Saturday, October 13, 2018

Schlocktober Fest 2018, Vol. IV

October 10, 2018
The Astounding She Monster (1958)
How watched:  Amazon Prime
key contributor: America's crippling fear of women (and nuclear shit)

Here's a picture from America's peak science fiction decade that capitalized on our fear of Nuclear annihilation leaving the kitchen.  There are three women in this thing and not one of them wears an apron.  We've got Margaret, an heiress to her father's fortune, who leaves the house and is immediately kidnapped.  We've got Esther, one of the perpetrators of the kidnapping who never finds herself too far from a bottle.  And we've got Astounding She Monster, the titular radioactive dame from another world who appears vaguely (blur-ily) naked throughout and possesses a lethal touch.  Also, some men factor into the picture.  A geologist, and a couple hoods working with Esther. Also, there's a collie (I'm pretty sure the actor that played Lassie) and a bear (likely male).

At sixty minutes, the picture flew by while barely qualifying as feature length.   The gang of hoods grab Margaret and hide out in a mountain cabin (where the geologist and his pet collie work) where they plan to extort the wealthy father for ransom.  At the same time, a meteor strikes the countryside, unleashing this Astonishing Radioactive She Woman Creature Type thing upon the region.  She wanders the hills around the cabin a lot.  For most of the run time.  Every so often, one of the hoods ventures out to look for better cell service or something only to succumb to her touch.  Like, they immediately die but not before screaming.  Not a very 50s-ish man thing to do but this movie is nothing if not subversive.  Also, a bear dies screaming.  And, later, Lassie too.

I liked this picture enough.  We've got double crosses, back stabbings, and women drinking to excess.  At the end, I missed the explanation for how the she-monster died so I had to rewind.  I went too far and watched from the point where the bear dies but I thought this was a different scene involving a different bear so I began to wonder how much I was really paying attention.  Anyway, all the hoods die horribly (as much as instantaneous sexually charged death by radioactive she women can be horrible) while Margaret and the geologist throw acid on the she beast, killing it, apparently.  The She Monster disappears but leaves behind a note ("People of earth, we'd like to extend an invitation for you to join the council of planets.  We dig your style, etc").  60 years later, we haven't learned a damn thing.  We're still killing the messenger.  I recommend this for the poster which, incidentally, makes a swell shower curtain.

October, 11 2018
Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018)
How I watched:  Shudder
key contributor: Lovely Molly (also, the name of a better film)

I really dug the first Hell House LLC so, fuck it, why not check out the second one?  I'm paying for Shudder, after all.  If you remember the first one, it was the story of a haunted hotel in Abaddon, NY (upstate somewhere) where a haunted house company (Hell House LLC) went to set up a haunted house (it's what they did) in the haunted hotel and then everyone got massacred (but it was really just a malfunction according to some shady lawyer).  The lone survivor of the first film (he didn't go tot he hotel, hence the "survivor" part) returns, 9 years later, to the scene of the haunts to uncover the truth about what happened to his friends.  There's also the host of a crime show called "Morning Mysteries" named Jessica, some arrogant Paranormal Investigatory prick named Brock and a couple of nerdy cameramen.  Then there's Molly.  Lovely, lovely Molly who refuses to go into the hotel until she stops refusing.

Even more than the first film, this one is seemingly pieced together from multiple sources (we've got re-used footage from the first film, new footage that the new crew take from inside the hotel, a bizarre talk show featuring the survivor mentioned above (oh yeah, Mitchell), Brock, and the skeevy lawyer (who, all respect to Molly, was probably the real key contributor to this thing), and (most effectively), a Facebook Live video of a local teen who goes into the hotel on a dare.

This time around, the hotel is fully awake.  It wastes no time.  You got the sense, in the first one, it was slowly waking up from a long slumber.  Here it desperately tries to draw victims into it's clutches.  Not sure if you're going to go through with it Facebook Live-er?  Here, we'll open the front door for you.   The scares are bigger and more ridiculous.  The hotel, most bizarrely, gets a James Bond villain moment of over explaining its evil plan.  We've got a portal, more ghost clown-mannequin type dudes, some randomly appearing nooses, characters standing in the dark and staring at walls blair witch style, etc.  Big, BIG, BIGGER scares.  Ultimately, too big, so big that the scares eventually stopped scaring.  I did love the layout of the house, described as being designed in the mold of HH Holmes' "murder house".

One thing really bothers me about a  lot of these found footage type of films though.  This one involves our characters fleeing from ghosts and shit up the stairs of the house and barricading themselves in a room where they huddle for hours.  At one point, the lights go out, and then silence.  The lights come back on.  The barricade, and Molly, are now gone.  No sounds of a struggle.  No scream.  I'm just saying I want one of these type of scenes where a character has night vision goggles.  I want to see the shit that goes down when the lights go out.  How did the ghosts/monsters/clowns accomplish this without a peep?

Oh well, I hope if we get a Hell House LLC III it's set in the wild west or space or some shit.  It's fine.

October 12, 2018
Mandy (2018)
How I watched: I paid for this shit
key contributor: Obviously I'd like to go with Nic Cage but let's go with Johann Johannson (he did the music) because it's his final film score and it was incredible

Here's the plot:  Lumberjack Nicolas Cage finishes a day's work in the woods, gets in a chopper with his crew, and heads home.  In the chopper, he turns down a beer from a coworker (stopped drinking years ago?).  He goes home to some more woods, where he lives with his girlfriend Mandy.  Mandy is fascinated by horror novels, always has one on her person.  One day, she's walking down a road and is passed by some cult-y type guys in a car.  The cult leader is smitten.  Later that night, he commands his underling to bring her to him.  His underling and his underling's underling (think Courtney Gains from The Burbs) venture out to get some help fulfilling this dastardly plan.  He blows into some sort of horn in the middle of some woods.  Moments later, demon bikers appear (they're cenobites on hogs).  The demon bikers break into Cage's cabin and kidnap the both of them, bring them to the cult leader.  Everyone's drugged, Cage is tortured, and Mandy is burned to ashes in front of Cage.  Cage escapes, returns home, downs a bottle of booze, Cage's out for a while and then meets up with Bill Duke (Predator) who gives him the backstory of these badass demon guys, I think.  Then Cage forges some weapons and revenge stuff happens.   Simple enough.

