Monday, October 31, 2022

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trilogy (1990-93)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began life as an independent comic book in the 80s, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Its surprise popularity quickly led to more comics, soon paving the way for the 1987 animated series, which really propelled the franchise to the stratosphere (much to the chagrin of its creators, given its far goofier tone). Three years later, at the height of Turtlemania, came the first movie...

A silent crime wave has gripped New York, and the police seem incapable of stopping it. Only plucky reporter April O'Neil has provided any theory on the cause, and unfortunately for her she is all too correct. A band of ninjas surround her in the subway one night, but she is saved by four unlikely heroes. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. Teenage mutant ninja turtles, who are ready to kick shell, and take on the evil Foot Clan and their master, The Shredder...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a marvellous adventure, both for kids and adults. It tells a simple but compelling story, and acts as a great introduction to these characters and their world.

This film really surprised me going in, not only for how serious it plays the material compared with the 87 series, but also how reminiscent it is of the 2003 show! It was like seeing the stories of that series play out on the big screen! Over a decade before it came out. Yeah, I guess I'm behind the loop a little bit. While very much its own thing, this also doesn't feel like an odd man out next to the 87 version, and is a good companion piece.

The film has a darker tone to it, but never extreme. It succeeds by knowing where to strike a balance. Just because it has its serious moments, doesn't mean the film lacks a sense of humour, or childlike adventure. Not only do these keep TMNT from becoming joyless, they also make the serious moments that much more effective.

The story is quite an involved one. We've got an intriguing mystery, and a good viewpoint character with April. It's not too long before we're introduced to the real heroes, and they all get plenty to do. As the story expands, we get some ninja encounters, and some victories as well as a big loss for the Turtles, who go into hiding as they determine what to do next, and where to find the strength to succeed.

This is a very faithful adaption (whatever that means, when there are so many continuities!). There are a few interesting changes to the source material too. It's Raphael who gets ambushed and badly hurt by the Foot ninjas, it's April's old family farmhouse, not Casey's, and more.

The climax is alright, but a little disappointing. I think the root cause of this is that this moment is the ending to an issue (or episode, rather), whereas here it's supposed to be the grand finale to the whole movie. It's trying to be bigger than what it is. It also doesn't help that Shredder's death is a little anticlimactic, especially when the Turtles don't even get a chance to beat him.

Onto the characters, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael are great leads. Their personalities all come through, and they're all balanced well. None feel shortchanged. They get plenty of funny moments, cool action, as well as surprisingly emotional scenes. Raphael also get a few 'Damn's' in, which can feel a bit cheesy to an older viewer, but it goes without saying that any kids watching will be over the moon to hear their favourite characters 'swearing'.

April O'Neil is always a nice presence, and never hogs the limelight. The same for resident vigilante Casey Jones, who has a bit of an edge to him, but is a big huggable dolt, who has an instant rapport with Raph. He also shares some good scenes with Donatello too, as they swap insults through the alphabet.

Splinter is the wise mentor and father figure to the Turtles, and has good moments despite being kidnapped disappointingly early. Because of this much of his screentime is minimal, but he does eventually get good scenes with a young street thug. While in the cartoon Splinter was Master Yoshi, here he was his pet. Different incarnations are often flip-flopping over which he is, and both origins work well.

As for the villains, Shredder is an imposing figure, by voice and appearance, and you believe he's a real threat. His second-in-command Tatsu is good too, and has his own character, and relationship with the budding Foot pupils. Said trainees are young runaways, with the son of April's boss getting the most focus. He's a bit of a brat in places, but by the end he proves himself to be pretty good.

The effects in TMNT are standout! The Turtle costumes are lifelike and totally convincing, from how they move to how they talk (besides one horrifying human mouth gaffe, which you may notice only if you're unlucky). The same goes for Splinter, who is so adorable you just wanna hug him, even if he is a rat! Shredder's costume is a little too colourful and glittery in places, but the appearance makes up for it.

