard just fills up the frame, and even in the big climax of the film, he still comes off as a waste of space.  Corey Feldman, who does cameo as Tommy in the opening dream sequence, did a stunningly impressive job with the diverse range the character of Tommy Jarvis offered in the previous film.  He hit everything dead-on-the-mark, and made a powerful impression throughout the movie.  There is nothing within John Shepard’s performance to remotely equal that exceptionally well-rounded and captivating performance from Feldman.  In the following film, Thom Mathews would serve as an excellent hero for this franchise, and do so much more than Shepard even tried to do in this sequel.

The mood and scares are decent enough.  I especially feel Violet’s stalk and slash death scene is exceptionally effective with the soundtrack of “His Eyes” by Pseudo Echo behind it.  Unfortunately, you definitely get very little gore due to the MPAA’s stringent standards of the time.  Still, the big problem of this film is the lack of decent characters to give a damn about.  There are a lot of random people added to the body count who only show up for one scene to get killed.  That’s one sense of why I feel it comes off like a bland and cheesy direct-to-video movie.  You can contrast the characters in this film to those in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  The main characters in both are all in a mental health facility with their own quirks and personal issues.  In Dream Warriors, the roles are smartly written and greatly cast to create a very strong ensemble of young characters that add vibrancy and emotional relatability to the film.  In A New Beginning, the characters all seem very under-developed as if they are just there to just fill up the screenplay.  They are not given any depth or background, let alone particularly likable aspects  They either come off as too weird, too irritating, or just uninteresting.  They bring no life to the film for an audience to really get scared for them, and the casting is not all that memorable.  There are some decently entertaining bits here and there with one or two characters, but other characters are just blandly written or underwhelmingly acted.  Nobody stands out.  They all blend into the background creating a film with no real tension, energy, or charisma.  Considering The Final Chapter and Jason Lives have two of the best young casts of the series with nicely fleshed out characters that are memorable and enjoyable, this makes A New Beginning even more of a sore thumb in the franchise.  Horror and suspense work best when an audience cares about the characters in the story, and I really could not care less about these.

While, like I said, the mood is decent, I do feel this movie is lit a little too brightly.  It feels a little too slick and polished taking away the dark and gritty feeling the series had up to this point.  That takes away from the effective, harder edged horror atmosphere the previously films generally had.  Plus, without having some abundant, high end gruesome gore effects to elevate the graphicness of the film, it all just feels cheap.  The Final Chapter felt like a franchise high point as a standard bearer for what a slasher film should be.  This film is just the opposite.  It shows the bottom of the barrel quality of what the genre should avoid becoming.

The direction of Danny Steinmann is just not very good.  I know there are far worse, more ineptly made movies out there, but for a mainstream horror franchise, this is as bad as you’d ever fear it would get.  Again, everything is cheap – the characters, the gore, the cinematography, the story, and the screenplay itself.  Steinmann co-wrote this with Martin Kitrosser, one of the writers of Friday The 13th, Part 3, a film that shares many of the same problems as this one, only not to this degree.  The third writer, David Cohen, wrote two other films no one’s heard of and that was it.  Steinmann never made another film after this one, and it is severely evident why.  This is not a theatrical release quality film.  It does reek of direct-to-video quality with its abundant cheesiness, poor script, and bland direction.  The attempt to make Tommy seem like the killer in this is lazily handled.  The film tries to throw a number of red herrings into the mix, but really, it plays up no mystery aspect whatsoever.  It’s entire intent is to push Tommy to becoming the new killer of Friday The 13th, but puts nearly no effort at all into fooling you into believing he might be the killer at large.  Anything that is dropped in to allude to that seems like a weak afterthought.

I’m not singling Steinmann out for any personal reason.  His 1984 revenge exploitation film Savage Streets has a strong cult following, and while I have never seen it, I am generally intrigued to see it.  With that cult following, it does seem to say that Steinmann was capable of making a satisfactory film filled with violence, sexuality, and grit.  Maybe Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning was just a wrong choice of film for him, or he worked with the wrong creative team.  Anything is possible, but the fact remains that he did not handled this movie well in any creative aspect.  Even if the gore was re-instated into the film, it would not make up for the poorly executed story, the flat characters, or the overall cheesiness of the film he made.

And it’s hard to even be fooled into thinking this is Jason Voorhees back from the dead.  Frankly, he looks and moves more like a poor Michael Myers imitation than a decent Jason Voorhees ones.  The blue coveralls, the slender build, the more mechanical movement, and the lackluster hockey mask just scream “bad imposter.”  Even the old VHS box cover couldn’t get the hockey mask right.  It looked like some cheap plastic mask you’d buy at the corner drug store.  Everything about this film just drives home the fact that this isn’t Jason, and we’re not even trying to fool you.  Conversely, the Jason seen in Tommy’s hallucinations looks very authentic in every detail.  Now, that clearly shows that the filmmakers could have given the imposter a more faithful design to heighten the second guessing of whether this really was Jason or not, but chose to just cheap out on that aspect.  They even still give this regular mortal man superhuman strength, just like Jason, but in every visual aspect, he clearly is not Jason Voorhees.  It’s simply bad conceptualization and poor execution.

The climax is easily one of the weakest of the franchise.  I really did not like having some wise-ass kid running around this film in Reggie, and him being part of the climactic action is just cringable for me.  He’s treated like a big hero in the whole thing, and there’s even a big music cue to support that intention.  I simply couldn’t get invested in these weak characters to really care who survived or if there was a true protagonist here.  Tommy is such an inactive part of the story that the film, in order to build suspicion that he’s the killer, is able to have him disappear for a good long while, and it doesn’t make a single bit of difference at all.  It’s very hard to sell Tommy as a potential hero when, at the same time, you are lazily trying to sell him as the potential villain.  It just comes off as very shoddy work.  This is a script that just meanders from one death scene to the next with no idea of what story it’s trying to tell.

All in all, this is really a sad sequel that delivered next to nothing worthwhile, and Paramount heard the cries of fans everywhere regarding it.  They ignored what this film attempted to setup for the Tommy Jarvis character, and took the following film into a far more satisfying and enjoyable direction.  I think it was a very fortunate turn of events that Corey Feldman was already working on The Goonies at this time, and could only do a single scene cameo.  It undoubtedly gave his career a massive boost to be working with great filmmakers like Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg on an eventual blockbuster instead with Danny Steinmann on a low grade slasher sequel.  Again, there are vastly worse films you could subject yourself to, but there are also so many better slasher films around than this sad entry in the Friday The 13th series.  However, there is one worse entry in this franchise, in my opinion, but it’s much, much further down the line in the New Line Cinema era.