While it seemed simple enough to keep on track in terms of a single theme early on during this round up, things started to go off the rails a little later on. The mix of East meets West didn't help I suppose, as the more standard 80s sequels clash with the crazier ideas of Hong Kong movies. When you have to sit and think 'okay so which is the one where a giant Buddha shoots lighting out of it's eyes before transforming into a flying centipede' and 'so wait which has that vampire bowling scene?' this is where madness starts to set in. But the old tricks remain, characters are left out and forgotten, plot lines are discarded or repeated and new ingredients that don't quite fit are thrown into the soup just to keep it from being stale. Some of it works, while other elements are just not fit for consumption.
Starting things off we come to A Chinese Ghost Story 2 and yes it's a film with a centipede monster disguised as a monk. While this makes for a fun final battle and most of the story is watchable, the rest of the movie is kind of a mess. The original story of a debt collector (Leslie Cheung) and a swordsman (Wu Ma) trying to save a ghost from servitude to an evil spirit was pretty simple and remains one of the best supernatural genre movies. The mix of wuxia fighting and evil spirits has never been done better, though films like Spooky Encounters and Mr Vampire are up there. This time around they had no way to bring Joey Wong back to life so she just plays another character... it's almost like the identical twin plot from A Better Tomorrow 2.
It's not exactly great writing in a plot about rebel fighters, evil cults and mistaken identities. Our hero gets thrown in jail early on in a subplot that bears no relevance to anything else besides the fact they wanted him to grow a beard. He later meets a sorcerer (Jackie Cheung) and a group of revolutionaries in a haunted temple where most of the action takes place. The comedy is played up more and a few of the effects are somehow ropier than before with giant creatures taking up long stretches of the story, but it's done for laughs. Wu Ma just gets left behind until the end when someone literally remembers they forgot to call him for help. It's never boring but it is all over the place with goofy characters, zany magic spells and loose ends - which doesn't help when the third installment just remakes the original...
Now onto more familiar territory, Fright Night Part 2 is a pretty standard example of bringing a story back to square one to replay everything. Charley's girlfriend has been dumped and replaced by a new one, and his buddy they left alive for the ending of the original movie... is just never talked about and he has a new college room mate instead. Both those people were kind of important to his knowledge of the powers of evil, but conveniently those events are now all said to be a delusion - Charley is now seeing a doctor to have memory changing therapy of some kind. Even though he's still talking to Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) who remembers the whole thing. It doesn't make a great deal of sense and I would have thought they'd have teamed up, working as vampire killers every night of the week by now.
But we go through the same events, suspicious people with coffins, weird neighbours - all treated as part of his imagination despite the obvious. The plot itself isn't too bad; new bad guys come for revenge against both Charley by enslaving him, and Peter by taking over his titular TV show. There are a lot of creative visuals and transformation moments, even if the powers the vampires have - and their weaknesses - seem to be kind of random at times. It's hard not to like the vampire bowling scene! But much of it is lacking and retreads the same plot points for most of the running time, before getting silly with a hospital escape when Peter is sectioned and a weird final showdown in which the bloodsuckers are dispatched far too easily just to have some more effects moments.
Now everyone knows the story about the different releases Dawn of the Dead had over the years, but it mainly boils down to the original, the director's cut and the European - or Argento cut. I'll be talking about the latter here, because it's interesting to look at something you've seen many times and see how it's been altered overseas with editing control going to someone new. It sounds like an interesting idea to have a faster pace, less comedy moments and more of the music from prog rock group Goblin right? Dario Argento has made some great horror movies during the 70s and 80s and even worked with George Romero for the two part movie Two Evil Eyes.
But while the pacing seems to work in the opening act with police raid, a lot of the other elements don't seem that great. The odd sense of humour in the movie has been cut, and it loses "The Gonk" music from the end credits among other things. While having more Goblin and less stock music sounds like a great idea, it becomes very repetitive pretty early on having the same themes playing over and over. The helicopter zombie scene has been lost for being too humorous, but the sinister electronic music which played over that scene is also missing. Worst of all several of the best character moments have been cut or trimmed, so you lose some of the depth where the survivors realise that their new life is hollow and they have become another kind of living dead. Elsewhere things have been sped up, but scenes like the big lorry blockade being created have whole bits missing which were important to showing their plan. The rest of what works is still here of course, but this is easily the weakest version of the film.