The acting here is good all round. Judith Hoag makes for a great human lead, while Elias Koteas is a fun supporting actor. Kevin Clash is wise and friendly as Splinter, and Shredder is portrayed very effectively by James Saito (and voice actor). Meanwhile, a small army of vocal and physical performers portrayed the Turtles, doing a great job bringing them to life.

The action here is very good, with neat fight choreography, and effective locales. Special mention must not only go to the martial arts in its own right, but how these performers managed to pull off these stunts despite the cumbersome turtle costumes! For it to not only still look good, but convincing too is a real marvel.

The setting of New York is an important one to this series, and it shines here, with its sewers, dingy back alleys, high end skyscrapers, and glittery lights. It's also shown in the midst of a crime wave, but it doesn't get too overboard and show NY as being a lawless hellscape.

The lighting in the film is quite dark, but in a pretty effective way. The turtles are ninja after all, and must keep to the shadows. A little more brightness and colour wouldn't have gone astray, but the important thing is we can still see what's going on at all times.

The score in TMNT is great. A particular highlight is the Turtle Power song that plays over the credits. It's lyrically dense hip-hop, with a weird but groovy electronic chorus, that should having you chanting "T U R T L E power!". While I'm not the biggest fan of either genre, it manages to be a darn good tune regardless.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the best adaptions you could ask for, and a perfect companion piece to the animated series

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze (1991)

It's another regular night for the Turtles, who are lodging in April O'Neil's apartment as they search for a new home. Meanwhile, scientific corporation TGRI is publicly disposing of its past hazardous waste, while privately covering up just what its mutagen can do. Taking notice is the Shredder, disfigured but very much alive after his last encounter with the Turtles. He kidnaps the head scientist and forces him to mutate two kidnapped zoo animals, to create enemies capable of stopping the Turtles once and for all...

Secret of the Oooze is an example of a sequel done right! It's got the right amount of humour, action, and heart, and never has a dull moment.

Secret of the Ooze was a movie hit by studio interference. After the first movie's darker and more serious tone, some parents complained (talk about buzzkills!), so not only is this follow-up considerably lighter and goofier, it also lacks the Turtles using their trademark weapons! The first change isn't much of a problem though, since the first one wasn't that dark, and lighthearted goofiness works perfectly well in his franchise.

The plot here is very simple. It is a little difficult trying to connect it with the first movie's ending (How much time is supposed to have passed? Weeks or hours?), but for the most part this is easily overlooked. The TCRI Corporation (or TGRI here) is decently handled, and I liked how the film deliberately chooses to not make it a big conspiracy. Although on the other hand I do miss some of the greater story detail that's absent now that the whole thing was just a random mistake 15 years ago.

While it's not badly written, my big issue with the plot here is that it doesn't go anywhere...literally! The Shredder stays in the same dingy junk yard the whole movie, with the turtles simply moving back and forth a couple of times. It makes things feel a bit too small scale. Fine for an episode, but not so much for a movie

The final confrontation does branch out a bit, with a fun nightclub battle, followed by a pier, providing a great location for the big fight! Unfortunately the battle with the Super Shredder is beyond disappointing! He goes down in a matter of seconds, with almost no work from the heroes.

The Turtles are reliably fun heroes as always. Their personalities do blend together a bit here, but overall they're good, and each get some nice moments. April and Splinter are a bit on the sidelines at times, but don't feel underused.

Shredder once again makes for a good villain, holding a more personal grudge against the Turtles this time. His fascination with the mutagen is good, especially when he goes all the way and uses it on himself. Tatsu also returns, but is unable to really step into the limelight this time, with the Shredder returning almost immediately.

There are a few new characters. Dr. Perry is likeable enough, and surprisingly honest and not sinister. Wisecracking pizza boy Keno is a good addition, but pretty superfluous, and vanishes constantly. New mutants Tokka and Rahzar are fun adversaries. Some fans bemoan the absence of cartoon staples Bebop and Rocksteady, but I feel that these two work better for this story. To have Bebop and Rocksteady would mean to introduce two new characters on top of everyone else. Tokka and Rahzar though are mutated animals, not people, so there's not that same problem.

