Monday, January 27, 2020

Score Sample - 80s Forgotten Gems - Lionheart

Jerry Goldsmith worked with director Franklin Schaffner several times over the years, providing him with some of the most memorable scores of his career. Planet of the Apes, Patton and Papillion are are well regarded films and scores. But the two men worked on a couple films that aren't quite as well remembered these days. One of those is the film Lionheart, a medieval adventure that takes place during the Children's Crusade of 1212. It starred Eric Stolz and Gabriel Byrne. The movie ended up getting a very limited theatrical release and was shuffled off to VHS and cable viewing.

These days the only folks that seem to mention the film are the Jerry Goldsmith fans, because DAMN is this an awesome score. Goldsmith goes full medieval adventure mode with this, and while I think he would perfect the sound in First Knight, what you get in Lionheart is top notch material. It has a rousing theme, heroic action, and because it was written in 1987, just a few synthesizer touches that Goldsmith was so fond of during this era. For all that, the score is certainly one of his best during the 1980s, and a double CD edition presents all the music from the film (sadly out of film order). Here is the massive finale piece, King Richard from the score to Lionheart by Jerry Goldsmith.


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.

Summary:

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

Overall:

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
resist?"
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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