Panos Cosmatos (the director, visionary director is pretty fitting here) is the son of George P. Cosmatos.  We are all our father's sons but none of us are defined by our fathers.  Unless our father directed Rambo II, Tombstone, and Leviathan (amongst many others) then I might be ok with at least being partially defined by him (kidding, Rambo II sucks).  Anyway, Panos directed this (!!) and Beyond the Black Rainbow (unseen by me -- I've heard it described as visionary but it also sounds like something I'd struggle to get into in a what am I watching and why isn't Nicolas Cage in this sort of way).  The plot I described above is the movie but it's also not even close to the movie.  I really don't know how to describe it.  There are callbacks to Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Raising Arizona (I think -- demon bikers, Cage and Mandy reminded me a bit of Cage and Holly Hunter), and some more.  Mad Max Fury Road?    I'd need to watch this thing again to pick up all the references.  The visuals are..insane?  It's a post apocalyptic movie set during a non apocalypse.  Their world (it's a small world) looks lit by fire.  Cage wears two different shirts, one with a tiger and a sports jersey with #44.  The tiger shirt paid off in a scene with an actual tiger.  The #44 is a tribute to Mandy (she wore it at one point, but it's certainly not a sports thing).  Also, during demon battle we get "YOU RIPPED MY FAVORITE SHIRT!!"  The music and the chapters (yes, this picture has chapters) evokes the prog metal of the era (oh yeah, this took place in 1983).  There's animation from time to time.   We've also got the best chainsaw duel since "Lefty" Enright battled Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

Cage gives one of these type of performances every few years (his last such performance may have been in Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans).  There is only one Nic Cage and when he's fully engaged there's no actor that can go the places he goes.  The height of his Cage-ness may be the bathroom scene when he first returns home (after being kidnapped and watching Mandy burn) and retrieves a well hidden bottle of booze.  Watching him process the last few hours with screams and swigs is an experience we don't often get with movies.  It's a long scene.

I'll leave you with this brief exchange.

Bill Duke:  So, whatcha hunting?


Oh, and he also calls a demon biker a vicious snowflake during the heat of battle.

What the fuck did I just watch.  44 stars.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Schlocktober Fest 2018, Vol. III

Here are the rules, again:

1) It has to be a horror film (loosely defined by yours truly)
2) I have to watch one movie, per day (31 days)
3) In case I haven't made this clear yet, it cannot be something I have already seen (you'll just have to trust me)

October 7, 2018
The Chamber (2018)
Viewed on: Shudder
Key contributor: every action film where characters argue about dire situations, in the history of film

Here's a picture that would fall under the "loosely defined" as horror characterization.  I'd go so far to suggest that this should be "loosely defined" as a film.  Set off the coast of Korea, here's a movie that does not devolve into monster movie mayhem or some other type of science gone wrong, horror-ific shenanigans.  The United States Military loses a sub which contains valuable data.  It sinks to the bottom of the East China Sea.  There is then a race to destroy the downed submarine before the North Koreans can get their hands on it.  Only, there is totally not a race.  We never see the other perspective.  All we get is a black ops team commandeering a tiny civilian submersible and then bickering with, and murdering, each other for 90 minutes.  A fun time was certainly not had by all, especially not by me.

If you saw The Meg (abomination that it was) you might remember the tiny submersible from the beginning of that picture.  It fit 3, uncomfortably (though,  one of them was a giant).  They use the same submarine in this one.  There are somewhere between 7-9 people on board.  I wrote down one name in my notes, Captain Loomis.  If memory serves, I called him Loomis because he vaguely resembled Donald Pleasance.  He does not go on the voyage and is never seen again after the picture is 5 minutes old.  The main character, mission leader, the CO, is a woman.  I wish I knew more about her.  She bickers as well as any man.

Here's an example of one, snappy, exchange:

Disgruntled Crewman:  'This wasn't part of the plan, the plans coming loose!"
CO:  You're coming loose!"

A few submarine tropes (bursting pipes, bolts, bickering seaman, straw drawing, a drowning seaman, etc) later and the picture mercifully approached it's ending.  There is zero reason for it to exist.  Every scene has been done before and done much better.  Pick a submarine movie.  Any submarine movie.  The one with Kelsey Grammar perhaps would even suffice.  Zero stars.  Were in this movie.  And that's also my rating.

October 8, 2018
Hell House LLC (2015)
Viewed on:  Shudder
key contributor:  Paul, the painfully dated camera guy

Typically, I tend to ignore most found footage because the whole gimmick seems played out.  We're 20 years since Blair Witch.  There's not much new that can be done.  Characters get in a sticky situation and keep filming, while arguing, until the camera falls to the ground because the last guy or girl finally died.  That's like 90% of them.  Then there are the hidden camera ones, I guess.  This is one that I heard a rave about (a solitary friend raved) so I figured I'd give it a shot.  I'm sort of glad that I did.

The setting (the Abaddon Hotel, in Abaddon, NY, couple hours north of NYC) is not at all unique.  It's a house that seems geographically mangled, architecturally unsound, and...a little more than a little creepy.  Into this setting arrives Hell House LLC, a haunted house company ready to scare the bejesus out of the good (maybe awful) people of Abaddon and any hipsters that make the drive up from the city.  As we learn at the beginning of this particular picture this all leads to something called the "2009 Halloween Haunted House Tour Tragedy" (could use a little work, maybe let's not trademark that just yet).

So, we got, basically, a movie within a movie.  The person making the documentary about the "Hell House LLC Tragedy" (better name) and the found tapes of the Hell House LLC film crew as they prepare the hotel for the big night.  Along the way we got some clowns, some gradual cracking up, some murders, suicides, and haunted house "malfunction" that may leave, I don't know, 12 people dead?  More?  Less?  This is a good one.  The scares are evenly paced throughout (and they get bigger and scarier).  It's not one of those found footage pictures where nothing happens nothing happens nothing happens nothing happens everyone's dead the end.  Also, I kinda liked some of these characters or at least I didn't outright hate most of them.  Recommended even if you think you've seen your last found footage film.  This is more of a schlockumentary anyway.

October 9, 2018
Island Claws (1980)
Viewed on: Amazon Prime
key contributor: Trouble the dog
Co-contributor: Irish Whiskey

Well, shit, if this isn't the greatest picture I've seen all month and probably in my entire pathetic life.  What did they call Grizzly?  "Jaws with Claws"?  Fuck it if this picture didn't just steal that tagline right out from under Grizzly which will now, heretofore, for absolutely forever be referred to as "Jaws with Fur".  This movie is incredible.  A whizzed-on-by Floridian nightmare steeped in moonshine and regret (for myself, not having seen it sooner).