The score here is just as good as the first. As for the songs, the most notable is Ninja Rap, sung by a certain rapper of ill repute. Now, I'm not a fan of Vanilla Ice by any means (annoying plagiaristic dickhead!), but I do admit finding Ninja Rap to be a decently enough tune, and fits the movie well.

The cast once again do a good job, from David Warner and Ernie Reyes Jr. as the new human cast, to new April Paige Turco. It's a little weird seeing a familiar role recast at first, but she slips into the role comfortably before long. Same goes for the new voice cast for the Turtles.

The effects continue to be standout! The costumes and their expressions/movements are so seamless you often forget they're not really turtles.

TMNT II: Secret of the Ooze has a few diminishing returns, but is overall a good time. Its faults don't detract too much from what's an otherwise fun action movie...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (1993)

The Turtles are having a fun time as usual down in their sewer home, when April comes bearing gifts. For Splinter is an ancient Japanese sceptre, which soon proves to be more than just an old keepsake when it transports her to Feudal Japan. In her place is Prince Kenshin, who is just as confused as the Turtles. After they realise what's happened, they make plans to go back in time to rescue April, and to stop the cruel Lord Norinaga and foreign arms dealer Walker from dominating the land...

Turtles in Time has a reputation as not only being a step down, but as an outright bad film! People really rail on it, like it's one of the peaks of trash cinema! I went in nervously, hoping I'd like it, but obviously figuring it'd be bad...So colour me surprised when I immediately began enjoying myself!

The film has a good story. It takes itself seriously enough, but has enough goofy moments to appeal to younger viewers. Much of the emotion comes from how the Turtles react to this new time period, and the people in it. It's nice seeing them get to experience the ancient home of ninjitsu first-hand. I wish we get more backstory on the sceptre though. A bit of mystery is good, but as it is it kinda feels a bit random.

One of the big points of contention people have with the movie is the concept-How unfitting it is for the series, and how it takes NYC out of the equation. It is true we have a new setting this time, but that's ok, we just had two films set in New York, and there'd be many more to follow (well, theoretically). It can't hurt to branch out with something different at least once. And as for how well it fits, it's perfectly fine! I can't think of a single iteration of the turtles, not even the original gritty comics, who haven't gone back in time to Feudal Japan!

The final act contains some good standoffs and decent action, with a fun end for the villain, as well as a fitting punishment for the Lord. It's not all good though, with one particular offending moment. Walker and his small army have the turtles at their mercy, not only with dozens of guns trained on them, but a cannon. Walker fires it, and the turtles duck into their shells to dodge...after which he is convinced they're unbeatable, and the entire army drops all their weapons and runs away! Geez, talk about a disappointment. It's not like you think it's magic, you can see what happened, so just try again! It feels like a very weak moment.

The ending itself is quick, but satisfying. My only real complaint is that we get no final scene with April and Casey. Splinter's final moments certainly are something though!

The comedy here is exactly what you expect. Much of it works, some of it doesn't, it does get a bit childish at times, etc. At its worst I never found it painful or unfunny.

The turtles are once again good heroes. They're fairly basic, rattling off some corny 90s slang, and kicking shell. Where they get some depth comes from their new surroundings, mamely Raphael and Michelangelo! It's the most jokey and hip turtle who feels most at home in the past, and is the biggest arguer for wanting to stay. While Raphael feels at peace in this time in a way he hasn't in the present.

Another ally for the gang is westerner Whit, who bears a striking resemblance to Casey Jones. He soon turns traitor, a spy for Walker, but then switches sides again. It's a little unearned (I can imagine him thinking 'I knew you were gonna kill them, but I didn't think you would kill them, how barbaric!'), and he doesn't get a final scene, just helping out a little in the final fight, before slinking off. He's never mentioned again, nor is his resemblance ever discussed with Casey. The fact that his presence doesn't even give further depth to the April-Casey relationship is the biggest problem in my eyes.