On the topic of George Romero, Creepshow is film that still holds up in terms of both laughs and horror but it's probably no surprise that Creepshow 2 is lacking either of those. Looking at the contents you can tell something is wrong right away, as there are only three stories and a wrap around, unlike the original five (plus the great voodoo doll ending). It seems early on they are trying to reproduce the style, with a kid reading the same comic book used the first time but it quickly starts to become apparent that the fewer episodes mean each one has more filler. Which wouldn't be so bad if they weren't so predictable. The odd thing is that the high contrast lighting effects which close out each segment so it matches the illustrations has been lost. It was such a great touch in terms of style but apparently nobody wanted to repeat that of all things. Instead there's a strange animated section which looks like a standard cartoon rather than the inked comic art.
There's a plot about a carved Native American statue coming to life for revenge, one about a lake monster and another about a hit and run accident. They're all one note, rather than having a blend of laughs and real bleak horror and those stories in between (consider the difference between the meteor story with Stephen King and the creepy Leslie Nielsen part) here they all aim for straightforward shock factor which doesn't offer the same kind of character. The last plot in which Lois Chiles tries to get away from a man she left for dead on the highway starts to get really funny in the last few minutes but it's more to do with the gross out effects more than anything. It's shame because the formula seemed like it should be easy to repeat with new material, but there's too much padding and not enough fun.
Okay so all of this stuff is generally a pro versus con type of discussion, let's have a look at something truly bad. The Prophecy II is that film. While the novelty of Christopher Walken playing the arch angel Gabriel kept the original movie going for the most part, this is basically just a shambles. The movie is slow and the plot makes little sense, with Walken seeming like he's asleep at times while in other moments doing a parody of his own performances. This was a theatrical release? It seems like a direct to video movie right off the bat. There's something about destiny and a child being born of an angel and a human woman, but why this is a one time event is not clear with so many of these guys around.
It's tedious and things are not helped by the laughable amount of dutch angles being used. You think it's bad in Thor? This is a new level of dumb, with panning shots tilting as the camera moves, in one scene they even having it tip from the left, and as it moves across they turn it all the way to right. The gags about Gabriel's human helper being a dead person forced to keep living as his servant are repeated but to less effect and there is a lot of strange fish out of water humour which feels really of out place. Yes this is a radio, this is a computer, big laugh. The violence and the angel fight scenes have some effects appeal to a horror fan... but really it's just a big disaster. You want to see how things can quickly turn bad with unnecessary sequels, then look no further.
Closing us out as things start to spiral (hah) out of control, I will finish up with one more East Asian movie - the sequel to the Japanese video tape piracy adventure Ring. Now the original holds up for me in terms of the mood alone, there are no over the top attempts at using special effects or visual colour filters, just slow tension and weird sound effects. The nails on a chalkboard or violin strings noise is present throughout and it really starts to get creepy as things progress. The story has a few odd psychic moments but is simple enough to be effective. Now Ring 2 on the other hand drops all of this. The plot follows up on the original reporter character but soon drops her in favour of the female student of her ex-husband... so she can fill the same role solving a mystery. The atmosphere is gone, and so is the simple plot.
Not a lot makes sense, even if the clay death mask they create over Sadako's remains is kind of disturbing it doesn't seem like a great way of helping a medical investigation. Now there are more psychic characters out of nowhere, so now the original little boy and the maths student go off on a trip which ends up with some trippy scenes of ESP testing. Remember how they saved the kid by passing along the curse? Well apparently that was for nothing as he is still in danger for new reasons. The Ring series of books already had a part two, which they filmed as Rasen. This took on the original source materials virus subplot and didn't go down too well with audiences, so this other sequel is the result. It all kind of feels like a slapped together effort to tie up a few loose ends like the girl who found her friend dead in the first act of the original film being in a hospital... at from there it all goes to pieces. When it gets to this stage you have to call it a night. At least until October rolls around.....
(Part 1) (Part 2) (Bonus)