THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THEM! (1954), the first and arguably the best of the giant bug movies.

THE HORROR JAR: Giant Bug Movies
By Michael Arruda

Just in time for summer, it’s another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature various lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies. This time out we look at giant bug movies. That’s right, when you’re out picnicking, at the beach, on a hike, or at a barbecue, and the pesky bugs are getting in your face, remember, it could be a lot worse.

They could be a lot bigger.

Here’s a look at some giant bug classics:

THEM! (1954)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Screenplay by Ted Sherdeman
Sgt. Ben Peterson: James Whitmore
Robert Graham: James Arness
Dr. Harold Medford: Edmund Gwenn
Dr. Patricia Medford: Joan Weldon
General O’Brien: Onslow Stevens
Running Time: 94 minutes

Giant ants attack Los Angeles. One of the first giant bug movies remains one of the best. Chilling thriller is much scarier than its 1950s counterparts. Originally to have been shot in color and in 3D. It works just fine in black and white.


Directed by Jack Arnold
Screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley
Dr. Matt Hastings: John Agar
Professor Gerald Deemer: Leo G. Carroll
Running Time: 80 minutes

John Agar defends a desert town from a giant tarantula. Another classic.


RODAN (1956)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Takeshi Kimura
Running Time: 74 minutes

Sure, Rodan is a pterosaur, but this Toho flick also features prehistoric insects which are quite scary until Rodan decides to eat them for breakfast.


Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn
Dr. Ed Wainright: Peter Graves
Running Time: 76 minutes

It’s all in the family, as this tale of giant grasshoppers stars future Mission: Impossible star Peter Graves, the brother of James Arness (future Gunsmoke star) who starred in THEM! This one comes to us from director Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) who made a lot of these giant monster movies, and it’s an inferior production to the giant bug films which came before it.


Directed by Edward Ludwig
Screenplay by David Duncan and Robert Blees
Hank Scott: Richard Denning
Running Time: 88 minutes

This tale of giant scorpions attacking Mexico City features special effects by KING KONG (1933) creator Willis O’Brien and stars Richard Denning, fresh off his battle with the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Budget constraints forced O’Brien to use incomplete shots of the giant scorpions in some scenes. In these scenes the monsters appear as black shadows as opposed to fleshed out creatures.


Directed by Nathan Juran
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Col. Joe Parkman: Craig Stevens
Dr. Ned Jackson: William Hopper
Running Time: 79 minutes

Universal’s companion piece to its earlier hit TARANTULA, this one about a giant praying mantis. Not as good as TARANTULA, but still an above average entry in the genre. Contains some very creepy scenes.


Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Laszlo Gorog and George Worthing Yates
Running Time: 73 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick should have been called Teens Vs. The Spider, as a group of 1950s teens takes on a giant Arachnid which invades their small town.


MOTHRA (1961)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 88 minutes

I’ve never understood the desire to make a movie about a giant moth (“Hey, guys, here’s an idea for a giant monster movie: a giant moth!” Seriously?) Of course, this shows how little I know, as MOTHRA became a hit for Toho, and everybody’s favorite giant moth would go on to appear in countless other movies, most featuring Godzilla.


Directed by Cy Enfield
Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne.
Captain Cyrus Harding: Michael Craig
Herbert Brown: Michael Callan
Gideon Spilitt: Gary Merrill
Captain Nemo: Herbert Lom
Running Time: 101 minutes

This classic movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen features many giant creatures, including oversized bees. Superior special effects here, but that’s no surprise as Ray Harryhausen always brought his “A” game to his movies. Memorable music score by Bernard Herrmann.


Directed by Ishiro Honda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa
Running Time: 89 minutes

Godzilla battles Mothra for the first time. Mothra would go on to appear in many other Godzilla movies, not listed here.


Directed by Jun Fukuda
Screenplay by Shin’ichi Sekizawa and Kazue Shiba
Running Time: 84 minutes

No Mothra here, but this film which introduced Godzilla’s son Minilla does feature giant praying mantises known as Kamacuras, and a giant spider called Kumonga.


Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Bert I. Gordon, based on the novel by H.G.Wells.
Running Time: 88 minutes

This Bert I. Gordon flick is mainly about enormous rats, but does feature humongous wasps as well.


Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay by Jack Turley, based on a story by H.G. Wells
Marilyn Fryser: Joan Collins
Dan Stokely: Robert Lansing
Running Time: 89 minutes

Bert I. Gordon again, this time directing a tale about giant ants in Florida, starring Joan Collins, four years before her run on the TV show Dynasty.


Directed by John “Bud” Cardos
Screenplay by Richard Robinson and Alan Caillou
Rack Hansen: William Shatner
Running Time: 97 minutes

Okay, technically, this isn’t a giant bug movie, because the spiders in this flick are regular sized— it’s just that there are millions of them invading a small town. (Well, maybe not millions, but there sure are a lot of them!). This film is on the list for one reason only, other than the spiders, of course, and that’s William Shatner. Shatner lifts this one to a higher level. Sure, it’s his over-dramatic Captain Kirk shtick again here as he plays veterinarian Rack Hansen, but that’s what makes his performance and ultimately this movie so much fun.


TREMORS (1990)
Directed by Ron Underwood
Screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock
Valentine McKee: Kevin Bacon
Earl Bassett: Fred Ward
Burt Gummer: Michael Gross
Heather Gummer: Reba McIntire
Running Time: 96 minutes

Another film that technically isn’t a giant bug movie, but this flick about ferocious giant mutated worm-creatures is so good it’s impossible to keep off this list. A highly entertaining movie that was largely ignored upon its initial theatrical release, TREMORS ranks as one of the best giant monster movies ever made.


Directed by Ellory Elkayem
Screenplay by Jesse Alexander and Ellory Elkayem
Chris McCormick: David Arquette
Ashley Parker: Scarlett Johansson
Running Time: 99 minutes

This effective horror comedy mix about giant spiders features Scarlett Johansson in one of her early roles.


Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on the novel “The Return of the King” by J.R.R. Tolkien
Frodo: Elijah Wood
Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Gollum: Andy Serkis
Running Time: 201 minutes

This 2004 Oscar Winner for Best Picture features one very nasty giant spider in one very creepy scene. The other 195 minutes aren’t half bad either!

Well, there you have it. A list of giant bug movies just in time for summer. Is this all of them? No way! These are just a few of the giant critter flicks which I recommend. There are many, many more.

That’s it for now.

Thanks for reading!


JERSEY BOYS (2014) Walk LIke Men


Jersey-Boys-poster-1Movie Review: JERSEY BOYS (2014)
Michael Arruda

I didn’t see the stage musical JERSEY BOYS.

I’m not the biggest fan of musicals or even of Frankie Valli, for that matter, as he was a bit before my time, but I am a fan of Clint Eastwood and the myriad of quality movies he consistently makes, both behind and in front of the camera, so perhaps this might explain my feelings towards today’s movie, JERSEY BOYS, Eastwood’s film adaptation of the award winning musical. It’s getting mediocre reviews, but I enjoyed it from start to finish, so much so that in this year of mediocre movies, JERSEY BOYS just might be the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.

JERSEY BOYS tells the story of singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, reprising his role from the musical), as he rises from the depths of crime ridden New Jersey streets in the 1950s and sings his way to stardom. As a teenager, Valli joins a band run by his friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), who in his spare time does small jobs for the local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Gyp loves Frankie’s voice and encourages him to make it big.

