Sunday, January 27, 2019

TV Movie Terror: Trilogy of Terror 2 (1996) review


Lysette Anthony (Laura/Elma/Dr. Simpson), Geraint Wyn Davies (Dan), Matt Clark (Ansford), Geoffrey Lewis (Arly Stubbs), Blake Heron (Bobby)

Directed by Dan Curtis

The Short Version: Dan Curtis sequelizes his own 1975 TV horror anthology favorite in a Made For Cable chiller starring three times the Lysette Anthony--repeating Karen Black's triplicitous turn in the original. The first concerns greedy lovers receiving an unexpected surprise in a graveyard; the second sees a mother bring her son back from the dead with disastrous results; and the third is a direct sequel to the famous Zuni Fetish doll segment of Curtis's original TRILOGY. Mostly a rehash of the director's 70s horrors with a killer doll selling point that's lost its shock value indigenous to the modest 1975 source. The director's 90s update is still enjoyable escapist horror for those nostalgic for old-school style Made For TV Terror.

A dark, brooding anthology featuring enormous, flesh-eating rats, demonic revenge from beyond, and a murderous, devil-possessed doll make up the Terror in this Trilogy. 

Filmed in Canada over the course of 22 days and debuting on the USA Network on October 30th, 1996, the belated TRILOGY OF TERROR 2 improves on the original in that the entire film is consistent with the title's promise of "terror"; as opposed to the '75 version's third tale being the sole, purely horror segment. There's nothing particularly remarkable about this encore, but it's efficiently made, modestly gory, and retaining the spirit of Dan Curtis's style of horror that dominated the small screen back in the 1970s.

One of the things that made TRILOGY OF TERROR unique was Karen Black starring in all three of the stories; two of which she was the predator and the third the Prey. For this sequel, British actress Lysette Anthony follows suit, tackling leads in all three yarns. In the case of T2, Anthony's portrayals are more diverse: the archetypal gold-digger of anthology horror; a tragic figure who goes to unnatural lengths for maternal salvation; and a victimized scientist faced with a supernatural enemy.

Lysette Anthony had worked with Dan Curtis earlier in the decade as Angelique, a witch character, on the short-lived revival of DARK SHADOWS; the 1991 series lasted only a dozen episodes before the coffin closed. Anthony's trust in Curtis was such that she didn't even read the script before accepting the role(s).

Curtis brought famed SciFi-Fantasy-Horror writer William F. Nolan back to pen his sequel. It had been 20 years since the two had worked together on the theatrical haunted house spooker, BURNT OFFERINGS (1976). Nolan collaborated with Curtis a few times including writing duties on the creepy supernatural horror, THE NORLISS TAPES in 1973 and authoring the first two stories in the original TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975). Nolan is likely most famous for co-authoring the SciFi novel 'Logan's Run' with George Clayton Johnson in 1967--turned into a movie in 1976.

In a 1996 Fangoria article, Curtis remarked he had the sequel in mind seven years earlier in 1989. Possibly inspired by the success of the award winning HBO horror series, TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1989-1996), T2 has some of that EC flavor of those notoriously grim comic books; mostly apparent in the first story, the typical tale of infidelity and revenge from beyond the grave... 

Story #1: The Graveyard Rats

Caught in a compromising position by her elderly, wealthy, wheelchair-bound husband, Laura Ansford can remain the sole beneficiary in Roger Ansford's will so long as she keeps her vow to love thy husband till he passes on. Not content with this arrangement, Laura and her lover conspire to knock off the old man before his time. With the deed done, the two money-hungry lovebirds think they're in the clear till they learn Roger has had the microfilm detailing the account numbers for his fortune buried with him. Overcome with greed, Laura and her co-conspirator decide to dig him up despite warnings from the graveyard caretaker that the particular plot where Roger wanted to be buried is overrun with rats... big ones.

