Monday, January 20, 2020

Score Sample - 80s Forgotten Gems - Young Sherlock Holmes

Taking another look at scores from 80s films that have been forgotten over the years. Today's entry comes from the film Young Sherlock Holmes. The score was composed by Bruce Broughton and is one of the very best adventure scores of the decade. Broughton crafts some wonderful themes for Watson and Holmes, a beautiful love theme, and one of the most diabolical evil chants for the Egyptian death ritual in the film. It is a powerhouse of a score, and in many ways may remind you of a John Williams score.

That said, has anyone else noticed that the schoolyard villain in this film is named Dudley and looks like Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter franchise. I would be willing to bet J.K. had this movie in mind when writing the first Potter books... but I digress.

Here is the end title piece to Young Sherlock Holmes composed by Bruce Broughton.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Score Sample - 80s Forgotten Gems - The Last Starfighter

I continue my look back at wonderful scores from the 1980s attached to movies that have been lost in the mists of time. Now The Last Starfighter did a lot of things right, and it is a very entertaining film all the way around. It also was one of the very first movies to use computer generated visual effects for the starships on screen. For that alone will be logged in history books.

But these days folks don't seem to talk too much about it. That is a shame because the wonderful score by Craig Safan has a very memorable main title. In fact, I've heard this main title played in amusement parks when they are trying to get a heroic vibe going. Safan's score could be at home in space or in a film with knights and dragons. He does some great stuff with it, and also gives us a couple of other themes to play with over the course of the film (along with some minimal electronics as a nod to the role of video games in the plot).

But in all honesty the end credits piece Into the Starscape is what you need to hear. So here you go, from the film The Last Starfighter composed by Craig Safan.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Score Sample - 80s Forgotten Gems - Return to Oz

Here is a little mini series of posts about movie music. Because I love it, and I love sharing it. The 1980s were a great time for fantasy and adventure film scores. The decade was dominated by some of the biggest names in film scores with John Williams giving us the amazing Indiana Jones trilogy as well was two Star Wars films. You had James Horner cranking out both Krull and Willow not to mention two Star Trek scores. And speaking of Star Trek Jerry Goldsmith knocked it out of the park with Star Trek V as well as his immense and amazing score to Legend. At the end of the decade you had Danny Elfman really coming into his own with fantastic scores to Scrooged and Batman.

But I'm not going to talk about any of those, I'm going to focus on the forgotten ones. Scores to movies that most people don't talk about any more, but had amazing scores. First up is David Shire's wonderful work with Return to Oz. Shire did some amazing work with various themes for nearly all the characters and weaving them into one powerful score. Listening to the full album is a treat with a new memorable theme popping up in each track. It is nearly impossible to pick one to sample here. But I think his most charming music is the rag time triumphal march that plays near the end of the film. Using the rag time style fits perfectly with the setting of the film, and gives the score a unique identity among the very much orchestral bombast scores (nothing wrong with that) we got in the decade.

So here is Rag March from Return to Oz by David Shire.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas!

I saw this posted by the folks at Satellite News a few years back, and I just make sure it makes the rounds again this year. Remember the little ditty that Joel and the Bots sing during the Santa Claus Conquers the Martians episode? Well someone decided to take that, arrange it for a choir and then record it. Check out the serious faces as they sing these wonderful festive lyrics. And keep an eye peeled for a nod to Pod People as well.

Just figured I'd spread some MST3K inspired holiday cheer! Hope you all have a great end of the year.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Score Sample: The Dark Crystal (1982)

2019 brought us a new television series based around the 1982 fantasy adventure The Dark Crystal. The television series outlines the events that lead up to the situation Jen and Kira find themselves during the earlier film. So yeah it is a prequel of sorts, but I'm just happy to see the amazing puppetry and sets brought to life. As a kid, I adored The Dark Crystal, as well as it's younger sister Labyrinth. So I've been enjoying the series quite a bit (still working my way through it at this point).