Once Bobby Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a promising young musician and songwriter, joins their group, which also includes their friend Nick (Michael Lomenda), they settle upon a name, The Four Seasons, and then they work to get playing gigs and their songs played on the radio. They persevere through early failure before they put together three number one hits in a row, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like A Man.”

But the road to fame never comes easy for them. Tommy’s selfish behavior consistently gets in the way of the band’s success, and he owes large sums of money to the mob. Early on, Frankie falls in love with and marries the charismatic Mary (Renee Marino), and they start a family together, but Frankie’s road schedule of constant gigs takes its toll on Mary and she starts drinking, eventually forcing Frankie out of the family picture.

And just when they seem to be hitting their stride with an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, things come crashing down on them.

The thing I liked best about JERSEY BOYS was it told a good story. The screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, both of whom also wrote the musical, hits a homerun, and this comes as no surprise, knowing Brickman’s prior writing credits. Brickman’s a seasoned writer who years ago co-wrote the Woody Allen classics SLEEPER (1973), ANNIE HALL (1977), and MANHATTAN (1979).

Some have complained that the story of The Four Seasons as told in this movie is cliché ridden. I disagree. Just because there have been other stories of bands that went from rags to riches doesn’t meant that this particular story can’t be done well.

Of course, this story wouldn’t be a success if you didn’t like the main character, Frankie Valli.
From his rough beginnings in a Mafia neighborhood, Frankie comes across from the outset as a stand-up guy, even as a young sixteen year-old. He carries this persona with him throughout the story. Years later, when he should kick his friend Tommy into the street, he stands by his friend and agrees to have the band settle Tommy’s debt to the Mafia. This act of loyalty demonstrates what Valli is all about and shows why he’s determined throughout to be a success. It’s not for fame, glory, or money. It’s about living one’s life in a way that is respectful to one’s self and one’s friends. JERSEY BOYS paints a likable picture of Frankie Valli. He comes across as a decent human being trying to do the right thing, even when those around him don’t do the same.

The performances in JERSEY BOYS are all first-rate, and director Eastwood deserves a lot of credit for getting so much out of his largely fresh and new ensemble of actors. The players here all act like old pros, when in reality most of these folks are rather new to the film world.

John Lloyd Young, reprising the role of Frankie Valli from the stage musical for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, is as you would expect excellent in the role. Young makes Valli a solid likeable character throughout, and he should be applauded for running the full gamut of ages here, as he plays Valli as a teen, in his twenties, thirties, and even older. It’s a terrific performance.

Erich Bergen is just as good as Bobby Gaudio. There’s something very youthful and energetic in his performance, as he captures more than any of the other three members in the band what it’s like to be in a struggling and then successful band. He’s also the member with a head on his shoulders, and he helps steer Frankie in the right direction when things get murky.

Tommy Devito is the exact opposite, as he’s the band member who is constantly putting the band at risk. As Tommy, Vincent Piazza is superb. He makes Tommy a multi-dimensional character, one you never really hate. Sure, his selfishness and mob connections do the band no favors, but early on he’s the one who gets the band started and pushes it along.

Michael Lomenda is also very good as Nick Massi, the self-described “Ringo” of the group. Nick constantly feels overwhelmed by the group’s struggles and successes, and of the four, he’s the least dynamic. Lomenda does a nice job in this low-key role.

Renee Marino is excellent in her film debut as Frankie’s wife Mary. She’s absolutely electrifying in her first couple of scenes. Unfortunately, she’s not in the film much as it goes along, and in her remaining scenes she’s pretty much reduced to a nagging wife with a drinking problem.

And Mike Doyle as the group’s producer Bob Crewe enjoys some scene stealing moments in a neat supporting role. He has some of the film’s best lines, including a few laugh out loud moments.

Christopher Walken does the “Christopher Walken” thing as mobster Gyp DeCarlo. Walken brings an instant feel of menace and respect to the role, even though not once in the movie do we ever see DeCarlo engage in anything criminal. Walken makes full use of his presence here.

There has been only a handful of Clint Eastwood films that I haven’t been nuts about— in recent years J. EDGAR (2011) and HEREAFTER (2010) come to mind— which is remarkable considering the number of movies he has starred in and directed. The thing that I like most about Eastwood’s work is he has a way of making movies that cut through the muck and get to the simple issue of likeability. Watching a Clint Eastwood movie is like sitting with a favorite uncle who’s a gifted storyteller. He knows what he’s doing, and you know what you’re in for, a quality story that doesn’t disappoint.

In JERSEY BOYS, Eastwood effortlessly utilizes the gimmick— as they did in the play— of having the characters speak directly into the camera, and he uses this to full effect. He also uses some flashback and moves back and forth in time seamlessly here.

JERSEY BOYS is impeccably made, from the sets and costumes to the musical numbers. No, JERSEY BOYS is not a traditional musical in terms of song and dance numbers. It’s a bio pic, about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But it does contain some tremendous music, as the Four Season’s canon of songs is a good one.

All in all, JERSEY BOYS tells a solid story, is flawlessly filmed, and features strong acting performances from everyone involved. It also features classic music from The Four Seasons.

This summer at the movies, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more satisfying movie experience.

And that’s because it’s more than just a story about a band. It’s about friendship, family, loyalty, and fighting for what you want even when those around you fight against you. Christopher Walken’s Gyp utters a telling line in this one, “Do the work and everything follows.” Hard work pays off. That’s usually the case. And the harder one works the harder it gets, but you keep going anyway.

Big Girls Don’t Cry. Neither do JERSEY BOYS.






CHEF (2014) Cooks Up A Happy Meal


Chef posterMovie Review: CHEF (2014)
Michael Arruda

If you want to see delicious food cooked up in a movie, then CHEF (2014), the new comedy drama by director/writer/actor Jon Favreau is the film for you. The mouth-watering dishes prepared in this flick made me want to toss my popcorn and run to the nearest five-star restaurant.

However, if you’re looking for a good story to sink your teeth into, then that’s a different matter, because the story CHEF tells is more like that bag of popcorn than a gourmet meal.

CHEF opened in theaters back on May 30, and I had intended to see it before now, but on my first trek to the theater several weeks back, some technical issues postponed the showing. I finally got around to seeing it this week.

CHEF tells the story of gourmet chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau). He’s the head chef at a popular restaurant, and his life at this restaurant is all good. He has complete control over what he cooks, or at least he thinks he does, he enjoys a fun friendship with his fellow cooks Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale), and he’s sleeping with the beautiful hostess, Molly (Scarlett Johansson). However, his life outside the restaurant is not so good. He’s divorced, his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) is rich and he isn’t, and since he’s so busy at the restaurant, he just doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with his ten year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

When influential food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) whose opinions can make or break an establishment visits the restaurant, Carl excitedly plans a special menu to impress the man. However, the restaurant’s owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) convinces Carl to stick with his regular menu, arguing that Carl’s food is good enough as is, and that the reason the restaurant is doing so well is because of the way Carl prepares the present menu. Carl agrees.

The results are not pretty, as Ramsey writes a negative review. Carl is devastated by the bad review, and he makes things worse when he sends what he believes to be a private message on Twitter to Ramsey which suddenly goes viral, and when Ramsey writes back with even harsher language, Carl finds himself in an online war of words that he is not prepared to handle.

