Thursday, June 27, 2002

Vanishing Chicago: Ghosts Along the Midway

If you stand on the northwest corner of the intersection of Irving Park Road and Western Avenue and look directly north, you'll see a bar sign. The bar beneath it is no longer of consequence; it closed a while ago, and the building that houses it has been on the market for some time. And for most people who walk under the sign itself, it would have no significance whatsoever unless it broke free from the thin chains holding it aloft and clocked them in the noggin. But for the few "in the know," this particular bar sign is a sad, dirtied reminder of what once was and is no more.

The name of the bar, the Riverview Bar & Grille (I would point out that "Grille" is actually a misspelling and would be most proper without the "e" at the end, but I would surely be accused, by certain individuals, of being a "smitty" yet again, and therefore I'll let it go), very probably goes without remark from anyone who'd bother to look at it at all, except, perhaps, to note that the bar has no view of the Chicago River at all. For that, you'd need to trek west down Irving Park Road for a couple of blocks, where you'll find a bridge passing over the spot where ducks feed (on what, I'm not sure), debris floats by at a remarkable pace and the occasional dead body washes up. Even the roller coaster shape of the faded red lettering on the sign wouldn't mean much to most wandering up Western--unless, of course, you knew that, just about six blocks south of that sign, there used to be one of the largest amusement parks in the world: Riverview Park.

For those who aren't yiffy for Chicago history, a quick history lesson: Riverview Park sat on Chicago's Northwest Side, bordered by Belmont, Western, the south end of Lane Tech High School's parking lot and the river (hence, the name of the park) from 1904 until it closed in the fall of 1967. In the intervening years, Riverview delighted millions of patrons with its funhouse, its games and its numerous thrill rides, from the gentle glide of the Velvet Coaster to the wet wonder of the Chutes to the abrupt twists, turns, dips and dives of the famous (or, more appropriately, infamous) Bobs, which many a loving bruise on many a wooden roller coaster aficionado.

I was just three when Riverview closed and just shy of my fourth birthday when demolition began, so I never got to go there. My brother, however, still likes to tell stories about riding the rides and walking the brightly lit midway, even though he's only three years my senior. (And yes, I burn with envy every time he brings it up.) Nobody seems to know the "real" reason Riverview closed, though: Some say the park was closed due to recurring safety code violations (though its owners vehemently denied this); others claim that a land deal was worked with political insiders with ties to Mayor Richard J. Daley (also known as "Richard the First," in order to distinguish him from the current mayor, Richard M. Daley, also known as "Richard the Second"); still others maintain that racial tensions (black youths coming in numbers into an overwhelmingly white neighborhood on hot summer nights) caused the demise of Riverview.

Whatever the cause, the park was closed, razed and replaced by various facilities: A senior citizens' apartment complex; a Devry Institute of Technology campus; a police station; and a shopping mall named for the amusement park that once stood on site (whether that qualifies as a tribute or an insult is up to you). No signs of an amusement park at all.

Unless, of course, you know where to look.

It really should have occurred to me sometime during my four years of attending Lane Tech. I may never have gone to Riverview, but I knew that it had been there: I'd seen old 16mm films taken by teachers during football games at Lane Tech stadium that showed rides just beyond the southern end zone--one of my teachers told me that faculty would, during graduation ceremonies, place bets on which one of the Pair-O-Chutes would make it to the ground first; and I saw the vacant land that would eventually become the shopping mall in my freshman year.

But I was an English major, not a math whiz--two plus two doesn't always equal four in my tangled brain. So it never occurred to me to wander through the small parcel of undeveloped land adjacent to a ribbon of park land that hugs the river between Belmont and Addison to look for signs of Chicago past. And it wasn't until I watched an episode of Chicago Stories, a terrific documentary series produced by one of the local public television stations, that I found out that hidden in that thicket were the remnants of Riverview Park.

It's not a very big plot of land--no more than a couple of ratty acres, probably--but it's been overtaken by trees, bushes and trash in the 30-plus years since Riverview fought the wrecking ball and lost. Beer cans and water bottles litter the plot. An impromptu camping ground shows signs of having been inhabited recently--probably a few of the homeless chased out of Downtown by the City. I even ran across a skull lying in the brush--too large to be a cat, but about right for a medium-sized dog. (I know little about animal forensics--anyone able to identify the subject of the picture at the left is free to do so.) As I wandered the area that day, I ran across that skull several times. I guess it wanted its picture taken. So I pointed, I clicked, and I stumbled on to other things. I never saw that skull again.