One thing that I don't think has been improved on is the amazing score from the 1982 film by Trevor Jones. In a lot of ways this is one of those forgotten fantasy scores that really deserves more attention, kind of like the work on Young Sherlock Holmes. Jones created a myriad of themes for The Dark Crystal and nearly every one of them is memorable in some way. He interweaves the themes all through the film and gives the world its own unique flavor.

He wrote a wonderful Overture piece that I'll share today, but really the whole score is worth seeking out for fans of big colorful fantasy adventure scores. It might even be my favorite work by Jones. So here is Overture from The Dark Crystal by Trevor Jones.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Subspecies IV - Bloodstorm (1998)

Director Ted Nicolaou and Full Moon entertainment felt the need to continue the story of Radu the master vampire of Romania. Maybe the goth/romance inspired Vampire Journals from the previous year wasn’t the hit they hoped. Or maybe they figured m”Might as well film another movie since we are here in Romania and we have Anders Hove around.” In any case, even though it looked pretty damn definitive that Radu didn’t survive the Bloodlust of the previous film, hold on to your hats, because the bloodsucker with the long fingers is back.


You can’t keep a good vampire down. Especially when you leave the Bloodstone (a mystical vampire artifact) laying around. So when Radu’s (Anders Hove) melting hand falls from the tree he was impaled on (see the previous film), it somehow restores him to undeath! He manages to shamble back into his castle and wait for night – because dammit he still wants Michelle (Denice Duff).

Yeah even though Michelle was rescued by her sister and an American diplomat, they got into a car wreck. Only Michelle “survived” and was rescued by local doctor Ana Lazar (Ioana Abur). Ana takes Michelle to a mysterious clinic run by the eccentric Dr. Ion Niculescu (Mihai Dinvale). He is excited to have an actual vampire to work on, and claims to have a cure in mind to reverse the effects of vampiric affliction. He just needs… the Bloodstone! Soon enough Radu arrives at the clinic demanding Michelle and he has minions of his own, including the diabolical Ash (Jonathon Morris). Will Michelle have any hope of escaping this brewing Bloodstorm?

Good Points:
  • Anders is back as Radu and his performance is just what you want
  • The location shooting in Romania continues to provide a unique look and feel
  • Adding the mad scientist subplot provides some interest

Bad Points:
  • The script is a mess
  • Why is Lt. Marin back, WHY?
  • Vampire Journals connection provides nothing to the story


Well, I’m not sure anyone was really asking for this movie, and while I appreciate that Nicolaou tried to give us some new points of interest with the mad doctor and the vampires from the previous film, it just never comes together. Of the four official movies this one meanders the most, and feels the least thought out. It has fun moments, with both Hove and Dinvale chewing the scenery. But in the end we are left with a limp finale for Radu and Michelle. Worth watching if you want to be a completionist, but most viewers should just stick to the original trilogy.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

In Depth Review

So the ride comes to an end with Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm (Also called Subspecies: Awakening or just Bloodstorm as I’ll refer to it from now on). Director/writer Ted Nicolaou and Full Moon pictures gave us a vampire saga spanning five films through the bulk of the 1990s. At times they are a snapshot of the era in which they were made, and other times they are their own beast. It has been quite a ride watching and reviewing the flicks over the years, but now we come to the end. Was the journey worth it?