Before he can say “tweet” Carl finds himself out of a job, and suddenly he’s soul searching as to what he’s going to do with his life. He settles upon the idea of running a food truck, and the rest of the film is a road trip movie, as Carl, his friend and fellow cook Martin, and his young son Percy drive the truck from Florida back to their home in California, with of course Carl using this time to bond with his son.

CHEF was written and directed by Jon Favreau, who also plays the lead role, Chef Carl Casper. The multi-talented Favreau is probably best known as the director of the first IRON MAN (2008) movie starring Robert Downey Jr., but he also directed another of my favorite movies, the classic Will Ferrell comedy ELF (2003). In addition, Favreau directed IRON MAN 2 (2010) and COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011). Favreau also starred in all three IRON MAN movies as Tony Stark’s personal bodyguard Happy Hogan.

Favreau obviously has talent, and perhaps this is the reason that I expected more from CHEF.

On the strength of its supporting cast alone, it would be hard to dislike this film, as it features Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., and Oliver Platt in small roles, and all are very good in their limited screen time, especially Johansson. Had her character Molly been in this film more, CHEF would have been a better movie. Robert Downey Jr. looks like he rolled off the set of an IRON MAN movie, as he does his Tony Stark shtick here, playing the flamboyant wealthy ex-husband of Carl’s ex-wife who agrees to finance Carl’s new food truck.

CHEF gets off to a strong start. We’re treated to rousing scenes of food preparation, fast-paced cooking action in the kitchen, and energetic camaraderie amongst the chefs. Throw in Scarlet Johansson as your hostess, and this one is prepped for a fun beginning.

But the fun slows down when Carl loses his job because strangely at this point in the story the film loses its edge, settling for “happy” and “sweet” moments as opposed to funny ones. It also sugar coats its serious side, which had it been played up, had we felt more of Chef Carl’s pain when he was out of work, for instance, would have given this pleasing tale more balance. As it stands, it’s awfully syrupy sweet.

I also didn’t really like Carl all that much. He’s a nice enough guy, and later when he finally does bond with his son Percy he becomes a nice dad as well, but when things go sour with food critic Ramsey Michel he becomes something of a whiner. He goes on at length several times in the movie about how Michel’s words “hurt me” and he lambastes Ramsey saying that since he’s just a critic and not a chef, he has no idea what he’s talking about. These emotional tirades do not make Carl a likeable person. Instead, he comes off like a big baby who can’t handle criticism. I can’t say that I was nuts about Jon Favreau in this role.

There are also times when he’s gushing with happiness that just didn’t ring true for me. You just lost your job. You shouldn’t be this happy this fast. But he is.

Which brings me to another problem with CHEF, and that is, there’s too little conflict. Carl loses his job for all of two seconds before he’s up and running with his cool new food truck. Not only this, but the truck is an instant success and suddenly he’s more popular than ever.

I also didn’t like the character of Carl’s ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara). She is so supportive of her ex-husband, she seems more like his sister than his ex-wife. The two get along better than most married couples. There’s also something very condescending and annoying about the way she speaks to Carl. Worse yet, he doesn’t seem to notice.

On the contrary, young Emjay Anthony is excellent as Carl’s son Percy. He gives the best performance in the entire movie. Likewise, Jon Favreau’s best scenes in CHEF are the ones where he plays off Anthony. But since CHEF is an R rated comedy, I expected more than just a G rated tale about a 10 year-old boy. And it’s R rated for language, because as you would expect, the language in the bustling restaurant kitchen and later on inside the food truck is rather colorful.

Scarlet Johansson is also excellent as Molly, the hostess who’s involved in a relationship with Carl at the beginning of the movie. Sadly, her character completely disappears in the second half of the film, and the movie suffers for it.

Both Dustin Hoffman and Oliver Platt are solid in their supporting roles, and Robert Downey Jr. pleases in his one scene as Inez’ ex-husband Marvin, who could be Tony Stark’s long lost cousin.

John Leguizamo is okay as Carl’s buddy Martin, but he’s been better in other things, and Martin never becomes the hilarious buddy he’s intended to be. The same can be said for Bobby Cannavale as Tony.

But you can’t beat the scenes of cooking, food preparation, and gourmet meals. You’ll be drooling in your seat. The items prepared in this movie, even on the food truck, are mouthwatering. If only the entire movie had been the same.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like CHEF, because I did. For the most part, it entertained me, and in the lightest of fashions made me laugh, but unfortunately it also went to the “happy” well too many times for my liking. The bottom line is things should have been more difficult for Carl— he whines and complains about things, when really, in this movie, things are never so bad for him— and the movie should have been funnier.

CHEF is a light comedy that could have used more meat on its bones.

I feel like I got an appetizer when I wanted a meal.






22-Jump-Street-PosterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of 22 JUMP STREET (2014) which went up this weekend at, your place to read about movies, where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.

Thanks for reading!



Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A college lecture hall filled with young, energetic college students, chatting and socializing, until their professor asks for quiet. Camera pans to the front of the lecture hall and we see that the professor is MICHAEL ARRUDA.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: All right, we’re ready to begin. Please have your books open to page 22, and we’ll pick up from where we left off last time. (Turns to address camera) Hey, if I have to go undercover at a college campus, there’s no way I’m passing myself off as a student, so I have to pose as a professor. In my case, it’s more like 52 Jump Street, rather than 22.

Welcome everyone to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I’m Michael Arruda— L.L. Soares is off on another assignment— and this week I’m reviewing the new comedy 22 JUMP STREET, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the inevitable sequel to their hit comedy 21 JUMP STREET (2012) which was itself a comedic reboot of the classic hit TV series 21 JUMP STREET (1987-1991) starring Johnny Depp.

STUDENT (raising hand): Excuse me, professor? Who are you talking to?

MA (points to camera): I’m talking to the audience.

STUDENT: I thought we were your audience?

MA: Well, the truth is, I’m not really your professor. I’m really here to review the new comedy 22 JUMP STREET. Care to hear about it?

STUDENT: Why do you think we’re here? This is Film Criticism Class, and today’s movie is 22 JUMP STREET. And you’re our guest speaker.

MA: Why— of course I am! And let’s get right to it then, shall we? (Looks at camera and shrugs).

I liked the movie 21 JUMP STREET well enough, but in all honesty, I wasn’t really into seeing its sequel, today’s movie, 22 JUMP STREET, for the simple reason that most of the time, sequels aren’t very good, and some movies don’t really need sequels, and I’d have to say this is one of them.

But the theater was packed, and so obviously a lot of folks would disagree with me.

STUDENT: I definitely wanted to see 22 JUMP STREET.

MA: Well, good for you. And I would say the majority of the audience were people under the age of 25, so maybe I just don’t fit into the target audience demographic.

Anyway, in 22 JUMP STREET, we find our likable heroes Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) botching a drug arrest and letting the main baddie known as The Ghost (Peter Stormare) get away. As a result, they are sent to 22 Jump Street, the building across the street from 21 Jump Street, where they once more find themselves working for Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), who this time sends them off to college, where they will once again work undercover, this time posing as college students in order to find out who is dealing a new controversial drug on campus known as WHYPHY, pronounced “WiFi,” a set-up for one of the movie’s many gags.

While Schmidt befriends a beautiful young art student name Maya (Amber Stevens) in order to learn more about the young woman who died on campus from WHYPHY, Jenko follows another lead and joins the football team, developing a close friendship with the quarterback Zook (Wyatt Russell) who may or may not be a possible drug dealer. Schmidt also has to deal with Maya’s very strange and annoying roommate Mercedes (Jillian Bell) who always seems to be watching them at the most inopportune moments.