There are few obvious indications of what had been there--you won't come across any toppled roller coaster supports or signs lying in the soil. I once met a couple of men--father and son, I think--who, after having seen the same episode of Chicago Stories that I had, were looking for souvenirs with a metal detector: A token for an arcade game, maybe, or some little prize with the Riverview name stenciled on it. I wished them well and we went our separate ways, but I doubted then (and doubt now) that they found what they were looking for; after so much time had elapsed, I imagine that the site has been picked pretty clean of anything readily identifiable.

Still, there is evidence, slight as it might be, of what once was. My favorite time to go to this patch of woods is in the spring, when the trees have just begun to bud and sunlight streams down onto the site, where what's left of the midway peeks out from beneath the dirt and fallen leaves, where various phantoms of structures remain (a foundation here, a post there, an enormous chunk of concrete that belonged to...what?), where pleasant memories murmur through the branches above. The carousel has long since departed--for, of all places, Six Flags Over Georgia (why it didn't land closer to home--say, at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee or Navy Pier, which has its own old-fashioned carousel--I'll never know)--but the circular sidewalk surrounding its former location can still be clearly seen.

It's a melancholy place, this graveyard of gaity past. That anything remains here at all is something of a minor miracle. That this is all that remains of such a place is a major disappointment. (I was going to say "tragedy," but with so many actual tragedies happening on our violent little planet--and so many so uncomfortably close to home--the loss of an amusement park, sad though it might be, just didn't seem to measure up.) And yet, as I walk along the fractured asphalt or run soft fingers along the rough, lone post or straddle the dueling, grafitti-marked foundations closest to the river (leftovers from the Chutes, perhaps?), I can't help but smile. Great times were had on these now-disheveled grounds. Fun was had here for years.

And, in an odd way, fun is still had here. On the northern end of the plot, mounds of dirt have been constructed by BMX biker riders around a tree that looks to be either dead or drying--its twisted limbs and its open maw of a trunk suggest something out of a H.P. Lovecraft story. The BMX bikers spend their afternoons--or, on weekends, whole days--jumping the mounds. Flipping. Falling. Getting back up for more. They ride their thick-tired bikes over the mounds at shocking speeds until they no longer have the light to so so--and then they probably pedal for a while after that. Their adreneline pumps madly. They're enjoying the ride.

I have little doubt that these bike riders are entirely clueless regarding the history of the place where they play. But I wonder sometimes if, on some level, they hear the whispers of the ghosts along the midway. I wonder if that's why they come back for more, day in and day out. I wonder if they are cognizant at all of the tradition that, in their own fashion, they carry on.

There are still thrills to be had at old Riverview Park, apparently. And, somehow, that seems just about right.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Of Possums and Procrastinators

Anyone who has visited this site on even a most casual basis has probably figured out that I like taking pictures. How and why I started carrying a Canon AE-1 everywhere I go and snapping shots of whatever grabbed my eye at any given moment is not the story I tell today--some other time, maybe. No, today's story has more to do with what I don't do and should do than with what I actually do.

Because even though I love taking pictures and showing them off like a mother putting her newborn on display for the cooing masses, I'm lazy as hell when it comes to getting my film developed. This, I fear, is because, as a college student and, subsequently and presumably, an adult, I was and am a master procrastinator. If it can be put off, it will be. I once wrote three term papers in one night, turned them in to the respective instructors the following day, turned right around and went back home, where I slept for about 18 hours. So it has always been, and though I'm not nearly as bad as I used to be (in a lot of respects, not just this one), the habit still manifests itself in various forms--like stockpiling rolls of film like I plan on erecting a pyramid of them in my living room. (Bet that cats would just love that.)

So it came to pass that I'd managed to accumulate more than a dozen rolls of film on the small ledge beneath my living room video collection. This is, by no means, a record for me; I've gotten up to a couple dozen full rolls patiently waiting their turns to reveal their wonders--or horrors--to my sometimes-brown eyes. And I must admit, this process (if you can even call it a "process," since that word implies something structured or planned or even regulated in some half-assed way) can be a kick. Grabbing a handful of rolls--and my hands are pretty damn big, so that can mean a lot pictures and, consequently, money--and getting developed can yield great surprises, usually of the "Oh man, I don't even fucking remember taking this shot!" variety.

