Welcome to the Crypt!

Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

What's this? TWO updates to the Crypt in one month? That's right, fright-fans, the Unimonster is sending even more Halloween goodness your way! If only someone would perfect downloadable candy.....

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01 April, 2014

A Reintroduction, and a Rededication

The Unimonster

Let me introduce myself.  My name is John Stevenson, but for the past decade or so I've written on the world of Horror, Sci-Fi, and Exploitation Film as your friendly neighborhood Unimonster.  Seven years ago, I started this site, the Unimonster’s Crypt, as a way to bring you, the reader, my thoughts on these genres that we love; a sort of op-ed on horror film.  Other sites exist to bring you the latest news, and believe me, they are much better at it than I could be.  One thing I can do that is unique is share my opinion on matters that touch upon genre film.  In the past, that has included such diverse topics as Universal’s often cavalier treatment of the Monsters, the joys of dollar-store DVDs, and the Halloween memories of a child of the ‘70s.

However, this page has been dormant for nearly two years now, for a number of reasons.  Too little time, and too many demands upon that time.  The demands of writing a book, which tends to monopolize what time I can spend at the keyboard.  The lack of an internet connection for much of that time.  However, the foremost reason I was absent from here was simpler than that, yet harder to overcome.  For some time, I felt that I had run out of things to say.

I’ll go into more detail on that in the first article below [Next Generation, Next Steps], but suffice it to say that that is no longer true.  I’m still working on the book, I still have too little time, but I do have things to say and to share with those who love genre film.  For those who were readers of this page before the hiatus, welcome back and thank you for trying us again.  There have been some changes, but hopefully we've managed to hold on to the things that make the Crypt unique and enjoyable.  Senior correspondent Bobbie is still here, though she may be scaling back her writing to just when her muse insists, and S. J. is back, and will be expanding her role to include more than her MST3K reviews.  There will also be more surprises coming in the months ahead, things that we hope will keep the Crypt fresh and new.

For those of you new to the Unimonster’s Crypt, welcome!  Please make yourself at home, and feel free to let us know how you like what we have to offer.  As you’ll soon discover, while we cover all aspects of horror and science-fiction here, we tend to gravitate towards the classic end of the spectrum … and by classic, we don’t mean something from 2002.  Classic here means pre-1990 at a minimum, and usually much older.  There’s a reason my nom du horreur is the Unimonster … it’s my way to recognize the great Universal monsters, the creatures and killers that first fired my love of Horror more than forty-five years ago.  You’ll see that they still figure prominently in my love of genre movies, and in my writings on the subject.  I hope that you will come to appreciate them as I do, if you don’t already.

And for everyone who visits us here in the Crypt, please enjoy … and Stay Scary!

Next Generation, Next Steps

The Unimonster

Recently, I've taken a little hiatus from writing this column.  Work, other projects, life in general, all conspired to keep me from focusing on what has long been one of my true loves—writing about the world of Horror and Exploitation film.  To be honest, I was burnt out … unable to find new inspiration, or new ideas, in the current horror offerings; and tired of rehashing older classics that, though well-loved, had been thoroughly explored in these pages.  Though I still loved the genre movies, I had begun to believe that I had run out of things to say regarding them.

It was at this point, quite frankly a low one for the ol’ Unimonster, that something happened that changed my outlook on the situation, and reawakened my muse.  The Uni-Nephew, with whom I've always shared a love of the big-budget super-hero, sci-fi, and fantasy blockbusters, turned fifteen.  Suddenly, he began to take more of an interest in horror films; even those gore films which a short time before would have been far too intense for him.  We saw several of the new crop of horror at the theater or Drive-In; this only fueled his desire for more.  Of course I, being the doting uncle, was all too pleased to serve as his guide to the genre that I love so much, and have since I was far younger than he.  Now, frequent “movie nights” have become an anticipated event for the Unimonster, the Uni-Nephew, and his cousin the Rug-Monkey.  The Monkey has long been a horror fan, and was eager to get a crack at the Crypt’s Movie Room.