There are some really good points in Bloodstorm. First off we have the return of our two main characters Radu and Michelle one last time and both actors seem fairly committed to parts. Hove seems a bit slower in this film, but his menace is still impressive, even if the new Radu make up gives him serious chin-butt. He looks more like Jim Carey in The Mask than he really should. That said, when Hove is creeping into the scenes and ranting over his minions it really works. Hove has been a bright spot in all four of the main films, and really is a main reason the series succeeds when it does. As a swansong, I wish Hove had a bit more to do in this film, but some of his interactions with Morris and Dinvale are very fun to watch.
"I haven't chewed nearly enough scenery!"
Denice Duff has portrayed Michelle in the second, third and now fourth installment of the series. She has had the tough job of giving us a Michelle that is slowing turning into a vampire and fighting with those urges. Duff always gives us a passionate performance. She can be seductive when she needs to be, and deeply disturbed at others. The sequels really click because of the interactions between Duff and Hove (especially the second and third films). Sadly the scripts never really give Duff a complete arc over the course of the films. It is sooooo frustrating at times. We have an actress giving it her all, and in the end the movie just isn’t built to support it. Bloodstorm is no different, with Duff getting less screen time because of all the new characters and subplots. She does what she can, but in the end, she feels like a supporting character in a series that had focused on her trials. It’s a bit of a shame.

Also worth mentioning are two of the “new” characters. First up is Jonathon Morris who returns as Ash from the Vampire Journals. The new look for Ash is pretty silly looking, but in a different way this time. Morris doesn’t let that stop him, as he continues to ooze smarm and confidence. Sadly his new wig is absolutely atrocious. It makes him so hard to take seriously  but adds to the cheese factor. His interactions with Hove as a fledging meeting his “dead” master again are pretty darn good. It’s a shame this subplot is so uninteresting, Morris makes the scenes more tolerable, but they are just so pointless.

No one can explain what happened to his hair.
Then there is Dinvale as Dr. Ion Niculescu. Dinvale gave us a very foppish performance in Vampire Journals, but in Bloodstorm he embraces the eccentricities of the mad scientist. He really goes for it in many scenes being very unsettling and creepy. We know right from the start that this guy is hiding something, and it isn’t too surprising to learn he’s a vampire too, Dinvale is able to keep us engaged with the story when he is on screen. It’s a fun performance and although the character gets tossed away near the end, he was an enjoyable addition to the series.

Ioana Abur as Dr. Lazar and Floriela Grappini as Serena are both solid in their parts. Lazar becomes our new Final Girl for this film. She does an admirable job interacting with the vampiric forces of Michelle and Dr. Niculescu. But the character lacks the connection of Michelle’s sister Rebecca from the previous two films. It’s just not all that interesting, despite a solid performance. Serena is a vampire hanging around with Ash. She is supposed to be in The Vampire Journals but I honestly don’t remember her. In this film she is OK, chewing the scenery when she needs to. But the character is tied to an uninteresting subplot so she just suffers in the end.

Only one person in this pic is not a vampire. Take a guess.
Speaking of suffering, Lt. Marin (Ion Haiduc) is back, even though we clearly saw him die in the previous film. But that hasn’t stopped the Subspecies movies in the past, why should it stop Bloodstorm? Once again, we spend way too much time with this bumbling character. He’s not funny. He’s annoying and the subplot goes NO WHERE. Literally, he comes back as a vampire, flounders around for way too many scenes and is killed by Serena in a graveyard. This padding is unforgivable. Because it is done with such an annoying character, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Do you see the theme of Bloodstorm yet? No, it isn’t about fate. No, it isn’t about desire. No, it isn’t about delusion. Is it about Radu's Finger Demons? NO! Those little stop motion guys don't even appear in the film. So you have a Subspecies film without the subspecies. Anyway, the main theme of this film is messy screenwriting. None of the Subspecies films are plotted well. But most of them have a charm to them, usually because of performances and the successful location shooting. But all the goodwill from those elements is squandered on a really poor script for the fourth film in the series. Granted this is the FOURTH film, and I really shouldn’t expect all that much, but still, I do expect something.

"Michelle is totally my girlfriend now, so don't even
think about asking her to prom!"
As I mentioned the element that I did like was adding the mad scientist trope to the series. I think the idea of having a vampire attempting to find a cure for vampirism and being excited to use Michelle as a test subject is a great one. You really could have the whole movie hum along on that plot with Radu closing in on them over the course of the film. But the plot point never gets the screen time it should, because of the other subplots. It also suffers from an element that has plagued the series from the very beginning.