What we have in this picture is a plucky blonde reporter, aptly named Jan Rains who returns home (I imagine this is the Gulf Coast) to cover world hunger for her newspaper.  Wait, what?  Yes, world hunger.  So, of course, she latches onto the regionally renowned scientist Dr. Legs Macneil and his handsome young lab assistant, Dr. Peter Adams.  Why, you may ask?  Well, they're researching the local crab population...and, by researching, I mean experimenting on the local crab population.  We're talking injecting them with some kind of super growth hormone.  You see, bigger crabs means more food for Africa or something like that.   They were so busy wondering if they could they never stopped to ask if they should (is what some smart guy totally wonders in this film long before it was ever wondered in any other film).

Also, there's a Nuclear power plant disaster, a near iconic bar scene that goes on near forever ("You missed the big crab race" and. oh dear god, that banjo player), and a fairly prescient side-story involving Haitian immigrants being mistook for giant crabs that all serves to enhance the film while also deterring would be haters from labeling this thing a mess.  It's a god damned mess-terpiece.  Also, the scene where the female jogger goes toe to toe with a giant claw (unseen by us) and loses an arm.  I mentioned Trouble, the dog.  The Irish dog.  He puts up a good fight, standing up for the Haitians.  Maybe he comes out in a single piece,  I don't know.  This is a classic.  They built a giant crab model (see photo up top).  We see it at the end.  Like Jaws, it probably worked terribly.  Sometimes, less is better.  I could go on and on about this crab that goes "rawrrrrrr" like a jaguar, but I ran out of notes.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Schlocktober Fest 2018, Vol. II

Reposting the rules.  31 days, 31 movies.

1.It has to be a horror movie (loose definition of horror, to include anything I deem horror or, simply, whatever movie I watched thinking it was horror).

2.It has to be a movie I haven't seen before (or, don't remember having seen -- I've seen a lot of movies, some under the influence of something or other).

October 4, 2018
Pay the Ghost (2015), Netflix
Key contributor: Nicolas Cage, force of nature

Here we have a totally not "I owe the IRS so what else can I really do" type of picture from Nic Cage.    It's one of about 7,000 movies he currently has streaming on Netflix, all produced within the last five years  Nic Cage is the kind of actor you either love or you hate.  Or, I guess you can also be indifferent?  I'm not sure how that's possible.  Personally, I love the guy.   Raising Arizona, Red Rock West, Moonstruck, Peggy Sue Got Married, Wild at Heart, Vampire's Kiss, Face/Off, The Rock, Con Air, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Knowing, Joe, etc etc.  I also love listing things to bulk up word counts.  Lord of War, Kiss of Death, Bringing out the Dead, Snake Eyes, Wicker Man, Left Behind, Mom and Dad....

Here we have a supernatural thriller involving a demon that steals children right out from under their parents.  It stashes them in like some celestial closet type deal that can only be accessed via a portal in the subway station.  But, to get to that portal you have to get through Stephen McHattie's mole person or something, I guess?  This is a somber picture.  Cage acts somberly, quietly, and, for the most part, very un-Cage-y, which was...a disappointment.  After a brief pre-title sequence involving kids looking up at floorboards, we basically get it established that Cage is some sort of professor type dude.  He teaches a horror lit class at a big NY University.  He's looking for tenure.  He also played a professor in Knowing except in that one I think he taught Astrophysics for Dummies.  Watch Knowing is the point of my digression.  Once Cage gets tenure, he and Walking Dead mom can finally afford that new apartment that isn't smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood where kids are snatched up by vulture demons.  Oh yeah, did I mention Cage's son is snatched while they attend one of those Halloween-y carnival block festivals New York is so well known for?  This leads to tension with his wife ("how could you lose him") and also makes it so Cage can only celebrate receiving tenure by gently pumping his fist behind his back while arguing with his wife (this cannot be disproved).

This is not a good movie.  I fell asleep a few times and did not rewind.  I got the gist of it.  There is a detective character who thinks Cage is responsible.  He's the one that saw him last, it's almost always a relative, etc.  This "I'm just waiting until Cage slips up" ethos culminates in an incredible scene where a medium is killed by the demon, in the presence of Cage, and Cage isn't immediately arrested.     We don't have enough "wrongfully accused" type pictures involving frame jobs perpetrated by demons followed by  lengthy courtroom scenes.  If Cage had made that picture I would have bought in whole heartedly.  As is, he made a picture we've seen a thousand times before and cashed in with whatever this type of DTV bullshit pays these days.  Recommended only for Cage completists (If you can't name every movie he appeared in during 2015, you're not a Cage completist).  Don't worry, I'm not either.  It's almost impossible.

October, 5, 2018
The Mummy (2017), HBO
Key contributor: Russell Crowe, because he has no idea what movie he's in

I'm really bummed we didn't get the Universal Monsters cinematic universe but, after seeing The Mummy, I guess I now understand why.  Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, a sergeant (wait, how old are sergeants??) in the US military who, as the movie opens (or at least around when the movie opens) is trying to steal antiquities from somewhere in Iraq.  It's the Iraq war.  I didn't pay enough attention to know which one.  His partner is Jake Johnson.  There's a mummy's tomb.  They go in with a lady named Ilsa (struggling to remember this meet cute), get attacked by spiders (almost reminiscent of the spider pit scene in Jackson's King Kong, but also totally not reminiscent of that) and then get evacuated (insurgents are approaching) with the mummy in tow.  Also, why is Jake acting strange?  Is it from the spider bite?  I thought Tom Cruise (smartest man in the universe) said they're not even poisonous.  Holy shit, they're on a plane now.  Holy shit, Jake killed their CO and now the plane is crashing because birds flew into the cockpit and killed the pilot and co-pilot and now there's only one parachute for some reason.  I thought this was a well stocked military cargo plane? Also, how and when did Tom Cruise get this mummy's curse?  Why does Jake Johnson Griffin Dunne his way through the entire picture?  Why do I wish Jake Johnson was Griffin Dunne?

Then there's Russell Crowe.  He's in London.  Some of this movie takes place in London.  These scenes must have been shot for another movie that was later scrapped.  The Crowe reels exist and we only have enough usable footage from this Cruise thing we're shooting to fill up 75 minutes so let's do this (!)  is what likely happened.  Anyway, Crowe's the guy behind the desk you see in some movies.  The power guy.  The moneyed guy.  The guy that makes plays with a telephone.  He's also a doctor.  Dr Jeckyl I wrote in my notes.  Crowe has fun, is ridiculous and basically relishes his screen time (of which there is little).  Oh, he also injects himself with a serum that is derived from something and turns him into his alter ego, Mr. Jive.  He appears in the beginning and the end (after you've long forgotten he was even in the thing).