The film's most ghoulish segment was originally written by Henry Kuttner back in 1936, appearing in Weird Tales, the revered fantasy-horror magazine that featured works by notable authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. William F. Nolan's adaptation differs in a few ways--one by swapping out Kuttner's graverobber central figure for the plotting, adulterous couple. In the film version, the graverobber (played by the always reliable Geoffrey Lewis) is a minor character.

At the time, erotic/suspense thrillers were still very popular and Lysette Anthony did a few of them like SAVE ME (1994), AFFAIR PLAY (1995), DEAD COLD (1995), and MAN OF HER DREAMS (1997). Some brief sexual content involving her character recalls Anthony's works in that genre while tapping into the EC-style of libidinous machinations leading the greedy to an early grave.

One other difference between the print and film version is the removal of a zombie-type figure crawling around in the increasingly narrowing tunnels Kuttner's graverobber finds himself trying to escape from. Nolan's version works just fine, and itself, a weird tale well told.

Story #2: Bobby

Distraught over the drowning of her child, Elma uses a satanic spell to return her son Bobby to life. Appearing on her doorstep on a dark and stormy night, she is quick to notice that something is terribly wrong with Bobby.

An original story written by Richard Matheson for Dan Curtis's DEAD OF NIGHT (1977), his supernatural short finds a second home in T2 remade in a slightly streamlined form; yet virtually identical with minimal alterations. Nolan's contribution is negligible, if any. Matheson gets sole writing credit. The principal difference between the two is the '77 version has an expository scene between Elma and her husband John on the phone that gave viewers a bit more characterization while emphasizing the horror of a later scene when the two are on the phone again.

Compared to Joan Hackett's portrayal from the first time around, Ms. Anthony is good in the role as the grieving mother, if more overzealous in her hysteria upon the realization her son (or what she believes is her son) is trying to kill her.

Blake Heron, the 12 year old actor playing Bobby, shot to stardom very quickly. Battling drug addiction reportedly even at a young age, Heron would die from an accidental overdose of fentanyl in September of 2017.

A genuinely terrifying story, it's still curious why Curtis would opt to remake the old segment as opposed to going with a different one. Additionally, the makeup is different for the big reveal at the end; even though it's less creepy than before. The Lovecraftian aura helps. Still, this 'Bobby' is suspenseful and as well made as its 1977 source; just don't expect any surprises unless you're unfamiliar with Curtis's DEAD OF NIGHT. 

Story #3: He Who Kills

At a nasty murder scene, police discover the bodies of two mutilated women and a burned up doll inside an oven. Believing it to be a ritualistic slaying, the police take the doll to a museum in the hopes that a Dr. Simpson can identify its significance. After hours in the museum, the lady ethnologist learns the gruesome-looking doll represents a centuries extinct African cannibal tribe... and that the thing is alive and ready to kill.

The hype generated for T2 was built solely around the return of the Zuni Fetish Doll, the outrageously creepy little monster that comes to life to terrorize Karen Black in Curtis's 1975 original. Picking up where that segment finished, the doll now terrorizes Lysette Anthony in much the same fashion; the major difference now is that it's no longer a single apartment building, but inside a museum.

A marionette in the original picture, the diminutive wooden maniac is operated via animatronics for the sequel. A one-woman show the first time around, the new version affords some additional characters and a few extra deaths.

Nolan was thrilled to be putting his own spin on Matheson's work; a short story titled 'Prey' written by him in 1969. Nolan's take on Matheson's material is just as energetic as before, if playing it safe by rehashing the source almost note-for-note. Even so, seeing one of cinema's scariest killer dolls again in an updated setting is exciting for nostalgia buffs.

Aiding all three of these cryptic tales is some striking photography and nicely atmospheric locations. On the whole, Curtis made a movie that's three-quarters of dusted-off old material done over, yet he succeeds elsewhere; even managing some nods to his past works.

