Saturday, October 24, 2015


If you missed the first two installments of this monthlong series, they’re here and here. Now let’s dive into a more recent release…  

Maggie (2015)

This does not come close to being the scariest zombie film ever made, but it just may be the saddest. It’s a very atypical film for this genre, in that it eschews most of the horror elements in favor of focusing on the core relationship between a father and his teenage daughter, and the awful options left in front of them after the girl is bitten by one of the living dead.

Speaking of atypical, while Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film, you could hardly call it “an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.” The qualities that made Schwarzenegger so indelible to our collective consciousness in films like Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Predator, and Total Recall, are completely absent here. For the first time in his career, he is playing a role that could easily have been filled by someone like Kevin Costner, Gary Sinise, or Matthew McConaughey. Schwarzenegger plays Wade Vogel, a strong, reserved farmer and loving family man in the American heartland, coping with the outbreak of a zombie plague that is slowly destroying society. Wade is married to Caroline, played by Joely Richardson. She’s his second wife—his first died a number of years ago. His eldest child, Maggie, played by Abigail Breslin, is the product of his first marriage. With Caroline, he has two young children, a boy and a girl.

The film begins with Maggie having already been bitten by a zombie. She’s run away to keep her family safe, and implored her father not to look for her. But Wade does it anyway, and insists on bringing her home. It’s important to note that the film rewrites the “zombie apocalypse rules” to a certain extent, in the sense once you’re bitten, it can take several weeks for you to succumb and join the ranks of the walking dead. It also seems to take a page from Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, in that you have to die of a zombie bite to come back as a zombie. (This puts it in contrast with the George A. Romero movies and The Walking Dead comics and TV series, in which it’s established that no matter how you die, you’re coming back as a flesh-eating ghoul.)

Maggie’s homecoming puts a strain on the whole family. As her condition deteriorates, her stepmother Caroline becomes increasingly afraid of her, and worries about the safety of the other children in the house. Meanwhile, local law enforcement officers tasked with rounding up the infected and bringing them to quarantine—where they will be observed and eventually exterminated—keep coming around to implore Wade to turn Maggie over to them, for the sake of the rest of the community. Wade refuses, insisting that he will never let his daughter go to quarantine. But his options are extremely—and tragically—limited.

It’s not hyperbole to say that you’ve never seen Arnold Schwarzenegger like this before. He’s not the all-powerful, sure-to-come-out-on-top heroic figure here. There are no confident smirks or catchphrase one-liners in the vein of “I’ll be back” or “Consider it a divorce.” He is startlingly human and vulnerable in this role—just a regular man caught in devastating circumstances. He is not much different from any parent having to cope with the fact that their child has advanced cancer or AIDS. As Wade,  Schwarzenegger faces an unthinkable situation, the most horrible of all: The fact that he will outlive his child. 

Abigail Breslin, whose resume includes Little Miss Sunshine and Zombieland, turns in fine work here, particularly as Maggie’s condition worsens and she reconnects with old friends. Her scenes with Schwarzenegger are especially touching. They work very well together.

Maggie is a quiet, subtle, slowly paced film, but emotionally powerful, especially if you’re a parent. There’s a moment right near the end that still makes me tear up, just thinking about it.

If you’re a gorehound, look elsewhere. But if you want a different perspective on the zombie plague genre, one that focuses exclusively on the emotional toll such an outbreak takes on both the victims and their loved ones, Maggie is definitely worth checking out.    

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Picking up where I left off last time, I continue my effort to review at least one horror movie per week. This week, the spotlight is on…  

Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (2007)

The title pretty much spells out the whole thing. This is worthy of the channel now known as SyFy—which means it’s a total piece of crap. 

The central premise is intriguing enough, and in the hands of someone like a young George A. Romero, this would probably be a pretty decent movie. In fact, the recently launched TV series Fear the Walking Dead is doing a run of “mini episodes,” available online, that has the same basic premise: Passengers on an airplane are faced with the sudden spread of an apocalyptic zombie plague—in a very confined space. As critical as I have been of Fear, I’m fairly confident the people behind it will do a much better job with the concept than the crew responsible for this waste of time and effort.    

The stock characters range from one-dimensional to underdeveloped to thoroughly unlikable. The sets look cheap. The special effects aren’t fully convincing. And the tone is all over the place—the film can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a straight horror film. If it’s meant to be a comedy, it’s not funny. And if it’s meant to be a horror film, it’s not the slightest bit scary. In the end, it adds nothing to either genre. There’s not one original idea on display here. It was apparently a quickie made to cash in on all of the hype surrounding the film Snakes on a Plane, which came out around the same time and itself turned out to be not much of anything.

A bald zombie doing his best "Heath Ledger as the Joker" impression

The only people I recognized in the cast were Dale Midkiff (Pet Semetary), Richard Tyson (Kindergarten Cop, Two Moon Junction), and Raymond J. Barry (the terrific, recently concluded TV series Justified). 

Raymond J. Barry (center) is the only cast member whose career actually improved after this movie. 

Not that you need a “name cast” for a movie like this—you don’t. All you need are well developed, multi-dimensional characters that are played with nuance and realism. Which is exactly what you don’t get here. 

You probably weren’t thinking about watching this movie anyway, but on the slim chance that you were, my advice is: AVOID.

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


I tried this once before, back in 2012: To watch at least one horror movie per week and then write about it here. Because, as many of you know, Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. 