Once, while cleaning one of my closets--okay, I wasn't actually cleaning it, unless you want to define "cleaning" loosely enough to include digging through the heaps of action figures, video tapes and long-fallen wire hangers to find one particular thing that, more than likely, I never found anyway--I ran across my first camera, a boxy little Kodak that took 126 film, which came in bulky, awkward cartridges and which, to my knowledge, isn't even manufactured anymore (though the smaller, similar 110 film can still be found in most drugstores). I'd finished the roll, set the camera aside--and forgotten it completely. I wasn't even sure I could get the damn thing developed. But I took it to Osco and, sure enough, they were able to process the film and return to me a set of prints. The pictures weren't of anything extraordinary and would likely have just been looked at once, shrugged over and shoved in a drawer, never to be contemplated again.

But now, years after they'd been taken, these shots, mundane as they were, fascinated me. The pictures on this roll had been taken about five years earlier, when I was still living with my parents in Ukrainian Village. Damn. I had taken these shots, packed the camera with me when I moved, thrown the camera in the closet and forgotten all about it. But now the square little color shots were in my hands, recalling a a time in my life that wasn't necessarily better or worse than my life was the day I got the pictures back, but somehow remote, alien...just different. Some of the occasions portrayed were obvious--a chocolate cake, a stiff-backed pose and a glazed, reluctant smile I'd seen staring back at me from countless photographs could only have been from some past birthday. Other shots were more difficult to place in the timestream: kitties who'd long since passed away; roses in my mother's garden; the vivid hues of a now-forgotten sunset. It was like I was looking at someone else's life, even though the signposts of my past were visible all over these shots and I must have been the one who'd taken most of them (except for the birthday shots--only my mother could coax that particular fixed stare onto my face).

So, with the intent of, at the very least, culling the herd, I took six rolls to a camera shop downtown and dropped them off for pickup the next day at the same time. None of these rolls were nearly as ancient as the roll described above--the oldest couldn't have dated further back than, say, last September. But the fact that I'd accumulated that many rolls over such a span of time sent my imagination off and running. What would I find in the pictures I got back? Christmas decorations along Michigan Avenue? A sojourn among the ruins of Riverview Park? Lottie and Ms. Christopher contorted into seemingly impossible shapes? Some bizarre self-portrait?

At this point, allow me to direct your attention to the upper left-hand corner of this page, just in case you hadn't already glance up there and recoiled in horror. You know, the place where you'd usually find a cute kitty picture or a kitchy bar sign or a seasonal trifle. Go on. Take a look. What do you see?

That's right. It's an opossum, or "possum" for shory. A particularly pissed-off possum at that.

I'd just about forgotten this scary fucker. I had other pictures of him (her? it?) taken with a 110 camera Mom had given me one Christmas when I unwisely requested a simple point-and-click camera that I could pull out of my pocket and use anywhere, anytime, and thus wound up with this clunky little thing that was, maybe, one step removed from that Kodak 126 she'd bought me 25 years earlier. But I'd forgotten about the black-and-white shots I'd taken right afterwards, getting as close to the critter as I felt I safely could without risking having it charge me in a fit of camera flash-induced rage. (I had no idea how fast possums could really move, but I had no burning desire to find out.)

It was just before Halloween (which I know only because some shots from my apartment decorations for the annual Halloween Movie Bash JB and I usually host, like the nearly life-sized Bruce Campbell action figure at the right, were on the same roll), and the particular possum had trundled all the way up my back stairs and was rooting around on my porch. Now, this was unusual, but not unheard of--my neighborhood is host to various creatures one would not think of as being urban dwellers, like raccoons, rabbits and, obviously, possums.

But it was quite a surprise to find one of the little buggers making the substantial effort to walk up three stories just to find nothing of interest. It moved slowly, but quietly--I'd never have know it was there at all if not for the fact that the Girlish Girls, both of whom are relatively placid, relatively lazy balls of fur, transformed into tumbleweeds of rage, their tails inflated to several times their normal size as if someone had hooked the Girls up to jumper cables and switched on the juice. Oh, that and the fact that their loud, yowling protests against the invader on their porch made a sound similar to what I imagine World War III will sound like when it finally breaks out.