The typical aftermath of "Movie Night."
The typical movie night begins with my picking the boys up at my sister’s after work, and ends in the not-so-wee hours of the morning when I dump them off again.  In between, there’s a twelve hour long festival of pizza, chicken tenders, nachos, Mountain Dew© and Monster©, farting and fart jokes … and of course, horror, action, and exploitation movies.  In short, everything that your average fifteen-year-old male finds entertaining—well, nearly everything.  The movies we watch run the gamut, from gut-munching zombies to stoner comedies.  They've been introduced to the FEAST trilogy, and the original DIE HARD; Jess Franco and Rob Zombie.  The movies themselves are less important than the act of viewing them together, of exposing them to great movies.  Most are selected for sheer entertainment factor, but at least one movie per session is intended to expose the two novices to some aspect of great horror, some movie that they need to see in order to further their education.  It might be Neil Marshall’s superb 2002 werewolf film DOG SOLDIERS, or it might be Sam Raimi’s classic THE EVIL DEAD (1982).  The purpose of these picks is to present a lesson—a lesson wrapped in an easy to enjoy, eye-candy shell.  Both boys, unfortunately, suffer from a malady all too common among the young:  An eagerness to dismiss anything that’s older than the latest YouTube upload.
This prejudice isn't easy to overcome, but it can be done.  The key is to gradually acclimate them to ‘classic’ horror.  Though I’d love to screen the Universal horrors so beloved of my childhood, or the giant bugs and alien invaders of the 1950’s, I know both the boys would rise up in revolt at the indignation of sitting through a (shudder) black-and-white movie.  At least, they would now.  But with every movie that they watch, their tastes grow more refined, more appreciative of the great wealth of cinema that’s available if one only looks past Hollywood’s remakes, sequels, and uninspired knock-offs.  Soon perhaps, they’ll ask to see those Universal Horrors that captivated me more than forty years ago.

At least that is my hope.  Like all good things, I know that ‘movie nights’ won’t last long.  The Uni-Nephew is already looking forward to the day he’ll have his learner’s permit in one hand and a steering wheel in the other, and, like his sister before him, he’ll find that there are much more entertaining things to do than hang out with one’s uncle.  That’s okay … that’s life, and I understand that.  It’ll still hurt when that day comes, but I’ll understand.  I just hope that before that day comes I can pass along to him a lasting love for genre film, and an ability to appreciate the great horror films of the past hundred years, be they silent, black-and-white, or whatever.  That will be my gift to him.

And his gift to me will be the knowledge that I still have things to say about these movies that are, and have always been, such an important part of my life.

Unimonster's Screening Room: 300-- Rise of an Empire

Title:  300: Rise of an Empire

Date of Theatrical Release:  7 March, 2014

MPAA Rating:  R
Reviewer:  Unimonster

Seven years ago, I proclaimed Zack Snyder’s epic vision of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 the Movie of the Year for 2007.  It had everything that makes a movie great … well almost everything, unless you want to count Gerard Butler’s shaved pecs as breasts, which I don’t.  Rumors of a sequel began almost immediately, though I wasn't quite sure how such a feat would occur, with the Spartans lying slaughtered on the field of Thermopylae.  It took a while, but Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Frank Miller finally figured out a way to revisit the Greco-Persian wars—by putting them to sea.  300: Rise of an Empire focuses on the battle of Salamis, fought in September, 480 BCE, roughly concurrent with the battle of Thermopylae.  The Athenian fleet, commanded in part by a general named Themistocles, decisively defeated the Persian fleet commanded by the Persian emperor Xerxes I, and Queen Artemisia of Caria, located on what is now the southwest coast of Turkey.

With Snyder busy with the directing chores on last summer’s blockbuster Man of Steel, Noam Murro was chosen to helm the project.  Murro, whose only feature prior to this was the 2008 film Smart People, had originally been named to direct the Bruce Willis action sequel A Good Day to Die Hard, but dropped out to take this assignment instead.  While he seemed an odd choice when announced, it’s hard to find fault with the decision, as the finished project will attest.  Working with a script penned by Snyder and Johnstad, the same team that brought 300 to the screen, Murro keeps the action flowing at a reasonable pace, though it does come across as a bit more ‘talky’ than its predecessor.