Of course, in a movie like this, the plot is secondary, serving only as a set-up for the movie’s gags, and this film is full of them from start to finish. Some of the gags work, while others don’t. For me, although there were jokes galore, most of them weren’t overly funny, and so while I did laugh here and there, it was a rarity that I laughed out loud. The nearly sold out audience was also relatively quiet.

One of the funnier gags involved the relationship between Schmidt and Captain Dickson’s daughter, or to be more specific, the discovery that Schmidt had unknowingly slept with his boss’ daughter. This entire sequence generated some of the loudest laughs in the theater.

I also liked the fight between Schmidt and Mercedes, where awkward moments of possible affection creep in and ultimately he’s forced to punch a woman.

FEMALE STUDENT: Punch a woman? What kind of a message is this movie sending?

MA: If you’d seen this woman, you’d want to punch her, too.

FEMALE STUDENT (shocked): What kind of a message are you sending?

MA: That it’s a silly movie without a message. Seriously, it’s a non-issue. It’s a completely goofy movie.

FEMALE STUDENT: I don’t know.

MA: Look, here we are, you and I, in real life, and I’m not about to punch you or even think about punching a woman because of what I saw in this movie, and I’m only going on about this because you brought it up. Why did you bring it up, by the way?

FEMALE STUDENT: Because I’m a college student and I like to think about everything.

MA: That’s good. It’s good to think about everything. You and I could think about everything together after class.

FEMALE STUDENT: That’s creepy.

MA: Well, I’m a horror writer. That’s what I do.

Let’s get back to the movie.

But a lot of the other jokes, while I wouldn’t say they misfire, simply aren’t all that funny. The banter between Hill and Tatum is amiable enough, but it’s not as fresh as it was the first time around. The slapstick sequences are mediocre, and in general the humor isn’t as biting or outrageous as it needs to be.

What does misfire is the running gag of Schmidt and Jenko being brothers, or that they share more than just friendship. When Jenko discovers he shares a brotherly bond with Zook, Schmidt becomes insanely jealous. This plot point just didn’t work for me. It seemed phony, and it wasn’t funny, and it goes on forever as the movie keeps coming back to it. Likewise, a huge chunk of time is also spent on Jenko’s and Zook’s relationship, as we watch them bond over one thing after another, and it’s supposed to be funny, but it all comes off as rather odd and generally falls flat.

And so overall I didn’t think the humor here was quite as sharp as it was in the first movie. The screenplay by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman tries hard and throws all kinds of jokes our way, but only a handful work. Bacall wrote the first 21 JUMP STREET movie as well as SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010), and Rothman co-wrote GRUDGE MATCH (2013) the Sylvester Stallone/Robert De Niro comedy that I liked, although it didn’t perform all that well at the box office.


MA: Me, too. It was one of my favorite movies from 2010.

The screenplay even pokes fun at how sequels can be repetitive, as there’s a running gag where the characters constantly talk about doing things differently, and not doing things the same this time, and that things will be different. Trouble is, things aren’t so different from the first time. The biggest difference is the film is less funny than the first one.

One of the more creative parts of the movie is the end credits, where we get to view a montage of potential future sequels putting Schmidt and Jenko in various undercover roles, in settings like culinary school, in Russia, in space, and on and on. This sequence was pretty funny. I wish the rest of the film had been as inspired.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are OK here, but I liked them much better in the first movie. They simply weren’t as funny or as enjoyable together this time around. It’s Ice Cube as Captain Dickson who gets to enjoy some of the funniest parts of the movie, and that about says it all: when Ice Cube is more comical than both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, that doesn’t bode well for the movie.

I also thought Jonah Hill was more subdued here than normal. In the past, he’s made me laugh out loud with some of his performances. Compared to his work in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013), the first 21 JUMP STREET (2012) and MONEYBALL (2011), his performance here was somewhat of a dud.

Channing Tatum’s performance was also on the lackluster side. While it looked like Hill and Tatum had a good time making this movie, it didn’t translate into laughs. It was almost like “wink, wink. Here we are doing our same shtick again. Isn’t it funny?” They should have worked really hard on a new shtick.

I liked Jillian Bell as the oddball roommate Mercedes. Her best moments come early on, when she’s just the strange roommate. Later, when she becomes more involved in the plot, she’s less effective, as she’s better as a peripheral character than a major player.

The rest of the cast either play it straight, as in Amber Stevens as Maya, or are slightly goofy and ultimately fail to make much of a comedic impression, as in Wyatt Russell as Zook.

22 JUMP STREET was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and they directed the first JUMP STREET film as well. They should have quit while they were ahead.

22 JUMP STREET is a silly film that plays out pretty much exactly as I expected it to. It’s fairly funny, and there are tons of gags throughout, but it suffers from being a sequel, as it’s nowhere near as fresh as the first film, nor is it as inspired, nor do the key players impress as much as they did the first time around. And most importantly, it’s simply not as funny as the first film.

For me, it was a lackluster movie.

I give it two knives.

(Turns to students)

Okay, that was my review. For your homework, go off and see a movie this weekend and have a review written for next class.

STUDENT: Can you assign homework? I thought you were just a guest lecturer.

MA: It’s your choice. But if you don’t do the assignment, you’’ll have to deal with him.


(MA sets up a computer and projection screen to show a live feed on the screen. L.L. SOARES appears in a close-up wearing a blood-stained tee shirt and holding an axe dripping with blood.)

L.L. SOARES: You better do your friggin homework or I’m coming for you! In fact, I just left the room of the last guy who didn’t write me a review.

MA: We have high standards here at Cinema Knife Fight. Don’t let us down.

(Students flee.)

MA: Well, you gotta weed out the ones who don’t have a stomach for this job.

Thanks for joining us everyone. We’ll be back next week with a review of another new movie.








What I’m Reading: DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King


Doctor SleepWhat I’m Reading – Doctor Sleep By Stephen King

I am not a Stephen King fanatic.

I know many fans who are avid readers of his work and seem to know more about his books than he does. I am not one of these people.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy King’s work. I do. A lot.

In fact, pretty much every time I read one of King’s books I like it immensely, and some of my favorite books have been written by Stephen King, but King has written so much, and I read from so many different genres, fiction and nonfiction alike, I just haven’t been able to keep up, which is why I say I’m not a Stephen King fanatic. I don’t know his canon of work inside out. I just read his books and enjoy them. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed with anything he’s written.

I say all this because as I write this review of King’s latest, Doctor Sleep, I want you to consider the source, me, someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of all of King’s fiction. I just read ‘em and move on. For instance, Doctor Sleep is a sequel to one of King’s most popular novels, The Shining, a book I haven’t picked up since it first came out back in 1977.

So for me, the experience of reading Doctor Sleep was as simple as learning about what happened to young Dan Torrance from The Shining, and what his life was like now as an adult. On this level, I found Doctor Sleep enjoyable.

As did a lot of other people, as Doctor Sleep won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel. The Bram Stoker Awards are awarded each year by the Horror Writers Association, a professional organization for horror writers, of which I am an Active Member. In fact, it was shortly after I joined the HWA that I had my first short story published back in 1998, so I can personally say that good things come from being part of this organization.

But I digress. Back to Doctor Sleep.

Doctor Sleep begins with “Prefatory Matters” in which we learn the details of what happened to Dan Torrance, his mother Wendy, and heroic chef Dick Hallorann shortly after the horrific events inside the hotel Overlook in the conclusion of The Shining, as well as what happened to them in the years following these events. We are also introduced the character of Rose, a witchy woman belonging to a race of beings known as the True Knot, who go around doing some not-so-nice things to some “special” children.