So there it was. A possum. On my top step. Checking out the view. And Lottie and Ms. Christopher were charging the door and making remarkably effective attempts to launch themselves at the screen door in an effort to defend their turf. Eventually, either one of them would succeed and wind up tangling with a wild animal that could have any number of diseases or, more likely, they'd wind up hurting themselves or getting splinters or ripping down the screen or some such thing. So the possum had to go. Um, right. Like, exactly how?

My first thought had some logic to it. The Girls hated getting shot with the water bottle; that usually made them run for the figurative hills. So why wouldn't the possum react the same way? Maybe because it's a possum, not a cat: it blinked at the first shot and the second, but stood there resolutely as I pumped what must have been twenty shots of water at the hearty, determined little beasty. Okay, that was a huge success, not. So what next? Where logic failed, perhaps technology might succeed. That's where the cameras came it. I mean, people who actually pose for pictures don't like flashes directed at them, so why would the possum?

Obviously, it didn't care for the flash one bit. After a couple of shots, its mouth opened into the soundless hiss you see above and started to turn--toward me, not away. I backed up the stairs slowly. It didn't follow, but it didn't leave, either. Sometimes, it takes doing something--or several somethings--stupid to get around to doing something smart. Why had the possum climbed three flights of stairs? To play with my shamrocks? To piss off my cats? To help me set up Halloween decorations? To be a Halloween decoration? No. It was just hungry. I threw it the ends of a loaf of Brownberry Oatnut Bread and closed the inside door. When I checked again about half an hour later, there was no possum--and no bread. Not a single crumb. The porch had been licked clean.

The possum hasn't come back since. And, considering the, um, hospitality I showed it upon its last visit, I can't say I blame it. But I'll always have the shot you see above. I'll always have that moment, frozen in time, and all of the ridiculous memories and emotions that the shot recalls. And most of the shots you see on this site carry similar loads. Each one has a story, a memory, a set of memories, a smile or a wince of recognition. And I still have pile of rolls--smaller than before, but still more substantial than it ought to be. More smiles and winces to come.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Review: Scooby-Doo (2002)

When I was very young, my favorite Saturday morning cartoon show was Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Sure, the animation was limited, with the same sequences repeating frequently, and the plots were simple to the point of being simplistic--if you hadn't figured out who was smuggling the gold/stealing the jewels/scaring everyone off the unexpectedly valuable property by the first commercial break, you really weren't paying enough attention. And the overall concept had its flaws: What were these kids (Teenagers? College students? We were never sure) doing just cruising around the country in a van? Didn't they have jobs? Where were their parents? Why were Shaggy and Scooby always so hungry? (Insert drug usage rumor here.) Were Fred and Daphne getting it on? And what was the deal with Velma? (Insert ambiguous sexuality rumor here.)

But Scooby-Doo still had its merits: the monsters were usually cool and just scary enough to make the five-year-olds (the very age I was at when the show premiered on CBS in 1969) watching over breakfast duck behind their cereal bowls; the antics of Shaggy and Scooby were amusing enough; and the mystery was almost always solved by Velma, the brainy, nerdy girl with the thick glasses.

Scooby-Doo survived through various incarnations in subsequent years, like when Scooby and the gang had an odd combination of real guest stars (Don Knotts, Mama Cass, Sonny & Cher) and fictional characters (Batman & Robin, Josie & the Pussycats), or when Scooby's nephew Scrappy-Doo (who was roughly as enjoyable as listening to a garden rake being dragged across a chalkboard over and over and over again), or, most recently, as a series of made-for-video movies.

Which brings us to the current incarnation, the big-screen, mostly live-action adaptation of Scooby-Doo, a project that lingered "in development" for years, with the most persistent rumor involving Mike Myers writing the script and playing Shaggy. The limbo state of Scooby-Doo shouldn't surprise anyone. The cartoon-to-live-action subgenre is littered with megabombs from The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle to Josie & the Pussycats to the two--count 'em, two--Flintstones flicks; hell, even Robert Altman couldn't make Popeye work right. But considering that what actually made it to the local multiplex is so uncertain about what audience it's trying to play to and what tone to approach its material with, maybe Scooby-Doo would have been better off remaining "in development" indefinitely.