Cruise is fun in that "look I'm slightly fallible but not really" sort of way.  The woman that played Ilsa (what was her name again?) was fine and forgettable.  The mummy was played by a newcomer.  A newcomer to me, anyway.  She was tremendous.  I like that they go all Hellraiser with her regeneration scenes, sucking face with poor men as she reconstitutes and they wither.  I would have suggested casting, as mummy princesses sidekick, Claire Higgins and having her follow mummy around with a hammer.

Sequel's set up.  We'll never get it.  Certainly not with Cruise.  Bring back Brendan Frasier, maybe?  Anyway, recommended for people with HBO and nothing but time.

October, 6, 2018
Cold Skin (2018), VOD
key contributor: buck naked Ray Stevenson

I like a good movie about a meteorologist.  Has there ever been a good one?  Has there ever been one?  It's the eve of World War I and young meteorologist whatshisface hitches a ride on a ship to a remote island in the South Atlantic where he'll replace some guy that was running a weather station.  Turns out, the guy died.  There's one other guy on the island.  He runs the lighthouse.  Name's Stevenson.  Ray Stevenson.  Naked Ray Stevenson.  This is his Tom Hardy breakout.

There's a bit of a mystery surrounding whathisface's predecessor.  Mystery answered on the first night when fish-people-things come in from the sea and overrun his cabin.  He hides in the cellar.  Next day he goes to Stevenson for answers.  Stevenson's elusive.  He put clothes on.  Eventually they bond when whatshisface threatens to shoot one of the sea-creatures that Stevenson has taken a liking to and hidden away in a cave.  It's a sea-she creature.  She-sea creature?   He begs whatshisface not to shoot her, promises to help out against the creatures when they come again at night.  They always come at night.  Also, I'm pretty sure Stevenson beats her.  I'm really sure he has sex with her.  Gruner (Ok, I looked up his name) is not a great man but he was a man of his time and place (lonely on an island in 1914).  Gruner at one point exclaims "I am an island" like he's a cut-rate philosopher.  He's a lonely, rapey island.  

The movie reminded me of a cross between Dagon (Stuart Gordon-Lovecraft-fish people movie) and the scenes in the mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings with all the orcs and trolls.  These humanoids from the deep attack night after night after night.  It's not until the last couple attacks where you start to see the toll taken on the human characters and also on the she-creature.  This stuff is exhausting.  I call bullshit on Gruner having survived all these years alone (he fortified his lighthouse but that shit doesn't hold long, the things climb right up it in no time).  As whatshisface learns more about the island, the creatures, and possible modes of rescue, Gruner withdraws more into himself.  He needs companionship but not if it involves a return to the outside world.  Guy just wasn't made for those times.  And certainly not these times (#metoo, etc).

Anyway, this is a good one.  An against all odds we will fight type picture in the vein of Zulu, Zulu Dawn, and maybe The Alamo with Billy Bob Thornton.  The siege scenes are well done, get repetitive but not too repetitive.  Recommended for the guy or girl that says he likes Lovecraft but really just wants to zone out to some (below and above) surface fish monster stuff.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Schlocktober Fest 2018, Vol. I

Because nothing says "Schlocktober" like a house that's about to be swallowed by the sea (photo taken by me, today, on Moonstone Beach, RI).  Anyway, what's it been?  Seven plus years?   I remembered my password!  Also, how is Blogspot still a thing?  A lot has happened since I've last posted but let's not recap that shit show.  Let's just cut directly to the chase.  31 days of October, 31 movies.  These posts will be random and, mostly, in blocks.  The actual reviews, mostly, short.  The rules are simple:

1.It has to be a horror movie (loose definition of horror, to include anything I deem horror or, simply, whatever movie I watched thinking it was horror).

2.It has to be a movie I haven't seen before (or, don't remember having seen -- I've seen a lot of movies, some under the influence of something or other).

Let's get to it.

October 1, 2018.
Hold the Dark (2018), Netflix
Key contributor:  Jeremy Saulnier, the director.

Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) joins the direct to Netflix game with another subversion of expectations / genre with Hold the Dark.   A man against wolves picture set in Alaska is what I was promised.  We sort of got that only the wolves were like a metaphor or something.  Riley Keough is Medora, the mother of a young child taken by wolves.  She writes (by letter sent via actual mail!) a Farley Mowat type character (Jeffrey Wright) to come hunt, and kill, the wolves that stole her child (also, 2 other children were taken).  Wright's not a killer (he's a naturalist, baby) although he has shot a wolf before ("It sucked" is what I remember him saying about that).  While Russell (Wright) is getting...ahem...acquainted with Medora we get scenes of her husband fighting in Iraq.  Basically, he's a one-man massacre over there.  These scenes are mercifully brief (due to general horribleness - in content, not quality -- these scenes are nothing short of disturbing) and culminate with him getting shot in the neck.  He survives and gets a ticket back to Alaska.  This feels like storm systems about to collide.

Back in Alaska, Medora keeps acting weird.  Maybe not weird.  Why would a woman walking around her cabin naked in front of the guy she hired (yet is up front about not being able to pay.  also, why did he take this "job"?) to kill the wolf that took her son (she knows he's dead) and then sliding into bed with him and guiding his hand around her throat and squeezing her throat with her own hand, while wrapped around his hand, seem weird.  Is that weird?  I don't know, I've never been to Alaska.

Anyway, Russell embarks on his quest the next day and that's when the movie becomes something else.  Something else involves (I guess spoilers) Russell returning after an encounter with wolves that leads him to believe they're not responsible.  Russell finds the boy's body in Medora's basement, Medora has vanished, the cops get involved (the cops are lead by an incredible James Badge Dale), the husband (a seismic Alexander Skarsgard) returns from war, and....well...the bodies pile up in droves (most of them--maybe 20---during one incredibly tense scene that I won't even discuss).

Inuit mysticism, wolf mysticism, culty stuff, bumbling cops, heroic cops and a depressingly desolate picture of how the poor live in Alaska.  Also, some incredible performances in the middle of all this weirdness (standouts are Wright, Keough, Skarsgard, Dale and Julian Black Antelope as the scariest mother fucker in Alaska).  Recommended for wolf fans because no wolves die in this picture, I think.  Spoiler.