Dan Curtis is one of the horror genres most recognizable names and has contributed some of its most memorable, and popular, small-screen examples. While he continued to produce horror fare for television, TRILOGY OF TERROR 2 (1996) was his last time directing various creatures of the night. It's an enjoyable 90 minute spooker, even if it's mostly haunted territory traversed 20 years earlier.

This review is representative of an airing on OuterMax (Cinemax channel).

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Kung Fu Cinema's Alexander the Great


By Terrence J. Brady

334 pages; softcover; 1st edition 2018

A welcome work in the limited scope of books on Hong Kong cinema personalities not named Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. Brady's book is well written and accompanied by 15 pages of B/W photos; although it occasionally loses sight of its subject with prolonged passages on other actors and directors that worked with Fu Sheng--feeling at times like a broad analysis of Hong Kong cinema. Aside from various behind the scenes stories and minutiae, the book is at its dramatic best when detailing the relationship between Fu Sheng and his wife, the famous singer, Jenny Tseng. At just $20, it's well worth adding to your book collection; especially if you're a Shaw Brothers Kung Fu Film Fan-addict.

If you're a fan of Kung Fu cinema--and Shaw Brothers productions in particular--than you're well versed in the filmography of Alexander Fu Sheng. A serio-comic actor before Jackie Chan made full-on kung foolery fashionable, Fu Sheng was a handsome actor who rose to superstardom playing iconic heroes in Chang Cheh's movies before branching out to work with other directors by the end of the 1970s.

Much has been written about Shaw Brothers and Fu Sheng in general; but little of substance in English on the actor or any other personality outside of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

Using numerous translated articles from vintage Chinese magazines and anecdotes and reminisces from those who worked with him and knew him best, author Terrence Brady has written a thorough biography on Fu Sheng. One of Hong Kong cinema's best-loved, old-school martial arts superstars, you'll learn a great deal about the once shining light of the genre that sadly dimmed on July 7th, 1983 when the actor was killed in a car accident.

All of his films--from early appearances to starring roles--are accounted for (as well as films that never got made); including behind the scenes information, film summaries, assorted trivia, and box office. However, the volume expounds on other areas as well...

Fu Sheng at Shaw Studio in 1982
The book occasionally veers off-topic (most kung fu fans won't mind, though), going into prolonged details about other actors or filmmakers that worked with Fu Sheng in some capacity. It's in these places the book feels less about a biography of its star than it does Hong Kong action cinema in general. There are also unnecessarily lengthy passages where characters the actor has played and the historical significance of them are discussed. Elsewhere, Fu's early productions where he was little more than an extra are discussed in more detail than needed considering in some cases, you have to study the film to find him lurking in the background somewhere.

The book does stay concentrated on its subject when it focuses attention on the relationship between Fu Sheng and his equally famous songstress wife Jenny Tseng (40+ year career with some 160 albums and reportedly 10 million in album sales). It's these areas where the most insight into Fu Sheng the man is revealed; the emotional side of the man who was most known for displaying impish joviality on-set. These portions of the bio yield the most dramatic value documenting their years together--brief as they were.

Along with the spirit of her late husband, Ms. Tseng has remained in the public eye. In 2014 she auctioned off 50 of her personal jewelry items to a Hong Kong based children's charity. Reportedly among the selected pieces was the Jadeite Bangle she wore at her wedding to Fu Sheng back in December of 1976.

As for the Biography of The Chinatown Kid, the book is passionately written, armed with 15 pages of B/W photographs, and a lot of attention to details. In some cases, these details are unnecessary and extraneous. Overall, it's a welcome volume that fans of the genre will undoubtedly enjoy reading. With numerous books on Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, it's time that other famous film stars from Hong Kong's golden age of cinema received their literary Anglo adulation... and a place among Kung Fu fan's book shelves.

You can purchase this book at amazon HERE.

You can also read our own three-part article from October of 2010 on the life and career of Alexander Fu Sheng HERE.

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