The villains are pretty good. Lord Norinaga is your typical fuedal villain, determined to conquer the land, while Walker is a more pragmatic and cunning guy, ballsy enough to extort the Lord, and eliminate him if necessary. I liked the little touch of him and his pet birds, too.

Splinter doesn't have as big a role as I'd have liked ,but he gets some good moments, including an ending gag that you'll either love or hate. Casey is pretty laidback here, and spends all his screentime babysitting Japanese 'castaways'. It is disappointing to see a fan favourite character reduced to a pretty thankless role, but it is fun at least seeing him basically on holiday from his usual intense crimefighting. Then there's the young prince, who has an important connection to the story, but spends the entire movie separated from it.

The cast are fine. The turtles sound even goofier this time, with a few familiar voices, and some newer new ones. They're fine, even if they take a bit of getting used to, and get a few emotional moments to balance out their more obnoxious ones. Paige Turco is once again a good April O'Neil. Elias Koteas gets his biggest yet smallest role in the series. As Casey he barely appears, but his appearances as Whit are more substantial. He does alright, though the writing lets him down. Stuart Wilson is a fine villain, who is evil and British enough to be successful. Japanese genre stalwart Sab Shimono brings plenty of gravitas no matter the film.

The effects are a possible complaint some might have with Turtles in Time. For a start, they're all in order, and move convincingly. They look just as different from the second film as that did from the first, and it can be distracting getting used to these redesigned turtle models, especially the new Splinter. The eyes are especially googly in places, and their blotchy/freckled skin is strange. I got used to them all fairly quickly, and they're not bad, but I'd still class them as my least favourite design of the trilogy.

The soundtrack here is decent, with a mix of typical heroic tunes, and Japanese infused pieces. The ending song this time round is a fairly decent hip-hop track, followed by a dash of Baltimora. We all need Tarzan Boy in our lives!

The direction here is neat! There's a great eye for visuals, and colours too, with some basic reds and blacks merging perfectly, like an old Japanese painting. The location work is all good too, showing pretty countryside and feudal castles, with a bit of NYC thrown in just so we don't feel too deprived.

Despite the possibility of more sequels, Turtles in Time spelled the end of the live action TMNT series. I don't think it was all to do with the film's negative reception, but a combination of things. The country had been in the grip of a manic Ninja Turtles fever for 7 years at this point, and it was finally starting to wear off. Add to this a pretty disastrously received live action TV show, and you had a world which had had enough of the Turtles. The franchise would go a little quiet for a few years, before returning with the acclaimed 2003 remake, and a CGI movie in 2007 that's ostensibly a follow-up to the original trilogy.

On one hand I think it's a shame this series couldn't continue. I also think it's a shame the entries we got couldn't be a bit more consistent across the board. But if nothing else, we got a full trilogy, and I think they're all winners! That's certainly better than nothing, and they are a perfect introduction to the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!...

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Ladron de Cadaveres: The Body Snatcher (1957)

After several wrestlers are found murdered in mysterious circumstances, the police begin investigating, and after turning up nothing they devise a new plan. Captain Carlos Robles enlists the help of an old friend Guillermo Santana to disguise him as a luchador, and build him up as the next big sensation. As 'El Vampiro' he will hopefully attract the attention of the killer and draw him out. But tragedy strikes, and this mad villain's plan may be too terrible for anyone to contemplate...

Ladron de Cadaveres, or The Body Snatcher (unrelated to the more famous story to bear that title) is one of the earliest in the luchadors vs monsters sub-genre. It gets off to a good start and has plenty to enjoy. The film is a good mix of old and new tropes, with the misty cemeteries of yesteryear with mad scientists and modern suburbs of today (well, 'Today' 65 years ago).