I ask this simple question: what are the properties of the Bloodstone? If your response is, “How the hell should I know? You watched all five of these movies.” That’s correct. I did watch all five films and I still don’t know what the Bloodstone is capable of. I know it contains the blood of the saints, but I don’t know what the means for vampires. Still every vampire character in the Subspecies series is obsessed with the Bloodstone. I would think by the time we reached Bloodstorm, we would get a definitive answer. We have a scientist character just waiting there to explain it all. But it never happens. Once again the Bloodstone is just something to keep the plot moving. Because we never define it, the whole crux of Dr. Niculescu’s plot is vague. It all leads to his death, but why? I’m not sure even the writer knows.

"I offer you... another pointless subplot. How can you
Additional pain comes from the subplots. I already mentioned the tedious and pointless “comedy” of Lt. Marin. There is also the whole “Radu meets Ash” subplot. It seems like a good idea, and maybe given enough time, the power struggle between these two could have been engaging at some level. But there really isn’t much going on here. Radu is evil and a jerk. Ash is evil and a jerk. Radu has more power so he shows dominance by taking Serena for himself. Ash mopes. Serena gets mad for being treated like a toy (as well she should). So she gets Ash to team up with anyone they can (Dr. Lazar in the end) to kill Radu. So while this subplot leads to the demise of our main character, it is just so dull and predictable that you don’t care while it is happening. It’s a shame because you have some good acting here, but the script feels aimless in these scenes.

One of the most problematic issues is the loss of Rebecca: Michelle’s sister from the previous two films. It’s possible that Melanie Shatner didn’t want to come back for the fourth film (can’t say I blame her too much). She was really good at making me believe her sisterly relationship with Duff and the two made a good team over second and third films. By killing her off at the very start of Bloodstorm, we lose one of the last binding elements for Michelle in the story. Now this could lead to some really great story elements for Michelle to explore, but once again the script refuses to dive too deep into Michelle’s reactions to tragic events. She is a bit distraught about the death of Rebecca, but I would think it would have a bigger impact on her, and force her to finally embrace her vampire powers or utterly reject them. But still, she is waffling between the two. So, so frustrating.

"Ready to be come the new 'Michelle', Dr. Lazar?"
That was my main experience watching Bloodstorm. This could have and should have been the conclusion to Michelle and Radu’s story in a satisfying way. Instead all the subplots dilute us away from that core storyline. Honestly the previous film gave us a pretty definitive conclusion. That may be the real issue here – there was no reason to have a fourth film. I can see how this script was probably hard to write and with little time to flesh things out it ended up being a mess. But it’s unfortunate that the series fumbles its way to the finale.

Was it worth it to watch and review the Subspecies series? I had plenty of fun with these films. I think the first and second films are probably the best of the bunch. I wouldn’t say they are mandatory viewing for horror fans. They are more like fun weekend flicks to enjoy with some popcorn during the Halloween season. If anything, this series seems like a great candidate for a remake or reboot of some kind. With better writing, these movies could be turned into a fun and creepy series. I imagine that coming up with rules for the Bloodstone and casting Radu and Michelle just right would be key. But that is all in dreamland. For the here and now, the Subspecies series can be an entertaining ride, as long as you know what you are in for.

"Nope, I'm good. Just give me a couple minutes.
I'll be back for Subspecies 5."

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Vampire Journals (1997)

Oh Ann Rice, what have you wrought? Vampires went from one of the most feared creatures of the horror world into the misunderstood bad boys of goth fans everywhere. Her novel Interview with a Vampire got things off to a start back in 1976. Young adult books like The Vampire Diaries first started in 1991 were all the rage. When a film version of Interview with a Vampire in 1994 changed the landscape of the vampire world vampires had to evolve. Full Moon wanted to make further vampiric adventures in the Subspecies universe, but Radu’s pure evil nature wasn’t cool. Time to get cool. Time for some Vampire Journals.


