Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Reviews of Mars Attacks and Maniac.

By Scott Phillips

July 8, 1997: 

MARS ATTACKS (1996) Director Tim Burton's entry in the new wave of extraterrestrial menace movies flopped pretty hard in the wake of Independence Day, but we're talkin' apples and oranges here. Where ID4 treated the subject seriously (using the term loosely, of course), Mars Attacks goes for all-out goofiness and, for the most part, succeeds wildly. I'll admit, when I saw the film in its theatrical run, I went ape bananas for the Martian sequences, but the scenes involving humans left me a little cold. Whether it's that I knew what to expect or just that the film works better on the small screen, I didn't feel the same way watching it on video. The Martian stuff still had me busting a gut, but I found myself entertained by my own species, as well. Based on the supercool Topps trading cards, Mars Attacks wastes no time in establishing itself as an over-the-top ass-slapper of a movie, as a herd of flaming cows stampedes over a hillside and a flying saucer zips away into the sky. President Jack Nicholson tries to prepare the world for its first contact with the Martians, but the little bastards start blasting the hell out of everyone in sight and before long, it's nothin' but panic in the streets. The all-star cast assembled by Burton is pretty astounding--Nicholson (in a dual role), Pierce Brosnan, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Jim Brown and Pam Grier, to name a few--but the real stars are the computer-generated Martians. These bulbous-brained pricks are the most mean-spirited, wise-assed little scumbags in the history of cinema, and if you're like me, you'll be inhaling your pork rinds in hysteria at their vicious antics. A few slow places, and Will Smith might not be in it, but recommended 100 percent. (Warner Home Video)

MANIAC (1980) I put off seeing this one for a long time due to its reputation as being one of the most offensive slasher flicks ever made, but you know what? That's giving it waaay too much credit. Joe Spinell (The Godfather, Taxi Driver) plays Frank Zito, who spends his time whimpering, whining and slaughtering young women. He weeps over their corpses as he scalps them in loving closeup (courtesy of makeup effects wiz Tom Savini, who also gets his head blown off in the movie), then takes the scalps home and nails them to the heads of mannequins. About halfway through the movie, this weird romance-stuff rears its head when Zito meets fashion photographer Caroline Munro. All of a sudden, they're dating, and all I could think was: What the hell is this beautiful British fashion photographer doing going out with this fat, pock-marked, badly-coiffed, sweat-greased dirt-dish? I tell you, my suspension of disbelief was in overdrive here. Anyway, Zito finally shows his true colors when the lovebirds visit his mother's gravesite--while shrieking "Mommy! Mommy!" he goes for Munro's throat, but she manages to escape. Before long, the cops are on Zito's trail. Busting into his filthy, body-part-ridden apartment, they find Zito lying in a pool of blood, and can you guess what they do next? That's right, they leave! Just walk right the hell out, as if they stumbled across grandma snoozing on the couch amidst her knitting. I once had dinner with Director Bill Lustig, who spent most of the meal talking about his neighbor Sheryl Crow and how he'd like to "float like a little bird" up to her window and peek in at her. Now that was offensive. (Media)

--Scott Phillips

videodrome@alibi.com




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