The novel then settles upon Dan Torrance, now an adult, and like his father before him, he’s dealing with alcoholism, a battle which up until now he had been losing. Dan finds himself in a small New Hampshire town where he meets a man named Billy Freeman who runs a small attraction, the Teenytown Railway. The two men strike up a friendship, and Dan soon finds himself working for Billy’s employer, Casey Kingsley, who eventually leads Dan to AA in order to help him take ownership of his alcoholism.

Dan also works at a nursing home where due to his ability, known as the shining, he is able to assist those elderly residents who are dying, helping them making the peaceful transition from this world to the next, an ability which earns him the nickname, “Doctor Sleep.”

During this time, Dan is contacted by a young fourteen year-old girl named Abra, whose own powers are remarkably strong and dwarf Dan’s. In fact he’s never met anyone with the ability as powerful as Abra’s. Abra sees a horrifying vision, a young boy with powers like herself, a boy she calls “the baseball boy” being tortured and murdered by a group of people led by a one-toothed woman. Abra reaches out and asks for Dan’s help. She knows these people kill children like herself, feeding off their essence, or their “steam” as they call it. Abra wants to get these people for killing the baseball boy.

These people are the True Knot, led by Rose, who also senses Abra and realizes that if they had her essence, the most powerful she has ever felt, they would be amazingly strengthened. And so the battle lines are drawn, as Dan and Abra and their friends work to take down Rose and the True Knot, while at the same time protecting Abra from Rose, a determined powerful woman in her own right who wants nothing more than to kill Abra.

Really, all you need to know about Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is that it tells a good story. That’s always been my favorite part of King’s work. He can tell a story better than anyone, and Doctor Sleep is no exception.

I was drawn in immediately to Dan’s story and wanted to follow him on his road to redemption, as he beat back his alcoholism and helped Abra. Abra is a fascinating character, my favorite in the book, and King nails the 14 year-old persona. Rose is also a formidable villain, and the True Knot are a nasty group of baddies that you really enjoy rooting against.

Doctor Sleep isn’t really all that scary, nor even all that suspenseful. It works best as a drama, a tale of a man tackling both the demons of alcoholism and his new role as a mentor to a younger and more powerful version of himself, young Abra.

One drawback is as the tale goes along, it become clear and apparent that in spite of the ruthlessness of Rose and the True Knot, Dan and Abra and their friends really have the upper hand. While I feared for their lives somewhat, I really had the sense that they had things under control, and it was Rose and her friends who were in trouble.

As always, the writing is top-notch, the dialogue real and flawless, and the characterizations impeccable. I love the way King captures the way people speak, the dialect, accents, and personalities.

Like a lot of his recent works, Doctor Sleep is a hefty read, filling 531 hardcover pages. Not all of them are compelling, and there are slow parts, especially in the beginning, but I urge patience, because the story builds and the payoff while not completely unexpected is definitely satisfying.

My favorite sequence in the book isn’t even from the main plot, but a key event early in Dan’s adult life, where he’s sleeping with a young woman after drinking with her and doing drugs, and he wakes up and finds her young son in diapers reaching for the drugs which he thinks is candy, chillingly calling it “canny” – again, King nailing the dialogue. Dan shoos the kid away from the drugs, but since he’s struggling for money, he takes cash from the sleeping woman and her child and leaves them there. This act haunts Dan throughout the story, as he knows it was a selfish and awful thing to do. It’s the one event from his life that he can’t bring himself to talk about. It’s a brilliantly written scene, and King continually returns to it throughout the book as it’s a moment in Dan s life that won’t leave him alone.

King also makes Dan a very likeable character. I was eager to follow him on his journey throughout the book. The most compelling character in the novel however is young Abra, and she could have a novel written just about her. As a 14 year-old, the age when most young women are extremely volatile to begin with, combined with her powerful ability, she makes one potent adversary for the aged and seasoned Rose.

Doctor Sleep is not a perfect book. It’s long, and for a horror tale it’s really not that scary, but it is a very entertaining story from beginning to end, a worthy successor to The Shining, because it succeeds in answering the basic question— and really, it’s the reason we all wanted to read this book in the first place,— and that is, whatever happened to young Danny Torrance?

Now we know.




His Name is MUD (2012)


Mud Blu ray coverStreaming Video Review: MUD (2012)
Michael Arruda

The Matthew McConaughey tour continues.

McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) earlier this year, and I’ve been going back revisiting some of the performances by McConaughey leading up to his Oscar winning role. Last time out, I reviewed THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011), a decent drama in which McConaughey portrayed a smooth talking defense lawyer who takes on a client shiftier than he is.

Today we look at MUD (2012), a film that in many ways is more satisfying than THE LINCOLN LAWYER. It’s a slice of life drama about two boys who live on the Mississippi River in Arkansas who strike up a friendship with a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living in the woods because he’s wanted by both the police and a group of vigilantes who want him dead.

Fourteen year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and fourteen year-old Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are best friends. Life is hard on the both of them. Ellis’ parents are getting a divorce, and Neckbone lives with his uncle Galen (Michael Shannon), who’s a nice enough guy, but as a fisherman and a womanizer, he’s hardly the ideal parent figure for the boy.

So when Ellis and Neckbone meet the curious and very dynamic Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living in the woods on an island on the Mississippi River, they quickly grow attached to him and believe the things he tells them. When Ellis learns that the police are looking for Mud, and that he’s wanted for murder, he doesn’t turn in his new friend. Mud tells the boys that he only killed the man because he was protecting his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

But Mud is also being hunted by a group of vigilantes, led by the father of the man Mud killed. The father, King (Joe Don Baker) is determined to see Mud dead. Needing extra help, Mud sends the boys to meet with old Tom (Sam Shepard), a strange man who lives on the river across from Ellis, a man who Mud describes as both his surrogate father and a former hit man for the CIA. Tom warns the boys to keep away from Mud, but they are too attached to Mud to heed the old man’s advice, putting them in harm’s way when King’s men close in for the kill.

MUD is an entertaining movie that is driven along by its topnotch acting performances. Matthew McConaughey is perfect as Mud, a charismatic loner who is head over heels in love with Juniper and refuses to see that she might be more trouble than she’s worth. Mud’s personality easily wins over the boys, and I found it completely believable that these two fourteen year-olds would be so awestruck by Mud and his stories. McConaughey makes this larger than life character credible and real, especially late in the movie when it becomes clear that he is a flawed and troubled man.

Even better than McConaughey are Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone.
These two young actors are such naturals it seems like they’ve been best friends living on the Mississippi River forever. As much as I liked McConaughey in this film, I liked these two even more.

Sheridan is particularly good, especially in the subplot where he follows through on his crush on a high school girl. The painful scenes with his parents, as they deal with divorce, are also particularly well done. That being said, Lofland is just as good as Sheridan, and he has some of the best lines in the film, and he delivers them without missing a beat.

Sam Shepard also makes his presence known as Tom, the man with the mysterious past, who Mud sees as his father figure. Shepard makes the most of his limited screen time. Bonnie Sturdivant stands out as May Pearl, the high-schooler who pays Ellis some attention at first but then pretty much tells him to get lost because he’s too young for her. Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson are also very good as Ellis’ parents.