With the scene set quickly after some titular body snatching, we follow the wrestling scene. We meet detective Carlos, and his rancher friend Guillermo, who fancies himself a hit with the ladies, and makes quick work with receptionist Lucia.

Meanwhile, a mad scientist is experimenting on those he kidnaps. Fair maidens need not worry, as only musclebound men are the targets this time. His motive for doing so is conquering death, by way of gorilla brain transplant. It's a ridiculous idea, and a favourite of mine. I've even written about it myself! It's always a hoot to see on screen.

The halfway point is where the film really began taking a downturn for me! A far as storytelling goes, it's a surprise, and takes some bold directions. But not ones that I liked. Poor Guillermo is the comic relief, and heart of the film. Then he's sent on a mission by his 'friend' which directly results in him being hideously deformed and brainwashed. He spends the rest of the movie rampaging through the streets of Mexico before dying tragically. He never gets the girl, nor returns to his farm. He never even gets that promised date with Lucia!

The climax has a short wrestling match with a disguised Guillermo (not quite sure what the goal is there), before his animals side takes over and mutates him into an uncontrollable monster, leading to a rampage (and an awesomely gnarly death for the villain). This is a really fun sequence, and there are some tense and effective moments, like the hallway drag to safety. Then it all ends inevitably, with poor Guillermo going the way of King Kong.

The film has a little coda to end on, with the police chief awarding Lucia a medal, apologising, then having the gall to have a big moral speech. Also his reasoning that Guillermo's sacrifice had prevented more death is pretty laughable, since pretty much everyone who was gonna die had already been killed!

Carlos is a basic enough protagonist, though his plan to stop this killer and save lives requires an awful lot of time, and goodness knows how many more will die before it's ready!

Guillermo is a good dude. He isn't even a police officer. He's a fun-loving cowboy who only accepts the mission as a favour to a friend, and he gets transformed into a deranged ape man for his troubles.

Lucia is nice enough, and it's fun seeing her opinion of Guillermo change from annoyance to genuine affection. Their romance gets a bit sappy in very little time. It goes from the typical comic relief trying to charm a frosty woman, to a very sincere then tragic romance.

The mad scientist villain is a fun one, with Gothic stature, and a propensity for disguises. Despite his vast intelligence though, he is an incredible idiot, considering how many times his 'great' experiment fails. You wonder how long it takes before some people realise they are the problem. When it finally works on Guillermo, he gets an It's alive!" moment. His surviving henchman looks a bit concerned at first, like he's just realised how deep he's in it, before letting out an evil laugh of his own.

Crox Alvarado is an alright leading man. Playing luchadors himself in previous films, he doesn't look as barrel-chested this time round. Though that might just be the heavy police coats. The real lead in a sense is Wolf Ruvinskis as Guillermo, and he's a fun guy, who's believable as a rancher, luchador, and does well as a deformed monster too. Columba Dominguez is nice as Lucia, cool but with a soft side. And Carlos Riquelme is a fun mad scientist, and it's neat seeing the different guises he dons. I was impressed by a lot of the stunt work too.

There's some impressive direction here by Fernando Mendez. Great locations too, captured on camera perfectly, like the spooky cemetery, and the mad doctor's lab, filled with fantastical doodads. And of course we get plenty of good ringside views of the wrestling action.

The effects are pretty good too. Guillermo undergoes a progressive transformation, first just having darker skin, then becoming more and more animalistic. The transitions are cool! I also liked the set destruction and how it's pulled off, like Guillermo picking up whole cages, tearing down walls, etc.

Ladron de Cadaveres is a pretty good film, that becomes a bit of an annoying downer in its last act, but it's still a fun time, with enough wrestling and monsters to satisfy...

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Muñecos Infernales: Curse of the Doll People (1961)

A group of academics return from a trip to Haiti, where they witnessed a secret Voodoo ritual, and snuck into a temple to steal a sacred item. Despite being cursed to die, they have no fear, until they begin to die mysteriously, one by one. The only clues are a series of dolls that disappear each time a new victim is claimed. The trail leads to a malevolent witchdoctor, who seeks to carry out his evil plan to the end...