October 2, 2018
Bait (2018), Shudder
Key contributor:  Bully, the dog.

Imagine an Aussie shark attack film set in a mall.  And then imagine the balancing act that must have been performed by cast and crew (mainly effects guys) to get realistic sharks to swim by Spencer's Gifts or whatever the Aussie version of Spencer's Gifts is?  Well, I had that idea in my head as I pressed play on this son of a bitch.  The opening is fair enough.  We have a threesome (not that kind, perv) involving two best bro friends and the sister of one of the bros.  One of the bros got engaged to the sister ("I don't regret the engagement but I regret this hangover", he tells bro #2 the next morning).  Then Bro #2 gets chomped to pieces by a shark.  Cue the 3D looking title card.

A year later, engagement cancelled, bro#1 is stocking shelves in some mall store and dating a goth girl as one does, apparently, after watching their best friend chomped into little bits by a shark and then slurped up like a chum shake.  Into this mall comes a robbery perpetrated by vicious thugs (they shoot a checkout girl to show they mean business).  Also, into this mall comes the ex fiancĂ© and her new boyfriend.  He's handsomer.  Also, into this mall comes a tidal wave carrying a boatload (a really BIG boatload) of sharks.

Anyway, this is mostly a piece of shit because the idea, the image I had in my head, for this movie never exactly transpires.  I know, I know, that's such a bullshit way to view a film.  Enjoy the picture on its own terms.  Or, at least, accept it on its own terms.   Yeah, sorry, can't do it.  The mall has two boring sets.  A flooded parking garage (my favorite set because it involves Bully, referenced above) and a flooded stock room.  These assholes try to work together but they're mostly just assholes.  The film is also really dark, as in darkly lit.  I dug the accents though.  The sharks were finely realized.  It's better than all 17 of the Sharknados.  Recommended for completists of pictures involving dogs being sacrificed to sharks for the greater good.  Sorry Bully.

October 3, 2018
Dead of Night (1977), Shudder
Key contributor:  Richard Matheson, the telewriter

Remember when TV used to have original movies?  Horror movies??  I was 3 when this gem came out.  I'd rank it sandwiched somewhere between the two Trilogies of Terror.

Story 1: "Second Chances"
This is not horror.  It's a fucking bullshit feel good story that belongs in a bad hour of the 1980s Twilight Zone.  Still, I dug it enough.  Ed Bagley Jr is a strapping young lad (20s) who loves restoring old cars.  He finds one such old car (a 1926 Jordan Playboy) and buys it for a hundred bucks.  The owner says the original owners were killed when the car slammed into a train, way back in 1926.  "Interesting, I didn't want the backstory" Bagley Jr must have thought.  He quickly restores it.  We don't even get a restoration montage.  On his first moonlight drive he begins to notice other old cars on the road.  Suddenly, he's transported back to Cresswell (this has to be Indiana, right?), 1926.  He drives into town and contemplates taking in a movie show when his car is stolen by some local hood.  He jumps in front of the fleeing car and it swerves before continuing on its way.  Distraught, he wanders around town and debates whether to go wake his dad (his dad is maybe 5, probably wise that he didn't do this).  Time travel stories, am I right?  After sleeping on a park bench, he wakes back up in present day (1976, I'm guessing) and goes back about his business.  He dates a local girl, has lemonade with her parents, discovers that her dad owns a 1926 Jordan Playboy, etc, etc.  I don't know, figure it out?  Recommended for time travel completists.

Story 2:  "No Such Thing As A Vampire"
Here's a good one.  Gothic horror.  A creature of the night.  An old castle.  Basically, it's the Lucy stuff from Bram Stoker's Dracula only with a clever twist involving one guy looking at the guy Lucy's dating and thinking "why the fuck is she with THAT guy".  Recommended for...well, you've already watched the first segment, might as well keep going.  Who only watches the middle segment of an anthology??

Story 3:  "Bobby"
Another gem, later remade for Trilogy of Terror II.  A monkeys paw type tale.  Be careful what you wish for and all that.  A grieving mother, home alone, in a mansion sitting on the precipice of a cliff.  At the bottom of this cliff?  Crashing waves.  The way the camera lingers you have to wonder if this'll come into play later.   I mentioned she was grieving?   Her son died.  His name was Bobby.  Drowned.  Maybe from neglect.  She draws a pentagram on the floor while talking on the phone with her husband (away on business of course, this was the 70s).  The pentagram drawing was unsettling because of how casual she was in conversation ("Oh, I'm fine dear...I'll see you when you get back, oh yes, the Peterson's did swing by, we had a nice chat, etc").  She performs a seance and later that night there's a knock on the door.   Who's at the door?  I'm pretty sure it's not the Postman because he didn't ring twice.  Also, he knocked.  Bobby appears normal at first and then.....

Recommended for if you're looking for something to watch after Deathdream.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Beginnings and Endings: Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969)

After the disaster that was Major Dundee it would appear that Peckinpah was pretty much finished. Instead of giving in he made some television movie called Noon Wine. The thing got good reviews but I couldn’t track it down. Fuck it, I didn’t look very hard. I’m sticking with his genuine theatrical releases. So, this Noon Wine must have been solid because it gave Peckinpah the chance to direct The Wild mother-fucking Bunch. I could go into the state of Peckinpah at this time but I’m going to start sounding like a broken record. Clearly, he’s a big drinker. Clearly, he liked bringing along a cast that he could count on as drinking buddies. Clearly, he’s still got a thing against women and mirrors. Yada mother-fucking yada. That’s who he was. That’s who he’d be until the day he dies. A poet of hard drinking, occasional coke sniffing, and offensive behavior is still a god damned poet.

What can I say about The Wild Bunch that hasn’t already been said countless times? Nothing. It’s arguably the greatest Western ever made. I can’t argue that point since I haven’t seen every Western. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Period. It’s a pretty simple story told with depth of feeling. We got an iconic opening scene, and incredible train robbery, and an even more iconic than the beginning closing scene. Along the way, we got lots of little moments where men are men, women are whores, children are soulless, etc.

The Wild Bunch is nearly impossible to write about since so much has already been written (and, more than likely, read by me). I could talk about the music, especially at the beginning until William Holden utters the now famous line “If they move, kill ‘em.” I could talk about the performances (almost all note-perfect), the editing of the action scenes (quick cuts between significant moments, slow motion, sweat, blood, tears, etc). I could go on and on regurgitating the plot for a while. That’s usually the kind of shit I pull when I don’t know what else to talk about. I could talk about the Peckinpah themes, particularly the one of aging men stuck in changing times. In this case, we’re at the dawn of WWI and Holden and his men need to “start thinking beyond guns.”