Less effective is Reese Witherspoon as the love of Mud’s life, Juniper. Witherspoon is fine, but it’s a straightforward role, as Juniper is bad news from the get-go, and she doesn’t really change all that much. Joe Don Baker looks solemn and gruff but that’s about it in his small role as King, the man who’s spending lots of money to have Mud killed.

MUD was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and he scores high on both fronts. MUD is a beautifully photographed film, and Nichols really captures the flavor of life on the Mississippi River. In addition, Mud’s island is a magical place to which Ellis and Neckbone are more than happy to escape.

The story succeeds on multiple levels. It works as a friendship story between Mud and the boys, and it’s also a coming of age tale about Ellis. He grows up during this movie, as he has to deal with his parents separating, and the prospect that because of the separation he may be forced to leave his house on the river, which would sever him from the only life he had ever known. He experiences his first crush on the older Mary Lee, and it’s through this relationship that he learns firsthand about rejection.

Mud’s story is also multifaceted. He’s in love with Juniper and is driven to do whatever it takes to make things work with her. He’s also on the run and has to live as a fugitive from both the police and the vigilantes. And once he involves Ellis and Neckbone, he realizes that he has put the boys’ lives in danger. Not known for taking personal responsibility, Mud finds himself having to step up to protect his two young friends.

MUD is the story of broken dreams and what people do when their dreams have been shattered. Mud takes refuge on an island and hunkers down, refusing to give up. Ellis’ dad grows bitter and warns his son about women, and Ellis looks to an energetic and optimistic stranger.

With his world crumbling around him, Ellis is desperate to find someone to believe in, and for right or wrong, that someone is Mud.




Peter Cushing has so much to say as Dr. Van Helsing in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) he even finds time to record some of it.

Peter Cushing has so much to say as Dr. Van Helsing in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) he even finds time to record some of it.

Michael Arruda

Welcome back to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.

Today we look at the Hammer classic, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), the first time Peter Cushing played Dr. Van Helsing in the movies, and also of course the first time Christopher Lee played Dracula.

While Cushing does have some neat lines as Van Helsing, none of them are spoken to Dracula, as one of the fun parts of this movie is that these two central characters don’t meet until the end of the film, and at that point, they’re involved in a fight to the death. Throughout all of HORROR OF DRACULA, it’s a chase, as Van Helsing is constantly pursuing Dracula, and he never quite catches up to him, as Dracula always remains a step ahead, until the film’s riveting climax, when Van Helsing pursues Dracula into his castle, and it’s there inside Castle Dracula where the two adversaries finally confront each other for the first time.

But before this, Van Helsing enjoys some notable lines. Here’s a look at some of Peter Cushing’s more memorable lines of dialogue in HORROR OF DRACULA, screenplay by Jimmy Sangster:

When we first see Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) in the movie, he’s following upon the heels of his friend and colleague Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) who had already arrived at Castle Dracula, as part of their plan to destroy the undead vampire. Van Helsing arrives at the inn and engages in a conversation with the landlord (George Woodbridge) when he spies fresh garlic flowers displayed around the room.

VAN HELSING: What are you afraid of?

LANDLORD: I don’t understand you.

VAN HELSING: Why all these garlic flowers? And over the window? And up here? They’re not for decoration, are they?

LANDLORD: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

VAN HELSING: I think you do. And I think you know something about my friend. He came here with a purpose: to help you.

LANDLORD: We haven’t asked for any help.

VAN HELSING: You need it all the same.

LANDLORD: Look, sir, you’re a stranger here in Klausenberg. Some things are best left alone, such as interfering in things that are beyond are powers.

VAN HELSING: Please don’t misunderstand me. This is more than a superstition, I know. The danger is very real. If the investigation that Mr. Harker and I are engaged upon is successful, not only you but the whole world will benefit. Castle Dracula is somewhere here in Klausenberg. Will you tell me how I get there?

LANDLORD: You ordered a meal, sir. As an innkeeper, it’s my duty to serve you. When you’ve eaten, I’ll ask you to go and leave us in peace.


In one of Cushing’s best scenes as Van Helsing, after rescuing Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) and young Tania (Janine Faye) from the clutches of the vampire Lucy (Carol Marsh), he approaches little Tania, and in his gentle reassuring manner sees to it that she’s okay, since she had witnessed the shocking scene of his fighting Lucy off with a crucifix.

VAN HELSING: Put this on (puts his coat on her).

TANIA: Please, I want to go home.

VAN HELSING: And so you shall. I’ll just go and fetch Mr. Holmwood and then we can all go home together.

TANIA: Not Aunt Lucy.

VAN HELSING: No, not Aunt Lucy. Now you sit there, and be a good girl. There, you look like a Teddy Bear now. Will you wear this pretty thing? (Puts a crucifix around her neck). There. Isn’t that lovely?

(Tania nods)

VAN HELSING: Now, you promise not to run away?

TANIA: I promise.

VAN HELSING: If you watch over there (points) you’ll see the sun come up. Keep warm.

And of course the goof here is that Van Helsing makes reference to Tania “looking like a Teddy Bear,” which is an anachronism, since this story takes place in 1885 and the term “Teddy Bear” didn’t come into use until 1902.


Moments later, standing by Lucy’s coffin, Van Helsing has this exchange with Arthur Holmwood:

VAN HELSING: You understand now?

ARTHUR (nods): But why Lucy?

VAN HELSING: Because of Jonathan. You read my note in his diary about the woman he found at Klausenberg. This is Dracula’s revenge. Lucy is to replace that woman.

ARTHUR: Oh, no!

VAN HELSING: I’ve watched her tomb each night, since she was interred three days ago. Tonight she ventured out for the first time. Holmwood, I know your one wish is that Lucy should rest in peace. I promise to fulfill that wish, but first, if I have your consent, she can lead us to Dracula.

ARTHUR: How can you suggest such a thing? That she should be possessed by this evil for another second? And what about Gerda’s child out there? And the others she will defile? Oh no, I couldn’t, I couldn’t!

VAN HELSING: Of course. Will you take that child home and then meet me back here in about an hour’s time? It’s all right. It’s nearly dawn. She won’t leave her coffin again.

And when Arthur returns, Van Helsing explains to him that he needs to drive a wooden stake through Lucy’s heart:

ARTHUR: Is there no other way?

(Van Helsing shakes his head.)

ARTHUR: But it’s horrible!

VAN HELSING: Please try and understand. This is not Lucy, the sister you loved. It’s only a shell, possessed and corrupted by the evil of Dracula. To liberate her soul and give it eternal peace, we must destroy that shell for all time. Believe me, there is no other way.


What follows is one of the movie’s bloodiest and most violent scenes, as Van Helsing does indeed drive a wooden stake into Lucy’s heart. What’s neat about this scene is in vampire films prior to this one, the staking scenes tended to occur off camera, and they certainly weren’t shot with the type of graphic effects used here. Sure, these effects seem tame today, but in 1958, they were shocking.


HORROR OF DRACULA is also blessed with frequent moments of well-timed humor, like in this scene where Van Helsing is speaking into a 19th century recording device, and he’s interrupted by a porter who’s confused when he enters the room and finds Van Helsing alone, when he clearly heard Van Helsing speaking to someone.

VAN HELSING: Anything the matter? What is it?

PORTER: Well, sir, to tell you the truth, when I was outside I thought I heard you— talking to someone.

VAN HELSING: Of course you did. I was talking to myself.