The story, in keeping with the TV show, is simple to the point of being simplistic: The Scooby gang--Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne, Linda Cardellini as Velma and Matthew Lillard as Shaggy--crack yet another case, but then crack themselves under the weight of Fred's ego, which requires him to take solo credit for the work of the gang (okay, mostly Velma). Velma walks, immediately followed by Daphne and Fred himself, leaving only Shaggy and the title great dane himself to tool around in the gang's van, the Mystery Machine, and hang out at the beach for cookouts. But the gang is soon reunited by an invitation from the mysterious Mr. Mondavarious, played by Rowan Atkinson as if medicated into a stupor. (Or perhaps he was just depressed because he'd just taken a peak at his listing on the Internet Movie Database and realized that he's on quite a cinematic losing streak, what with Bean, Rat Race and now this mess--please, Rowan, go back to doing brilliant TV shows in the UK and leave the crappy supporting roles in stinky American movies to other, less talented, less funny individuals--you know, like Billy Crystal.) Mondavarious runs an amusement park called Spooky Island, where the spring break crowd comes ready to party hard, but leaves mesmerized and talking incomprehensible Gen Y slang. Reluctantly, the gang dives in, facing death traps, possessed partygoers, exploding demons and, of course, a fiend intent on taking over the world.

It's not as if there isn't any fun to be had with this scenario--there are, in fact, quite a few moments to keep the kids giggling (like the farting contest between Shaggy and Scooby), while others are aimed squarely at their adult escorts (like the fact that nearly every female character in the movie is required to wear at least one outfit with a plunging neckline--yes, even Velma). And it's this uncertainty in tone that is the most insurmountable barrier to enjoying Scooby-Doo. Is this movie supposed to be a staightforward adaptation of the beloved cartoon, or is it supposed to be a self-parody along the lines of Back to the Beach or the Brady Bunch movies? Because director Raja Gosnell and his screenwriters can't decide what audience they want to aim for, they try to throw out something for everyone--and, thus, satisfy no one. Scooby-Doo isn't cartoonish enough to keep the little ones engaged isn't nearly snarky enough to keep their parents awake.

The performances don't help much, either. While Lillard is about as perfect a live-action Shaggy as you could hope for--managing to not only match his character's scruffy, lanky physical presence, but also to come close to the vocal style of voiceover veteran Casey Kasem, who has been Shaggy's cartoon voice from the very start--and Cardellini has her moments as Velma, Prinze and Gellar are painfully miscast as the lunkheaded Fred and pretty-but-vacant Daphne, respectively. Neither one of them ever gets a handle on the scattershot approach of the direction and script and just wind up standing around looking confused. Was the audience supposed to take the casting as some kind of inside joke--you know, Gellar and Prinze are engaged in real life and are playing a couple on the big screen, get it? And on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gellar's on-screen cohorts are known as "The Scooby Gang." Get it? Um, no. It also might have been better for all of the lead actors if less cash had been dropped on the CGI and more had been spent on hairpieces--everybody looks like they're wearing a bad wig, perhaps because they are.

And then there's the matter of the title character himself, poor old Scooby-Doo. The filmmakers could have chosen a 3D animated style for Scooby like what was employed for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Space Jam, but instead opted for a more realistic style that nonetheless shows that Scooby is clearly animated, not real. The choice is disasterous: Scooby winds up looking like some horrible visual merging of a real great dane with the much-reviled Jar-Jar Binks. Scooby deserved better. Hell, we all did.

It's obvious that the folks behind Scooby-Doo have at least watched the cartoons and have affection for them--the way Velma loses her glasses only to recover them in time to see something scary is just about right, as is Scooby's obliviousness to danger when there's food to be had. While it's probably impossible to totally hate a movie that manages to include a segue from the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" to a scene of Scrappy-Doo abuse, it's just as impossible to recommend a movie so uncertain in presentation and execution. Scooby-Doo isn't nearly as bad as it could have been (or as terrible as some critics have labelled it). But when the kindest comment one can muster for a movie is, "It could have been worse," you're really better off not saying anything at all and just moving up the multiplex in the hopes that the next "kids" movie you encounter is made with just a little more care than Scooby-Doo.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002


Yeah. Okay. I know. I haven't updated this site in a while. But I'm back.

Well, sort of.