I’ll just assume there are a couple pussies out there that haven’t seen the picture. Maybe you want, at least, a brief description of the plot to see if it’s something you might be interested in. Okay. See, we got this bunch of outlaws that call themselves The Wild Bunch. Or maybe the press called them that. I don’t know if it’s ever made clear. Anyway, they’re a pretty wild bunch of guys, murdering and whoring around, robbing banks and trains, etc. Except, they’re not too wild where they don’t have a code. See, these guys might shoot a man (or a woman, hell, maybe even a kid) at the drop of a hat, but they stick by their own. It’s all about loyalty. Anyway, the bunch rides into an ambush at the beginning of the picture and only six of them make it out; Pike (William Holden), Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle and Tector Gorch (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson), and Angel (Jaime Sanchez). The ambush was led by former Wild Bunch member Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) who was given the choice of apprehending and killing the bunch or returning to Yuma.

The surviving bunch eventually meet up with old man Sykes (Edmund O’Brien) who used to ride with Pike, but is now mostly just the butt of old man jokes. Also, much to their disappointment, it turns out the loot they made off with was just a bag full of steel washers. They need a job and money, fast. They do what any man needing a job would do. They cross the Rio Grande and head to Mexico. While south of the border, they encounter the revolutionary General Mapache, some whores, a train full of artillery, a couple shootouts, some whores, evil children, more whores, an automobile, lots of booze, a mirror, some campfire chatter, a throat slashing, saunas, a dying Mexican being dragged behind a car, etc. Also, a couple of whores I believe. And Deke Thornton and his bounty hunters always a step or two behind.

Shit, I don’t know. What else can I say? Well, I haven’t said much. I want to keep this short. I’ll just take a glance at my notes, maybe latch onto a point and go from there. Ok, I jotted down “wounded, blinded man – finish it.” I guess this was the scene when the bunch were leaving the town from the opening, botched robbery. The blinded man was one of their own. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see too good or even stay on his horse as they crossed some sand dunes. It’s an interesting scene. At first, the guy is acting all tough. He can continue, it’s just a little scratch, it’s not that big of a deal that his face is covered in blood and he can’t see shit. Almost immediately, the poor bastard realizes he’s cooked, can’t go on, will only slow them down. Rather than wait for the bounty hunters, law, etc to show up he just says simply “finish it”. Pike wastes no time in obliging him. Lyle and Tector would like some words said for their friend, maybe a proper burial. Dutch’s response is “maybe a few hymns and a church supper?” He’s joking. They all loved the guy but dead is dead and if they stick around to bury their friend’s corpse, sing some hymns, eat church dinner they’ll be next. Loyalty doesn’t carry on beyond this life.

I’m not sure what the following note says but it goes something like this: “Lyle, etc just interested in whoring , boobies (I drew a picture of breasts here)”. I can only assume I was talking about Lyle (Oates) and his brother Tector (Ben Johnson) who are constantly talking about tag teaming whores. Finally, once they reach Mapache’s lecherous compound we finally see them in action. Tector gets two fat ones. Lyle gets one semi-ok one. I read somewhere that Peckinpah used actual prostitutes from Mexico just so he could say he paid prostitutes to be in his picture. The scene with the three hookers frolicking around with Lyle and Tector is more mirthful than Peckinpah usually allows a scene with women to be. They dance around, the brothers shoot out wine barrels, they bathe in the stuff, breasts are shown, whores (non-offensive term for hooker) are treated as objects. It’s a good scene. It’s the only scene where women are allowed to enjoy life, not be vicious, cruel, evil, or used for target practice.

Other women in this picture do not get painted as well as those three whores. We get the innocent lady at the beginning caught in the crossfire and trampled to death by a horse. We got Angel’s former lover who has hooked up with General Mapache and is gunned down by Angel in a jealous rage. Is Angel punished for his crime? Well, he gets knocked around a bit but is eventually allowed to continue on his way with the bunch. They need him for their mission, after all. The heist of several crates of artillery from a military train. In exchange for those crates, Mapache will provide them with gold. Politics have no place amongst this bunch. Interestingly, it isn’t until Angel steals a crate to give to his people (those being abused, tortured, murdered by Mapache) that he is taken prisoner, beaten, dragged behind a car, has his (spoiler) throat cut, etc. The message being, women are a dime a dozen, I can throw a rock and bang one. Guns are much more valuable. Way more valuable than that filthy whore I was banging the other night is what I’m sure Mapache was probably thinking after Angel gunned down his woman.

Also, the woman that Angel gunned down, his former lover, was not a very nice woman. I’m not saying she deserved to be shot dead but she was clearly trying to make Angel jealous by licking the inside of Mapache’s ear while casting glances Angel’s way. I don’t think she deserved to be shot or even slapped around. Maybe a good talking to would have been in order. Possibly, she should have been sent to time out. Other women proved blood thirsty and just as capable of shooting somebody as the men. Of course, when Pike (spoiler) gets shot in the back (of course) by a woman near the end she misses everything vital and gets called a “bitch” before Pike turns around and puts her out of her womanly misery (is what Peckinpah was probably thinking when he shot that scene). Peckinpah has issues with women. I’m not going to harp on this.

I started this review years ago and never finished it apparently.  It's The Wild Bunch.  No real review necessary.  Anyway, sorry for the rampant use of the word "whore" not put in quotes.  This was the movie's view, not mine.  I should have used quotes.  I was an immature young mid 30 something at the time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Beginnings and Endings: Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965)

Well shit. I meant to write this thing up a few weeks ago as part of my Peckinpah retrospective that I’m hoping to someday finish. Unfortunately, the latest movie I watched was a bit of an epic slog. Peckinpah was just coming off the critically lauded Ride the High Country which Charlton Heston had actually seen and liked. He was just the type of director to shoot Heston’s next project, something called Major Dundee (oh wait, the picture I’m writing about) in the style of such epics as Lawrence of Arabia or maybe Heston’s own El Cid. You know, a three hour picture complete with an overture, interlude, etc. The kind of picture that won Oscars and made millions. Anyway, watched this thing a few weeks ago. My memories a little fuzzy. Details come in and out. I think it’s about a Major or some shit during the Civil War, except it takes place in the Old West which is not where many Civil War battles were fought. Or something. Apaches figure into this thing. There’s a Scottish or Irish Captain who fought for the South. And a young bugler narrates the story, although his narration is so few and far between that we forget who he is and why he's talking over a Heston/Peckinpah collaboration. The end.