So technically this movie was made before Subspecies IV, chronologically the events occur after that amazing film.

Alas for poor Zachary (David Gunn), his mortal life was destroyed back in the 1890s when he was turned into a vampire and his lover was slaughtered. He vowed vengeance and has turned against his vampiric nature. His only goal is to hunt down and kill the evil Ash (Jonathon Morris). This vile bloodsucker seems to be the source of the vampire scourge that Zachary wants to get to the root of.

He better hurry because Ash has his eyes set on a lovely classical piano player named Sofia (Kirsten Cerre). Ash loves her talent and feels that if he makes her immortal, her skill will increase until she is unmatched. And of course he wants to suck her blood and turn her into a willing slave – you know, typical vampire lord goals. Zachary takes a liking to Sofia and does his best to try to save her, but Ash has deadly minions of his own, and it becomes obvious that even with the powerful Sword of Laertes, Zachary may be outmatched. If he fails, can hope be found in his Vampire Journals?

Good Points:
  • Filmed on location in Bucharest, Romania in winter which enhances the mood
  • Jonathon Morris is having lots of fun in the antagonist’s role
  • Goes all in with the “sexy” and “cool” vampire routine

Bad Points:
  • Goes all in with the “sexy” and “cool” vampire routine
  • The tortured voiceover is really annoying
  • None of the characters are all that engaging


So this movie was surprisingly entertaining. Not because it was good, but because it was so cheesy. Series director Ted Nicoalau rejects the classic gothic horror of the previous Subspecies films to attempt a music video style approach to this film. It is “cool” and “sexy” and almost none of it works the way it was intended. If you like your vampires scary and evil, this film will annoy you. But if you can enjoy the hilarious dialogue, questionable acting, delightfully evil performance by Morris and the overall 90s silliness of the whole production you will have a good time. Ignore the Subspecies connection, and just put this one on for some popcorn Halloween-time fun.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Most fans of Subspecies feel this entry in the series is the nadir. To be fair, this isn’t an official entry really. It looks like Full Moon and Nicoalau were trying to spin things in a new direction with Vampire Journals. We had a new protagonist, new antagonist and new lovely lady. Radu is mentioned in one scene as the mentor of Ash the new vampire lord, but that is really all the connections we have here. 

But you know what, I was OK with that. Subspecies III wasn’t all that good, and it ended on a mostly satisfying way. I was fine for shifting things in a new direction. The opening credits set the tone here. We get dark romantic sounding music over shots of a snow-covered graveyard in Romania. It sets a different mood right away, one that is bit more gothic romance in the Ann Rice style. 

"Look, I'm almost Lestat, but you can call me Ash."
The first scene is a doozy and is representative of what you are getting into here. A young woman is twirling in a diaphanous gown in a huge house as a hulking man in black watches her. There is a piano nearby surrounded by lit candles and right away, as a rock fan of the 90s I started cracking up. Especially when a close up of the hulking vampire flashed on the screen. Someone watched the Meatloaf video for “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and was inspired. The music video was directed by Michael Bay (yes, that Michael Bay) back in 1993, and was all the rage. 

This scene looks like an outtake from the music video, except instead of the woman swooning at Meatloaf/monster this one screams and runs. But it is too late! Meatloaf/monster attacks and starts to drain her blood. Our new hero Zachary steps in, and wielding a ridiculous looking sword decapitates Meatloaf/monster. Was that Nicaolau’s commentary on the music video? Or was it just to get things started off with a bang.

Meatloaf would do anything for strawberry preserves.
The rest of Vampire Journals really keeps that Michael Bay music video style of lighting and overall style. It is quite a bit different compared to the look Nicaolau was going for in the previous films. It changes the overall tone to one that is less concerned with horror and more concerned with cool and sexy. Sometimes things work out, like the first scene where Ash watches Sophia play from an underground vantage point. Other times it just comes across as trying too hard and leads to chuckles.