I still need to write a fresh, original piece for the site. And yes, I will do that. Soon. No, really. But until then, here's something I wrote about a year ago in response to a special request from my best friend, JB: "Pick the top 10 Worst Movie Sequels starting with the least offensive and ending with the stinkiest stinker." And this piece is appropriate, too, for this time of year. After all, isn't the summer movie season the the time when sequels swarm all over us like flies on the windows of the house in the Amityville Horror movies? (Speaking of some bad sequels...)

All right, so this is a "prequel" and it's not as painfully bad like some of the other entries on listed below, but it probably qualifies as the most disappointing sequel on this list. Unlike most sequels, which have pretty low expectations, this one had fanboys yelping for years before it came out. And with 15 years to think about it, all George Lucas could come up with was a thinly veiled remake of the original? With Jar-Jar Binks, a "comic relief" character no more advanced than the Chinese cook in King Kong, which was released over 60 years earlier? Episode One has great special effects, but that just makes it the best-looking bad movie I've ever seen--which makes it all the more offensive.

Speaking of the Chinese cook from King Kong...

RKO Pictures had pushed hard for King Kong to be a huge hit, and it was. But they got greedy & wanted to capitalize on it with an immediate sequel, so they rushed this movie into production that same year (1933)...and it shows. With only Robert Armstrong (as Carl Denham) and the aforementioned Chinese cook returning from the original film, this sequel needed some great monsters to get it by. So what did we get? A cute and fuzzy Li'l Kong. Kind of like giving us Scrappy Doo when we expect Scooby. Without the time to set up more elaborate sequences, special effects master Willis O'Brien had to settle for a couple of brief fight scenes and lots of the white fuzzy Kong Jr. making cute faces. Either RKO should have taken some time to come up with something even halfway decent, or they should have left well enough alone. (Then again, that can be said for most of the movies on this list.)

Okay, I'm not great fan of the Batman movies. But I could, at least, see why they would appeal to others: The first two films in the series (Batman and Batman Returns) had Tim Burton's creative energies behind them, and the third (Batman Forever) had two terrific, campy villains in Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as the Riddler. (Nicole Kidman's presence didn't hurt, either.) But Batman & Robin struggles to be coherent, much less entertaining. George Clooney, usually a reliable screen presence, makes a bland Batman. Arnold Schwarzenegger throws off one-liners perpetually, eliciting more groans than giggles. Uma Thurman's sex appeal is muffled beneath glitter and a goofy accent. And Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl? Give me a damn break. Throw in editing that looks like it was done in a blender and you've got one headache-inducing mess. No wonder it killed the franchise.

The franchise was pretty well screamed out by this point. Yeah, the first one was entertaining, even if it engaged in some of the same "hack-up-pretty-girls" cliches as the genre it satirizes. And the second one had some sly commentary about film violence and sequels ("Sequels suck," one helpful film student points out early in the proceedings). But did we really need Scream 3? Does it do anything the first two didn't do already, and better? Was it necessary to kill off every single cast member of Stab 3? (Come to think of it, Stab 3shouldn't exist, since the Stab films are presumably based on the "real" events depicted the previous two Scream movies--is Stab 3 based on a psychic vision or just made up or did nobody involved in Scream 3 give enough of a white lab rat's ass to notice such a continuity glitch?) And does it have the guts to whack one of the remaining original characters, thus cutting down the odds of Scream 4? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, then you've got more sense than the director, the writer or any of the stars. And any movie that kills off both Kelly Rutherford AND Parker Posey earns a permanent spot on my cinema shit list.

The original "Poltergeist" wasn't a great movie, but it at least was fun. And it made us all permanently afraid of clowns (like we weren't already). But this nonsense sequel tried to go serious on us with some shit about family togetherness being able to fight off evil--were it that audience unity could have been employed to fight off the evil of this crappy movie or its even more useless followup, Poltergeist III. This movie isn't fun. It isn't creepy. It's not even so bad I can laugh at it. It's just boring. And annoying. And stupid. And did I mention boring?

I had the significant misfortune of catching this bloody bomb on the big screen, and it pissed me off. Not only is Halloween II a bad movie in its own right--with nasty killings, a fright wig intended to make Jamie Lee Curtis look like a teenager again, and that maddeningly slow walk that Michael Myers had--but it diluted the impact of the original film, which had a damn-near perfect ending that this film and all its lousy followups thoroughly trash. John Carpenter (who served as co-executive producer and co-screenwriter) said director Rick Rosenthal fucked up the movie and re-edited it. Rosenthal said that Carpenter's editing fucked up what he was trying to accomplish. Sorry, boys. You both fucked up. And we had to live with the results.