We finish with a line from near the end of the film, after Dracula (Christopher Lee) has put the bite on Arthur’s wife Mina (Melissa Stribling). Van Helsing and Holmwood plan to stand watch outside the house all night in order to catch Dracula when he arrives to bite Mina again.

ARTHUR: You said Lucy would lead us to Dracula. Why didn’t I listen to you? This would never have happened!

VAN HELSING: You mustn’t blame yourself for that, but you must have the courage to let Mina lead us now. We’ll give her every protection we can. Tonight we’ll watch the windows of her room. They face two sides of the house, don’t they?


VAN HELSING: I know I ask a great deal of you. But you mustn’t weaken now! We have it within our power to rid the world of this evil. (hands a crucifix to Arthur) And with God’s help, we’ll succeed.

And with that, we wrap up another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING. Until next time when we’ll look at other memorable quotes from another Peter Cushing movie, thanks for reading!







House on Haunted Hill - posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Vincent Price flick HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), up now in the June 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.
And just a friendly reminder: if you enjoy this column, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT book, a collection of 115 In The Spooklight columns, is available as an EBook at, and as a print edition at




HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) may have been the first Vincent Price film I ever saw.

I’m not exactly sure because as a kid, I was already a fan of Hammer Films and of the Universal monster movies, and so Vincent Price was always taking a back seat to Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr.

It took a while for Price to grow on me, but that being said, today I’m a big Vincent Price fan.

The first time I saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL on television I was pretty young— I don’t think I was even ten yet— and it scared the crap out of me. There’s one scene in particular, where a creepy old lady suddenly appears out of nowhere and frightens the young heroine that nearly made me scream.


I was barely ten, remember.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has always been one of my favorite Vincent Price films, mostly because Price’s performance as the enigmatic millionaire Frederick Loren is the way I most remember him in the movies: somewhat sinister with a sly sense of humor, with a deadpan delivery and an air of mystery about him which makes him difficult to read. He may be a murderer, perhaps even insane, or he may simply be a man with a colorful sense of the macabre. It’s a great performance by Price.

In HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Vincent Price plays the eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren who throws a party for his equally eccentric wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in which he invites five guests to a supposedly haunted house. These guests must promise to stay the night in the haunted house with Frederick and Annabelle, and if they do, Frederick promises to pay them each ten thousand dollars, a hefty sum back in 1959.

It only takes one scene for us to realize that Frederick and Annabelle are not in love. In fact, they can’t stand each other. Annabelle even confides in some of the guests that she fears Frederick is trying to kill her, having thrown this party as a cover. This way, he can kill her and make it look like she was murdered by one of the ghosts that haunts the house, and with five witnesses to attest to the supernatural’s involvement, he’d be home free.

Plenty of strange things do indeed happen in the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, including murder, but just who killed whom and for what reason isn’t revealed until the final frame.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was directed by William Castle, the king of the “gimmick” horror movies from the 1950s and 60s. After the success of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Castle would go on to direct THE TINGLER (1959), also starring Price, 13 GHOSTS (1960), MR. SARDONICUS (1961) STRAIT-JACKET (1964) and I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965).

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has a fun screenplay by Robb White who also wrote Castle’s THE TINGLER and 13 GHOSTS. It provides Vincent Price with some memorable lines of dialogue, and its plot about a group of people trying to spend the night in a haunted house while a murder plot is being hatched is ripe for suspense and mystery. It plays like one of those murder mystery party games. It’s a hoot, and it’s scary.

However, the story doesn’t hold up all that well today. Its tale of husband vs. wife comes off as forced and contrived. There are easier ways to get rid of a spouse than by an elaborate plot involving spooks, paid guests, and haunted houses. Ever hear of a good divorce lawyer?

But when I was a kid I didn’t care, and to be honest, as an adult, I still don’t mind all that much as the film possesses an energy and a creepiness that make it highly enjoyable.

The best part of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL however is Vincent Price. It’s really the first time in a horror movie that Price displayed his sinister side, something he would do with more frequency in his later films. Sure, before HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL he played the villain in the horror films HOUSE OF WAX (1953) and THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954), but in these roles he was more of a straightforward madman. In HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, we see Price begin to hone and sharpen that devilish personality with which we’d become familiar in his roles in the 1960s and 70s.

Also in the cast of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is Richard Long, who most people know from the TV western THE BIG VALLEY which also starred Barbara Stanwyck and the future SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN Lee Majors, but when I first saw HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL in the early 1970s, I was familiar with Long from the popular show NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR, which when I was a kid was one of my favorites. Long died young, at age 47 in 1974.

Elisha Cook Jr. is also in the cast as Watson Pritchard, the man who knows all about the house and its murderous past. Pritchard is full of ominous anecdotes, and he’s responsible for generating much of the feelings of unease in the early parts of this movie. Just the guy you want to have around at a haunted house party.

Cook appeared in a gazillion movies, but I always remember him from his bit part in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the film that introduced Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak. And of course, who can forget Cook as the shady gunman in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), who gets his comeuppance several times over at the hands of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade.

But HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL belongs to Vincent Price. He’s quick with the one-liner, gracious, and proper, but always with an undercurrent of deadliness about him, so you never know what to expect.

Price would go on to become famous for his appearances in the colorful Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films from the 1960s, and he is excellent in these movies. But I actually prefer Price in this movie. His performance here is less hammy, less over the top, and more biting, more frightening. It’s Price at his best.

Looking for an all-night party this summer? Look no further than HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.

Stay the night. Really.

It’s a scream.









million_ways_to_die_in_the_west_ posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014) which went up this weekend at, your place to read about movies, where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.

Thanks for reading!



Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A dusty frontier town in the old west. Tumbleweed blows across the path. Cool Ennio Morricone music begins to play, as a solitary figure on horseback rides into town. The townsfolk appear at their doors and windows. Two old timers appear at the door to the saloon.

OLD TIMER #1 (looking at man on horseback): Who is that?

OLD TIMER #2: Jumpin jackrabbits! That’s the Man With No Name!

(Camera closes in to reveal it is MICHAEL ARRUDA on horseback, looking grizzled and rough. ARRUDA looks into the camera and spits onto the ground.

OLD TIMER #1 (to his fellow Old Timer): You dumb nugget! That’s not the Man With No Name! That’s a Cinema Knife Fighter! (Cue dramatic beat)

(MA enters bar and approaches bartender.)

MA: Whiskey. (Bartender nods and pours MA a drink. The two old timers amble up to MA.)

OLD TIMER #1: Hey, Mr. Cinema Knife Fighter. Are you here to review a movie?

MA (glares at the man): What’s it to you?

OLD TIMER #1: Just askin. I meant no disrespect.

MA: None taken.

OLD TIMER #2: Don’t you usually ride with a partner?

MA (spits again): I’m ridin solo today.

OLD TIMER #2: Is he— (gulps)— pushin up daisies?

MA: He’s— preoccupied.

(Cut to L.L. SOARES in a gunfight with a bunch of bandits, while he has his arm around a beautiful buxom woman. They kiss, with LS never missing a beat as he continues to shoot the bandits, even pausing to guzzle some whiskey and smoke a cigar.

L.L. SOARES (looks at camera): I just love the Old West!)

(Back at the bar, an attractive young woman approaches MA.)

SALLY: Well, well, well, look who’s in town? (Looks at MA and leans in close to him) What movie are you reviewing today?


GUNSLINGER (jumps up from his seat): Is that a threat?

MA: It’s the name of the movie.

GUNSLINGER (pauses): I knew that. (Sits back down.)