Okay, I’m just messing with you. That’d be a shitty review. Truthfully, I wrote this thing the other night and I thought it came out pretty good.  The words just flowed out of me.  Then blogspot lost it (without saving) and I nearly threw my laptop out the window. Now I’m just trying to remember it piece by piece and it ain’t working out too well. Like I said earlier, Heston hand-picked Peckinpah to direct this feature thinking he’d found some young genius filmmaker (he had) that he could control (not quite). Peckinpah was allowed to be himself on the set which is to say belligerent with the crew, drunk all the time, slapping around women, and shooting out mirrors in his hotel room (I’m theorizing here). I keep hearing/reading that Heston tried to run Peckinpah through with a saber. Not sure if that’s true or not. I think I read it in some book somewhere. So, Peckinpah was not the easiest guy to work with. And then the picture went overtime and over budget and got shut down with several scenes yet to be shot. That’s fine, they thought, we can stitch together a piece of crap and it’ll still make money.

What I managed to get my hands on is the extended edition which the DVD back cover claims to be “A Restored Masterpiece.” Well, the whole “masterpiece” thing got me thinking about what they meant by “masterpiece”. So, I decided to look it up in the ol’ First thing I noticed is it’s a noun. Second thing I noticed is it’s got three definitions. Shit, when did dictionaries get so complicated? The first one defines “masterpiece” as “a person’s greatest piece of work, as in an art.” That definitely doesn’t apply here since this thing isn’t even as good as the last Peckinpah I watched. Fuck, I may have mislabeled that thing myself when I called it his “first masterpiece” since according to this definition you’re only entitled to one in your lifetime. The second definition states it’s “anything done with masterly skill.” So, I guess this one might work here.  I don't think so but if you're being a pussy I could see how you might think so.  We're getting a little too lenient in what qualifies as a masterpiece. Using it in a sentence, I guess I’d go with "Father didn’t let son help build his Pinewood derby car in the hope that it could actually be labeled a masterpiece." The final definition claims it’s “a consummate example of skill or excellence of any kind.” That last definition throws me for a bit of a loop. “ANY kind”? Farting, apparently, can qualify. Quitting, could even be considered a masterpiece. I guess you could consider it a masterpiece when I won the eagle feather at Camp Sunrise (a Cub Scout, thing) but I consider it more of a masterpiece when I quit Boy Scouts after one meeting. It wasn’t quite what I expected. Anyway, we got a few definitions of masterpiece to contend with here. Major Dundee doesn’t qualify for any of them, in my opinion. I guess this is the part where I ramble on to try and explain myself.

Major Dundee, for the most part, doesn’t even feel like a Peckinpah picture. We got here the story of a disgraced Major in the Union army named Dundee (no relation to Crocodile, far as I can tell). Dundee fought in one of the big skirmishes in the Civil War, something like Salisbury Hill or Gettysburgh. Like I said, it’s not easy remembering this shit. Well, turns out Dundee made some tactical blunder in the hopes of achieving glory and got a bunch of men killed. As punishment, he was sent out to the New Mexico territory to warden over some prison. The picture opens with the aftermath of an Apache massacre of a family on a ranch. Dundee sent in a small army and they were also massacred (we don’t see any of this shit). The Apaches don’t discriminate when it comes to slaughter except for young boys who they capture to develop into warriors. Dundee sees his chance for redemption. Gather up an army and pursue the Apaches across the Rio Grande and into Mexico, rescue the boys, get sent back into the real war with maybe a plaque or a statue or something, bed some broads, etc. It’s the perfect opportunity. 

Of course there’s a scene where Dundee has to put together his rag tag army. Some are regular soldiers; the bugler, his bookish lieutenant, etc. The majority end up being horse thieves, rapists (I’m pretty sure), drunks, etc. We got a black regiment mixed in there somewhere, back of the line-ish, and this coming 20+ years before Glory. That’s pretty impressive. We also got a scout, played by James Coburn, with one arm. It’s a decent special effect for the time. Looks like they just stuffed something in his left sleeve and tied it off where the stump would be. No CGI as far as I could tell. Coburn’s a friend of the injun, sorry Indian. He calls them his brothers. They have wrestling matches and Knife fights for fun. Typical brother shit. Most interesting, we have a few jailed confederate soldiers led by Captain Tyrese or Tyrel or whatever. He’s played by the ahab-ish (Quint-ish?) boat captain from that movie Orca. The picture where Bo “10” Derek gets her already broken leg bitten off. Anyway, Tyrell and Dundee were friends at West Point. Can’t remember exactly what happened but they had a falling out. Tyrell (an Irish or a Scotsman) went to fight with the South while Dundee fought for the North. Now, here’s Captain Tyrese in Dundee’s prison where he and his men are given the option of hanging or joining the army and taking orders from Dundee. I can’t imagine hanging prisoners of war being acceptable, so maybe Tyrese and his men did some other shit before being captured. Also, Warren Oates is one of the confederate soldiers. Moustache and all. And R.G. Armstrong plays a man of god but isn’t quite the zealot he was in the last picture. Slim Pickens is a drunken horse thief I think, but other than a few lines, he barely resonated.

Basically, this picture is a bunch of scenes of Dundee and his men riding across the countryside, having unmemorable skirmishes with Apaches, dealing with uninteresting dissension among the ranks, encountering some French assholes, bedding a couple women here and there, wrestling, eating, drinking, bugling, etc. Hell, I even forgot what they were out there looking for. Oh yeah, a couple of kidnapped boys. The Apaches are complete non characters, none more so of a non-character than their chief, Chief Sonny Chiba (I think). This guy is a legend, a nightmare of the western plains yet I don’t even remember getting a look at his face or even hearing him talk. The villain of the picture is faceless. We’re supposed to fear him because of what we’ve heard he’s done but we never see any of that shit.