Leading the cast is Sullivan Stapleton, an Australian actor with a great deal of experience in television in his home country, though he has made occasional appearances in American productions, most recently 2013’s Gangster Squad.  He plays Themistocles as a man devoted to the ideal of a united Greece, with all the separate city-states banding together to resist the Persian onslaught.  Stapleton is very good as the Athenian general, convincing the viewer of his faith in a pan-Hellenic alliance.  I doubt that this will prove to be the breakout role for him that Leonidas was for Butler, but time will tell.  Opposite Stapleton is Eva Green, as the commander of Xerxes’ navy, Artemisia.  This is really her movie, and she commands every scene she appears in, as well as helping to provide the one thing that the first movie lacked—a healthy dose of female nudity.  Some familiar faces from the first movie appear—Lena Headey as the Spartan queen, Gorgo, David Wenham as Dilios, Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes, and of course Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes.  However, with the exception of Santoro’s Xerxes, this is not their movie, and they take up little screen time.

I took the Uni-Nephew with me to see this one on its opening weekend, and I must say both of us loved it.  We saw the 2D version, but I would say that had there been a 3D version starting at the same time, we would’ve opted for that; this is a movie that begs to be seen on the big screen, in three dimensions.  The effects were spectacular, the photography beautiful, and, just as the first did, it perfectly captures the mood and style of Miller’s graphic novels.  My recommendation is simple: if you loved the first film, you won’t be disappointed here.  But don’t wait for the home video release—get to the theater and see it, now … in 3D.

Trash Palace Dumpster-- Bobbie's Best of the Bad: After Earth (2013)

Title:  After Earth

Year of Release—Film:  2013

Year of Release—DVD:  2013

Reviewer:  Bobbie Culbertson

The year is 1000 AE, which stands for "After Earth," a time when Earth, ravaged by pollution, has been rendered uninhabitable for human life.  General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), the emotionally void legendary head of the Ranger Corps, is heading out on his last mission before retirement.  Cypher's wife Faia (Sophie Okonedo) convinces him to take their petulant son, Kitai, who recently failed his promotion to Cadet, along for some father/ son bonding. During the flight, the ship encounters a meteor shower and, although warned against flying through it, Cypher orders the crew to stay the course.  The badly damaged ship crash-lands on Earth and all aboard are killed.  Except Cypher, who has two badly broken legs, and Kitai, who is unhurt.
Discovering their rescue beacon has been damaged, Cypher orders Kitai to walk to the rear of the broken-in-half ship, now lying 100 kilometers away, and retrieve the other rescue beacon.  If Kitai fails this mission, they will both die.  So begins Kitai's dangerous journey through uncharted land and past the blind but fear-pheromone smelling combative alien creatures called "ursas" where he battles apes and giant eagles to save his father and prove his worth.

Knowing before-hand that After Earth had won the Razzie for Worst Actor (Jaden Smith), Worst Supporting Actor (Will Smith) and Worst Screen Combo (Will and Jaden) and having read a multitude of scathing reviews, I tried not to let those influence my opinion.  Now I am left wondering if After Earth deserves the abysmal 11% Rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  So, in order to remain unbiased, I interviewed an Average Joe audience member:

Me:  Sir, after having finished watching After Earth, what are your immediate thoughts about the movie?

AJ:  It needed more people in the script.  It was too ambitious a movie for just two people.  They got rid of the entire supporting cast so quickly, they should have all been wearing red shirts from Star Trek!

Me:  You have stated you are a fan of Will Smith.  What is your opinion on his acting in this movie?

AJ:  Will has shown he can do comedy well as proven by the Men In Black trilogy and he can do drama, such as in I Am Legend.  In After Earth, it felt phoned in.  Like he was purposely under-playing his role so as not to over-shadow his son's acting.  The acting felt sluggish.

Me:  And what did you think of Jaden's acting in this?

AJ:  Jaden shows signs of growing up to be a decent actor.  But he hasn't got the chops yet to lay an entire multi-million dollar movie on his 14 year-old shoulders.  Maybe a TV show ... like on Nickelodeon.  Or Fresh Prince.

Me:  Do you have any thoughts on the directing?

AJ:  M. Night Shyamalan has sucked the life out of every movie he's directed since Signs in 2002.  In After Earth, he proves he's just another has-been hack for hire!  Still, no worse than The Last Airbender.

Me:  On a scale of zero stars for worst film ever made to five stars for greatest picture since the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, what score do you give After Earth?

AJ:  2 stars.

Me:  Why so high?

AJ: Really rad special effects and CGI! Had it not been for that, I'd have walked out of the theater half-way through this movie.