Muñecos Infernales, or Curse of the Doll People, is a great slice of Mexican horror! It's got enough of the weird and macabre to entertain, and never bores the viewer. If you ever want to see a gang of living dolls murder people, look no further.

With its Voodoo themed plot, the movie does fall into the old cliches about it being an evil religion, but it's otherwise quite well informed about the subject! It gets plenty right, and with only a slight rewrite it could easily avoid pissing off any real practitioners. Although let's be real, this was never going to offend them! Who could ever hold grudges against cheesy old horror movies?

The heroes are a pretty normal couple, but what's interesting is they're both doctors, including the woman! Nice to see for the time and country. Show 'em how it's done, Mexico! They're a married pair whose dialogue verges on a comedy act, with all the 'Doctor doctor, darling darling' we get.

The female doctor is the film's true lead, and is an expert in Voodoo, and many other branches of witchcraft and dark magic. Neat lady! She espouses trivia even to the end. There's also one hilarious moment where she suddenly decapitates a doll, then casually proclaims it was necessary.

Other characters include their academic friends, who are frankly thieves! They caused no end of trouble back in Haiti, so it's hard to feel that bad for them. The police are a constant presence, with some likeable faces. Oddly, the doc acts like disapproving boss to the officers at times! Then there's a friendly little girl whose innocence causes one of the dolls to become good.

The villain is a sinister witchdoctor from Haiti, complete with black robe and evil moustache. Frankly he's pretty justified in his revenge. These assholes flat out stole one of his religion's most sacred artifacts from a forbidden temple! Granted he does take it a bit far by wanting to kill everyone else in their families.

Like all great villains, he has a neat lair, which has a nice menagerie of evil (including a hulking zombie), as well as a swanky and amusingly out-of-place mirrorball!

As threatening as he may be, the heroine holds her own against this Voodoo lord, in quite a personable confrontation. He respects her intelligence and know-how, and gives her chance if she backs off, which she summarily ignores. She also holds the adorable notion of sending this magical murderer to jail, as if it's the most normal thing in the world. Can you imagine?

The climax is great fun. The heroes all rock up to the villain's lair, and despite their eagerness to take him down, they seem powerless before his hypnotic gaze...until a great crucifix moment. What follows is a fiery action scene, with a satisfying demise for the baddie.

The dialogue in Doll People is a hoot! The main duo have their aforementioned banter, with lines like "I'm crazy about you, doctor." "The same goes for me, doctor!".

"We all realise you were quite fond of your brother, and would like to know what caused his death."

And the villainous witchdoctor has a couple of great lines too:
"I don't think you'd like to be murdered, nor would your friends."
"I don't fear your spies, I'm offended by them!"

The effects here are pretty good! The dolls are played by little people with masks, and this mix of real motion and artificial faces gives an unnatural effect. It also helps that since they're dolls, the masks don't have to look convincing. But they do look pretty good anyway! Besides this we also get a briefly appearing monster, which is pretty well designed, but not visible enough.

The direction is neat too! Despite much of the movie being set in drawing or hospital rooms, it's not staid, and the doll stalking scenes are filmed nicely, with enough suspense. Scenes in the villain's lair are particularly good, aided by some great set decoration.

And lastly, the cast here is a good one. The original Mexican actors all give fine performances, with Elvira Quintana making for a good lead, and Quintin Bulnes a strong villain. Although it is hilarious when he's supposed to be playing a Haitian! I suppose anything's possible over there. It's the English dub that especially entertains. The actors give hilarious performances and line readings, and don't let silly little things like commas or full stops get in the way of their dialogue. They say it all with a straight face too! I can imagine the cast pissing themselves laughing in the recording booth!

Muñecos Infernales is a film that never outstays its welcome, and is a great little horror to check out..