But things didn’t go quite as planned. Basically, a lot of stuff came up—including me attending the debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at Hofstra University—and I ended up bailing out on my “Month of Halloween” idea after the first week. But now I’m giving it another try. Not nearly as ambitious as the annual one-movie-a-day project that my dear friend Steve Bunche once again has underway at his blog, but this should be fun nonetheless. And away we go…

Fright Night Part 2 (1988)

I loved the original Fright Night, which came out in 1985. It was a good mixture of horror and comedy with likable characters, strong performances, genuine subtext about sexual identity and the agonies of adolescence, and excellent special effects. Amidst the increasingly silly Freddy Krueger films and the seemingly endless stream of mind-numbing, soul-killing Friday the 13th movies, Fright Night stood out as sincere, smart, well-crafted, and downright fun. 

You could tell it was a labor of love for writer/director Tom Holland. He genuinely respected the horror genre and avoided portraying the characters as one-dimensional, perpetually horny imbeciles. He did a fine job utilizing the lesser known tenets of vampire lore (a vampire can’t enter someone’s home if not invited in by the owner; you have to have faith in the religious object that you’re using to protect yourself from one of the undead). And in the midst of it all, he paid affectionate tribute to the wonderfully cheesy horror-movie TV hosts, such as Zacherley, that many of us remember from our childhoods. 

Holland put together a very strong cast: Chris Sarandon had probably the best role of his career as centuries-old vampire Jerry Dandridge; William Ragsdale, who would go on to star in the FOX sitcom Herman’s Head and recently played a recurring character in the fantastic FX series Justified, made a strong impression as Charley Brewster, a teenager who discovers that a vampire has moved into the house next door; Amanda Bearse, best known for her role as Marcy on the long-running series Married… With Children, played Charley’s virginal girlfriend Amy, who finds herself targeted by Dandridge; Stephen Geoffreys, playing Charley’s oddball friend “Evil” Ed, was one of the biggest highlights of the film, providing lots of laughs and a real sense of pathos (in a shocking real-life twist, Geoffreys ended up performing in hardcore gay porn films in the 1990s); and Roddy McDowall, already an icon thanks to his memorable work in the Planet of the Apes franchise, attracted a whole new generation of fans with his absolutely wonderful performance as Peter Vincent, a washed-up actor reduced to hosting old horror movies on a local TV station. 

The film was a hit, and is remembered fondly by genre fans to this day—it was even remade recently with Colin Farrell in the Chris Sarandon role. (Though the remake did not fare nearly as well at the box office.) 

And then there’s Fright Night Part 2. It’s an underrated film, better than its reputation would suggest. It’s eminently watchable, competently made, and has strong production values. But it’s nowhere near as good as the original.

For one thing, it’s more of a retread than a sequel. Aside from bringing in Jerry Dandridge’s sister Regine (played by Julie Carmen) to get revenge on Charley for destroying her brother, this film basically replicates the plot of the original, with a few minor twists here and there. 

Julie Carmen as the night-stalking Regine

Ragsdale, returning as Charley, does get the opportunity to bring some maturity and added depth to the role. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Roddy McDowall. He’s back as Peter Vincent, and he plays the part as effectively as ever, but he’s forced to just repeat himself. The script doesn’t develop his character any further than what we saw previously. We learn nothing new about him, he has no real story arc, and there’s no sense of resolution for his character at the end. 

Fright Night Part 2 has some major handicaps. Tom Holland is nowhere to be found. Ditto Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys—their characters are mentioned but they’re both MIA without any explanation. Geoffreys’s absence is particularly disappointing, given the ending of the original film. (Apparently, he was asked to return but declined.) 

Ragsdale and McDowall welcome some new blood.  

With new writers (Tommy Lee Wallace, Tim Metcalfe, and Miguel Tejada-Flores) and a new director (Wallace), the film really only regurgitates what we’d already seen in the original film. It doesn’t delve any deeper. Regine is motivated solely by revenge and once that’s established, there’s absolutely no further development of her character—a sharp contrast to Sarandon’s Jerry, who was very multi-layered. Ultimately, Fright Night Part 2 proves to be a spectacularly unnecessary film. The original movie was a story that its writer/director very much wanted to tell, and he told it with a strong voice and vision. There is simply no compelling reason for the sequel to exist. It’s just product, produced by other people who were only able to follow what was done before, instead of truly innovate. 

And yet, the film has its virtues. There are some clever and witty bits here and there. Traci Lin, who’s absolutely beautiful, turns in a strong performance as Charley’s new girlfriend, Alex. 

Traci Lin, where are you now?

Julie Carmen is undeniably sexy, sultry, and menacing. Her posse of undead irregulars includes some colorful characters, including Brian Thompson (who played the shapeshifting alien bounty hunter in many episodes of The X-Files) as an insect-eating hulk and Jonathan Gries as a clumsy doofus who prefers to turn into a wolf instead of a bat. And the film marks the last screen appearance of actor Merritt Butrick, who died, apparently of AIDS, a short time after filming. Butrick, who made his screen debut in 1982 as Admiral James T. Kirk’s son Dr. David Marcus in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, plays Charley’s college buddy Richie, who unwittingly gets involved with Regine and her sinister crowd. 

The film barely got a theatrical release in 1989, so most people didn’t even know of its existence. (It gained something of a cult following once it came out on VHS.) It’s currently not available on DVD or Blu-ray, but it pops up every now and then on the premium-cable movie channels. It’s certainly worth checking out, especially if you liked the original. Just keep your expectations low and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2015.