You could try to write off my hard feelings toward this sequel to the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark to the fact that this was probably the most uncomfortable in-theater experience of my life: the Nortown Theater had recently been remodeled, but with little legroom, so I had to sit sideways on a aisle seat for two-plus hours (oddly enough, it closed down not long after that). But no. Even if I'd seen Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom in the luxury suite of the Hotel Intercontinental with Angelina Jolie and Bridget Fonda delivering full-body massages to my weary bones, this movie still would have sucked, sucked, sucked. Steven Spielberg replaces the thrills of Raiders with gross-out gags of bugs, hearts ripped out of chests and "chilled monkey brains." He replaces the tough, gutsy Karen Allen with the shrill, shrieking Kate Capshaw. And he engages in borderline racism in the treatment of Indy's sidekick, Short-Round, and the villains, all of whom are people of color. Or maybe he's satirizing the racism of the old movie serials that had stereotypical Asian sidekicks and ethnic villains. Whatever. Once you get past the opening action scene, which is fairly brisk and fun, watching this movie is about as entertaining as listening to someone file their nails for a couple of hours.

There are some who maintain that Day of the Dead, the third and, from all indications, last of George Romero's zombie extravaganzas, is the best of the bunch. I wish I knew what type of medication these folks are on so I could get a prescription--anything to dull the pain of watching this trash. I'm a big fan of the first two movies, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but this one loses me across the board. The acting, never the strongest aspect of Romero's Dead movies, is particularly awful and amateurish here, with lots of screaming back and forth and maniacal laughter replacing any hint of subtlety, thoughtfulness or intelligence. Most of the movie takes place in an underground facility that looks suspiciously like an elementary school basement. And as violent and disgusting as the previous two entries could be (especially Dawn), this one surpasses them with dismemberments as flesh-chomping galore. (There's even one repugnant bit, where a zombie gets up from a table and its guts flop out on the floor, that Romero and special effects master Tom Savini were so proud of that they use it not once, but twice.) A lousy script, abundant overacting and disgusting special effects. Yep. Something for everyone.

2. ALIEN 3
Remember all the stuff you liked about Aliens? You know, like that cute yet spunky little girl? Or the tough yet tender Corporal Hicks? Or the android who risked his "life" to save everyone else's? Remember all that? Well, forget it: when Sigourney Weaver's Ripley crash lands on the prison planet at the beginning of Alien 3, two of those characters die instantly, and only one, the android (played again by Lance Henriksen), gets e brief, dismembered cameo. Things go downhill from there. Alien 3 is a tremendous downer, substituting the pedal-to-the-metal 'tude of the previous movie with gray, uninspired surroundings; grimy, untrustworthy characters (even the usually excellent Charles S. Dutton); and, ultimately, the death of the lead character of the series. No adrenaline-rush fun to be had here, kids--just a dreary march to a depressing end. The director, David Fincher, went on to make more critically acclaimed movies (Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room), but doesn't do a thing to keep the franchise going here. The series did continue, though. Alien Resurrection is even a marginal improvement on Alien 3, but that's damning it with faint praise: a blanks screen would have been a marginal improvement on Alien 3.

How do you go from one of the most frightening movies ever made to one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies ever made? Maybe by hiring an Oscar winner (Louise Fletcher) and a couple Oscar nominees (Richard Burton and Linda Blair) and sticking 'em with a horrid, contradictory, half-baked script and a director (the otherwise reliable John Boorman) in the midst of a nervous breakdown. The result? A movie that's barely watchable, much less scary. Burton's eyes bug out a lot. Fletcher looks sedated. Blair looks alternately confused and stoned. James Earl Jones (as an African priest who rides on the back of a grasshopper) and Max Von Sydow (briefly reprising his role from the original) are on hand to embarrass themselves as well. How bad is Exorcist II: The Heretic? The followup, Exorcist III--a bad sequel in its own right, but I digress--makes no reference to any of the events in Exorcist II. When even your own sequel disowns you, you know you've done wrong. And Exorcist II goes as wrong as a movie can go without the print spontaneously combusting--and even that unfortunate event would have been more entertaining than anything that actually made it up on screen.