SALLY: You gonna tell us about it?

MA (downs his whiskey): I didn’t come here for the view. (Looks at Sally) Not that I’m complainin. It’s a mighty fine view.

OLD TIMER #1: How about the movie? How was it?

MA: Well, let me tell you about it. A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is the latest comedy by writer/director/actor Seth MacFarlane, the man behind the hit animated TV show FAMILY GUY, and the man who brought us the hit movie TED (2012), which I thought was just okay. I loved Ted the Bear, but the rest of the movie was uneven. I like FAMILY GUY, though.

Now comes A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, a comedy western spoof that before seeing it immediately made me think of Mel Brooks’ classic BLAZING SADDLES (1974), and I’m not going to sit here and compare the two, because Brooks is one of my favorite filmmakers, and MacFarlane in terms of movies anyway is just getting started. That being said, he has a ways to go yet.

In a goofy movie like A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, the plot hardly matters, but for the record: it’s the story of a young sheep farmer Albert (Seth MacFarlane) living in the Old West whose girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him because he’s a loser and instead dates the far more successful mustache shop owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris).

Albert is crushed, but soon his fortunes change as a beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town, and she becomes attracted to Albert, and she helps him get over his former love. Albert is one happy man, until he discovers that Anna is married to the deadliest gunslinger in the west, Clinch (Liam Neeson).

When Clinch arrives in town with his gang, he makes it known to everyone that he’s going to kill the man who had been spending time with his wife. Albert must then decide either to run away or to stay and fight the deadly gunslinger.

The running gag in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is that the old west is a dangerous place to live and there’s no shortage of ways to die there.

(Chandelier falls from ceiling and lands on GUNSLINGER, instantly killing him.)

MA (points to fallen Gunslinger): Like that.

OLD TIMER #1: You mean things like this don’t happen in other places?

MA: Accidents happen everywhere. But modern medicine is more effective where I come from.

OLD TIMER #1: Jeesh. I never thought of it that way. I may have to move.

MA: Anyway, when the film stays focused on this theme, it’s really funny, but when it strays over to bathroom humor and sex jokes, it drops down several notches. So, for my money, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is a mixed bag.

I loved the jokes about death in the old west. There’s one sequence in particular where MacFarlane’s Albert delivers a diatribe to his two friends Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman) on just how deadly it is to live there that is absolutely hilarious. The jokes about life expectancy are also spot-on, like in one scene where Anna says she got married at 9 because she didn’t want to wait until she was 15 and old, as are the jokes about the medical practices of the day, like the treatment of the blue jay pecking at the facial wound.

OLD TIMER #1: I hate that! I always ask for the gnawing rat instead.

MA: Unfortunately, most of the sight gags featuring people dying in awful ways were given away in the film’s trailers. This isn’t the movie’s fault, I know, but it’s a fact that I can’t ignore, which is, that many of the funniest parts of this movie I had already seen in the film’s trailers.

For example, there’s a very funny sequence where Albert meets up with an Indian tribe that would have been even funnier had I not seen its best moments already.

Some of the running gags work, while others don’t. The scenes with Albert’s parents I thought were comical throughout and actually got funnier as the movie went on. On the other hand, the running gag of Albert’s friends Edward and Ruth waiting to have sex until they’re married, while Ruth has sex with other men every day because she’s a prostitute, was humorous at first, but after a while grew repetitive and tired.

When the film ventures into the lowest common denominator of comedy, bathroom humor, it, pardon the pun, bottoms out. We’re treated to sheep penises, sheep peeing on Albert, a hat full of excrement, fart jokes, and on I could go. If you like this sort of humor, then no doubt you’ll find A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST funnier than I did.

When MacFarlane steers clear of this stuff and actually gets creative with the material, the movie is very funny, but when he dips into the toilet water for humor, he produces what you’d expect to find in a toilet: a turd.

SALLY: That’s nasty.

MA: My point exactly.

The best comedians are the ones who have something to say, and when MacFarlane has something to say, the movie is better for it. When he jokes about farts and diarrhea, it begs the question, just how much can one say about going to the bathroom? Not much.

Even so, I enjoy MacFarlane the writer better than MacFarlane the actor. Here in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, there’s something very shallow about his performance as Albert. He’s supposed to be a likeable loser, but the problem is he’s not that likeable. He comes off more as a wise ass, and frankly, I didn’t understand why Anna was attracted to him. Albert doesn’t seem like a sincere person, as there’s something phony in MacFarlane’s performance, as if he’s about to wink at the camera and say “I’m screwing with you.”

It’s the opposite of TED. In TED, the best part was the stuffed bear, Ted, voiced by MacFarlane. Here, I’d have to say one of the worst parts was Albert, played by MacFarlane. I just didn’t buy the character.

Charlize Theron, on the other hand, gives the best performance in the movie. Anna is naturally funny, and her humor comes from her self-confidence, as she goes out of her way to teach Albert how to shoot a gun, and she helps him overcome his misguided attraction to the selfish Louise. The scenes where she trash talks Louise are some of the best in the movie, mostly because she does it with class and intelligence.

Liam Neeson plays it straight as the villain, Clinch, which is fine, but what’s not fine is that there’s no one funny around him to play off his seriousness. Clinch was in desperate need of some goofy henchman or something.

The rest of the cast is so-so. I like Amanda Seyfried a lot, and she’s fine here as Louise, but it’s a minor role, and she has little else to do but be cold and rude to Albert at first and jealous later. Neil Patrick Harris as Foy, the man who steals Albert’s girl, is just your standard pompous jerk.

Giovanni Ribisi, who was also in TED as the weirdo father who steals Ted to give to his even weirder son, is rather subdued here as Edward, the meek man who doesn’t mind that his wife is a prostitute who performs every possible sex act with other men but wants to wait until they’re married to have sex with him.

Sarah Silverman is actually pretty funny as Edward’s fiancée, Ruth, and she gets to enjoy some of the more vulgar parts of the movie when she talks about the things she does with her clients. It’s very funny at first but gets old fast.

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST isn’t really a spoof of westerns. It’s just a comedy about a loser and his new girlfriend who helps him feel good about himself, which just happens to take place in the old west, a place in time where you were lucky if you lived to be thirty.

And while it’s funny at times, it never becomes as creative, silly, inane, or as sharp as it could have been. There are certainly glimpses of talent from the mind of Seth MacFarlane here, but unfortunately he likes to dip from the cesspool of bathroom humor, something he obviously is comfortable doing, because he does it often. It’s a habit that doesn’t serve him well.

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is an okay comedy that made me laugh here and there, but not as much as I would have liked. Fans of penises and feces no doubt will disagree and like it more than I did.

I give it two knives.

SALLY: It doesn’t sound like too bad a movie.

MA: It’s not. But it’s not great either.

SALLY: So, what does a nice Cinema Knife Fighter like yourself do after a hard day’s work?

MA: I can think of one or two things.

(Sally whispers into his ear)

MA: Those are two things that I was thinking of, yes. (To Old Timers) See you, gents.

(MA & Sally climb the stairs to the upper level of the bar and exit.)

OLD TIMER #2: Why are they going up to Sally’s room?

OLD TIMER #1 (striking his friend with his hat): You stupid old coyote! Why do you think they’re going up there?

OLD TIMER #2: To review another movie? Is that it? Does Sally have one of those newfangled Blu-ray players up there? They gonna review a Blu-ray movie?

OLD TIMER #1: You is stupid.