Me: Thank you so much for your time!

It's rumored that Will Smith came up with the plot to this movie while playing a video game with friends.  Maybe that explains why After Earth felt like a video game with motionless Cypher sitting drearily as he monitors Kitai’s actions though his video screen and sternly instructs his son's every move.  Even the precious few times Kitai disobeys his father's commands and goes by his gut-instincts feel as if he's less than a budding hero and more like the insubordinate pre-teen that he is.  This is heightened by the let-us-walk-you-through-this script.  An effortlessly gifted father who presses his less-talented son to follow in his foot-steps.  Real life?  Or …After Earth?


For the Love of Laughter, Horror (and Hosts), and CHEESE!

S. J. Martiene

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed a good laugh, a good fright, and have been exposed to my fair share of bad movies.  Growing up with Bugs Bunny, The Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, The Dean Martin Roasts, and the endless one-liners from the ORIGINAL Hollywood Squares game show, I became quite skilled with the “aside”, sarcasm, innuendo, and just downright belly-laughing guffaws.  Oh yeah, I failed to include HEE HAW in that mix (along with too many other names and shows).  That show instilled its own kind of humor which is still with me to this day.  During my pre-teen and teenage years, I was fortunate to spend some of my movie-watching hours at the drive-in.  To this day, I can remember vividly some of the shock, schlock, and shivers.  I remember the taste and the smell of the popcorn, the anticipation of the Intermission Countdown, and the crackle of the speakers. All of these are wonderful memories indeed, and helpful to drown out the painful thoughts of the hometown drive-in that was destroyed to make room for a strip mall.

Accompanied with this outside-the-home movie enjoyment, we had our own TV Horror Host (The Fear Monger).  Between his Saturday night escapades, I was exposed to arguably the greatest TV decade EVER, particularly for the horror, suspense, and crime genre.  Seriously, with fare like Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The NBC Mystery Movie, Circle of Fear, and movies like The Legend of Lizzie Borden, Crowhaven Farm, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, and Gargoyles how could I NOT love it!!  I still watch these on coveted DVDs today!!!  Ah the 70’s, full of highs and many personal lows, but little did I know that it would be nearly another 20 years of living before another show would cram EVERYTHING together for me in a nice, neat Cowtown Puppet Show package.

FAST FORWARD:  March 1992

So I went to school, went to work, had moved to South Florida where I would meet my future husband and we would start our family.  In March ’92, I was watching The Comedy Channel (Comedy Central’s first name), and I discovered something beautiful.  There was this guy, with two robots, in a spaceship theater, and they were TALKING through The Crawling Hand. It was love at first sight.  Whenever work and life schedule would permit it, I was watching this show.  Then, I noticed the show always ended with a salute to “The authors of the First Amendment and The Teachers of America” AND then it would say…”KEEP CIRCULATING THE TAPES”.  SO I started recording the episodes as often as I could.   And it is this show that I have taught my boys to love and that we are STILL watching a quarter-century later:  Mystery Science Theater 3000.

As many know, MST3K started as a local show in Minneapolis (KTMA) in 1989 and was the brain-child of comedian-extraordinaire, Joel Hodgson.  It revolved around a maintenance guy (Joel Robinson played by Hodgson) who worked for two nefarious characters, Dr. Erhardt (Josh “Elvis” Weinstein) and Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), at Gizmonic Institute.  He was forced into a human experiment of watching painfully bad movies to break his spirit. Erhardt and Forrester thought that the success of this experiment would further their advancement in conquering the world.  Joel, getting lonely in space, created robots from things he found around the ship.  These robots would become his children, friends, and sparring partners and two of them would even accompany him into the theater to share his movie experiences:  Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot.

Josh Weinstein gave Tom Servo life during the KTMA year and the “official” Season 1 on Comedy Central.  Trace Beaulieu managed Crow T. Robot from the beginning until MST3K left CC to join The Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) in 1997.  All of them, along with Kevin Murphy (Future Tom Servo), Michael J. Nelson (future host), and Bill Corbett (future Crow T. Robot), Frank Coniff (TV’s Frank who replace Weinstein in Season 2) and many others added their own comedy touches within the writing of the show.  The humor would normally stay current with many pop culture references to the 60’s and 70’s (which I identified with completely).  Every once in awhile, there will be a topical political joke or pun that could get lost in future years.  The greatest thing about this show is that it was great at being an “EQUAL OPPORTUNITY POLITICAL JOKESTER”.  What I mean by that is that the SHOW did not take sides, and I loved that so much.  I remember that is why I loved Johnny Carson because he railed BOTH sides of the aisle.  For this reason and because the show never strayed from what it was – three characters sitting and making fun of movies, it will likely remain a cult favorite.  And let’s face it, most of us have talked to our TV sets all our lives!!!   AND…they got to do it in a THEATER…..now THAT was cool.