There are other influences here. Phantom of the Opera is certainly one. We have the talented musician who is coveted by the monster. Interview with a Vampire inspired other aspects, especially the long hair both Ash and Zachary sport (very influenced by Cruise and Pitt’s look in the film). Zachary’s tortured narration apes the same thing we get in Interview from Pitt, with all the same melodrama, but this time it comes across as overripe and funny. This film also came out the same year as Buffy the Vampire slayer hit television. As much as Zachary feels like he is a low budget version of Angel, I’m not sure the influence actually occurred.
"See like Luke Skywalker.. zzzwoosh, zzzwooosh."
Vampire Journals is primarily concerned with Zachary brooding and providing lame voiceover while we observe how “cool” and “sexy” Ash is. The scenes with Ash are a lot of fun. I think Morris knew exactly what kind of movie he was in. So he goes for a devilishly evil take on the vampire as hedonist. He commits to the role and exudes that wicked confidence and suave smoothness with ease. In another movie, he would be a great villain. But here, surrounded by Michael Bay lighting and given a script that meanders around, he ends up feeling like too much of a good thing.

There are a bunch of strange subplots and characters that have potential, but don’t seem to go anywhere. You have Cassandra (Ilinca Gola) who is Ash’s most recent fledgling (still over 100 years old). Ash won’t trust her to go hunting alone, and we have a lot of scenes with the two of them bickering, and finally a hunting scene – but it never really moves past that. Her performance is appropriately over the top and fun, so the scenes between the two are never boring, just feel like padding in the overall scheme of things. Cassandra does get to go toe to toe against Zachary near the end of the film. It is a sword vs. mic stand battle you have to see to believe.

Dimitri and Cassandra get in a laugh or two.
You also have Iris (Starr Andreeff) who owns Club Muse where Ash has his hedonistic vampire abode. Iris is human, and certainly dresses like the femme fatale of the film. It is never really revealed why she is working with Ash, but it is implied that money may have something to do with it. She’s an interesting character that they don’t do too much with. You also have Dimitri (Mihai Dinvale) as the foppish vampire with a taste for male blood. I think he’s supposed to be funny, but mostly he just sashays around the screen and makes wry observations. We don’t feel all that bad when Zachary literally twists his head off like a toothpaste tube cap.

Then there is a less than interesting subplot in Vampire Journals about some vampire gangsters that betray Ash or something along those lines. Most of these actors have very thick Romanian accents, so I was having trouble following them. Also they were some of the weakest actors of the bunch. In the end I didn’t care about the subplot, and while it showed that Ash’s power was weakening among his vampire comrades (and Iris), it filled up more screen time than it was worth.

"Wow this looks so cheesy, where's my wine?"
The sound effects are up to the same quality that you’ve heard from Subspecies. The music is also on par. However there is a very distinct sting using strings each and every time a vampire bites a victim. And since we are watching a vampire movie it happens quite a bit. You could create a drinking game for that little musical motif and end up very inebriated by the end.

While the script to Vampire Journals is overly familiar, that is part of what makes it fun to watch. You can spot all the references to Phantom of the Opera, and Interview with a Vampire. You can chuckle at how Sophia flops around like a spastic doll whenever Ash drinks from her. You can snicker at the ripe dialogue, and silly long hair all the male vampires sport. You can shake your head at the cartoonish design for the SUPER vampire slaying sword that Zachary wields, and then loses and then wields again. The movie manages to hit all the tropes, and include plenty of gore, over the top kils and naked chests to suit your vampiric lusts. There is a just a lot to enjoy here, because of all its cheesy faults, it does manage to entertain. While I do tend to like my vampires more on the scary than the sexy side, I will say that this makes for a fine evening for Halloween themed popcorn viewing.
"Um, are you awake? Can I have a drink of blood... I mean , water?"
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