Another element that endeared me to Mystery Science Theater was it contained many characteristics of the “Horror Host” movies so prevalent in my younger years.  I became acquainted with the opening segments and skits between commercial breaks.  As a kid, I always felt this broke the tension of the very SCARY movies being aired that night.  As an adult, I found these bits filled with dry humor and wonderful sight gags that I continue to use today.  The tribute to the Horror Host was quite evident.  There were mad scientists, invention exchanges, running jokes from episode to episode, cheap props, and the destruction of civilizations – all neatly confined on the bone-shaped ship called The Satellite of Love.  Of course, there was an Umbilicus that connected them to Deep 13 (The Mads’ Lair), but that is going to lead to some tedious detail about the show’s final years…and well…..JUST WATCH, okay?????  In addition, there were all kinds of visitors and intruders on the SOL over the years; from Demon Dogs to Nanites.  Even a quarter-century after its birth, MST3K is still gaining fans and getting DVD releases each year.  Not bad for a show that used broken pieces of a Hungry Hungry Hippo game and Millennium Falcon model as parts for the set.
Lastly, the show EMBRACED the bad movie.  Lord knows that if Hollyweird knows how to put out one product well, it is the cheesy flick.  Not all of the MST3K library includes the horror/sci-fi genre either, sometimes it would delve into the Action (MST3K #614 San Francisco International), Fantasy (MST3K #505 The Magic Voyage of Sinbad), Teenage Angst (MST3K #507 I Accuse My Parents), and the occasional Ed Wood or Coleman Francis film (because they deserve their own category, don’t they? ... hmmmm???).  Personally, I love the horror and science fiction genres the best; HOWEVER, many laughs are to be had at the expense of these other films, along with the short subjects that sometimes accompany movies who’s running times needed padding.  If you are a child of the 1960’s, you may remember actually viewing some of those short subjects in school.  Personally, I remember seeing Keeping Neat and Clean (MST3K #613 The Sinister Urge) in one of our Health Classes, AND I am pretty sure I also was lucky (ahem) to see The Chicken of Tomorrow (MST3K #702 The Brute Man). I’m sure there were many others too.  It’s a shame today’s kids are not exposed to these cinematic morsels, but MY BOYS ARE…. hee hee hee.  And no, don’t call CPS, it is NOT an enforceable offense – I've checked.

We are fortunate today that Mystery Science Theater lives on through tapes, DVDs, and even is streamed through Netflix, Hulu, and shows can be found on YouTube.  Many of the show’s members branched out to do their own incarnations of MST3K in other ventures.  Joel Hodgson headed Cinematic Titanic which did live appearances and DVD releases.  They disbanded in 2013 as members (which included Frank Coniff and Trace Beaulieu) decided to do other projects.  Hodgson revived the old Comedy Central format of an MST3K Turkey Day celebration by running a humorous and heartfelt marathon on a YouTube channel on Thanksgiving Day 2013.  It was simply AMAZING!!!  The most successful spin-off has been the RiffTrax collaboration of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett.  The RT crew leaves NOTHING unscathed:  Shorts, serials, good movies, bad movies, blockbusters, or the blockbuster.  They utilize video-on-demand where customers have the option to download the movies to their own devices OR purchase DVD’s.  RiffTrax can also bypass excruciating “rights” purchases by just selling commentaries to movies most of can rent or readily acquire.  Do you know how much fun it has been to watch ALL the Star Wars movies completely riffed???  It is sheer joy, my friend…pure joy.
In conclusion, if you like to laugh and you don’t mind some of your precious little films getting stepped on, seek out Mystery Science Theater 3000, Cinematic Titanic, and RiffTrax.  DO IT!!  Do it NOW…..DON’T LOSE ANOTHER DAY!!!