I suppose we could look at the major conflict of the picture as being between Dundee and Captain Tyrone and, actually, this is where the picture comes closest to feeling like a Peckinpah picture. We got two manly men (well, Tyrone is a bit dainty, truthfully) who used to be on the same side but have been driven apart by circumstances and are now fighting on opposite sides. Friends respecting, but trying to kill one another is a Peckinpah theme (see Holden/Ryan in The Wild Bunch or Coburn/Kristofferson in the Billy the Kid picture). Unfortunately, once Dundee and whats his face have to set aside their differences for the common good it veers into more of a Hollywood clichĂ©, rather than Peckinpah territory. The French army doesn’t really work as a source of real conflict or villainy either. Fuck, Dundee and his men storm into a French occupied town looking to pillage for supplies after their army was ambushed. Dundee and his crew are the invaders, in this scenario. Then they have a party and Dundee’s army ends up bedding some Mexican women. I think Dundee bedded a broad too, but it was never made overtly clear. Even the bugler banged a Mexican broad. Shit, these Mexican women, who can’t even speak English, are just happy as can be to get some gringo dick. Poor bugler was reprimanded the next morning when he stumbled out for revelry, or whatever it’s called, pants around the ol’ ankles.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the picture lacks conflict. It lacks resolution. It lacks a cohesive story. It lacks those unique Peckinpah touches. Oh sure, we got a bunch of men acting tough together, mistreating their women, and drinking gallons of whiskey. What it lacks is Peckinpah’s soul. The man’s an artist. His great pictures usually have all his problems thrown up on the screen for the world to see. This just feels like a picture that deserves to be forgotten. There’s almost nothing on screen that would have been presented differently if, say, Heston had directed the thing himself. Or, some other guy. Whoever. Doesn’t matter. Point is, this doesn’t feel like a Peckinpah. We got no slow motion action scenes (which admittedly, he wouldn’t use until his next picture), we got no mirror shooting, we got little sense of a character’s motivations. We know Dundee wants to redeem himself for his previous war blunders. We’re not quite sure what he did (at least, I don’t remember what he did) . We’re just kind of told he wants that glory that eludes most men. Captain Tyreke tells him something along the lines of did you ever stop to think that maybe there’s a reason you’re the warden of a prison while there’s a war going on. In other words, he’s kind of a chump. I will say Heston makes a great chump. We see his desperation, he drinks a lot, takes an arrow in the leg like a man, etc. He’s still a chump.

Unfortunately, the picture (already a great big slog) just falls completely apart at the end. Finally, Dundee and his men come face to face with Apache Chief Chiba. The battle is unexciting and too quick. Chiba is unceremoniously dispatched (with minimal fight) and his body gets pushed down a ravine. I think that’s how he went out. Before the men can high five each other one of Dundee’s men looks across a meadow and says “Oh fuck, we forgot about the French.” The French, who are coming to get their revenge, apparently. The battle takes place in the Rio Grande, on horseback. Guns blaze, swords thwack, soldiers fall into the river before they’ve been struck. It’s an appallingly incompetent scene and I refuse to believe Peckinpah had any part in it. I’ll just believe he was kicked off set before they even got to it. What comes next is even more un-Peckinpah, in my opinion. Of course, one of either Tyreen or Dundee are probably going to die. I would have gone with Dundee. Instead, Tyreen is mortally shot. The first French wave has been disbanded but French reinforcements are racing towards the river. Tyreen singlehandedly charges into their masses giving Dundee and his remaining men just enough time to escape. Like fucking cowards. What was the point of Tyreen’s sacrifice (which wasn't much of a sacrifice when you consider he was already moments from death)? He allowed for a deeply flawed and cowardly (again, not a trait Peckinpah would respect) man to escape. What was the point of the picture? The picture ends as soon as Dundee makes it to the other side of the river. Sure, they had revenge on Chief Chiba, a man the audience could give a shit about. It’s possible I dozed during the part where they rescued the kidnapped children. I’ll just assume it didn’t happen. I don’t know, it’s all a bit muddled. Could have used a better climax is what I’m saying. Also a better middle. And a better beginning. Not one of Peckinpah’s finest works, but I’m not sure it’s entirely his fault. Maybe he’ll have more luck with his next picture.

Also, Oates gets shot in the back.  By his own man.  Spoiler alert.  So, basically what I'm getting at is Major Dundee is a classic picture deserving of it's "restored masterpiece" status.  Fucking with you again.  Major Dundee is a Major Disappointment.  Fuck, who am I?  Gene Shalit?  I'm not ending with that bullshit.  Let's just say Peckinpah was really,really drunk.  The perfect catch-all excuse.

Apologies to Richard Harris.  I know who you are.  I just couldn't keep your character's name straight.  My bad.

Next Up: Ernest Borgnine makes his Peckinpah debut and gets (spoiler!) shot full of holes for his trouble.

Motifs: Um, old West setting, some drinking, a few broads get hurt (this time more emotionally, than phsyically), guy talk around a fire, lots of men, etc

Peckinpah Regulars: R.G. Armstrong, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, Dub Taylor, James Coburn, L.Q. Jones, Ben Johnson, maybe a couple others

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beginnings and Endings: Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962)

Well, here we have it.  A bonafide Peckinpah classic.  It only took him two attempts.  This one hits on some themes that Peckinpah will use throughout his career; friendship, betrayal, growing old during changing times, etc.  Also, gleefully shooting chickens for the hell of it as well as a heoine who's in constant peril.  Unlike his previous film (The Deadly Companions), Ride the High Country is eminently rewatchable and endlessly quotable.  Unlike the majority of Peckinpah pictures, it features a central character we can get behind 100%.  Joel McRea, as Steve Judd, is a good man whose only ambition is to walk into his home "justified." 

Judd's an aging ex-lawman.  A man the world is quickly passing by.  He rides into a Californian town, a town immersed in carnival atmosphere, looking for work.  Peckinpah is not subtle in this scene with townspeople referring to Judd as "old man", "old timer", "gramps", etc.  It's in this town that Judd runs into an old friend (also, former lawman) Gil Westrum, played by Randolph Scott.  Westrum has been relegated to running a carnival shoot-em-up game while dressed as Buffalo Bill.  Judd's got a job offer from the local bank.  Transport a quarter of a million dollars in gold bullion from a mining town called Coarsegold back to the bank's vault.  Unfortunately, after meeting with the bank managers, the bounty has been lowered to twenty thousand dollars.  An undertaking of great importance has suddenly become something like "eh, take it or leave it...what do we care?"  Still, a jobs a job.  He wants Westrum to be his partner, just like old times.  Westrum wants to bring along his new friend, the young, brash, and incredibly named Heck Longtree (Ron Starr).  Our introduction to Heck comes as he races a camel against a thoroughbred, wins, and then punches out the losing jockey.   That's so Peckinpah (I don't know what that means).

So, we got this threesome, two old friends and one arrogant son of a bitch, riding over the High Sierras to collect some gold and return it to the bank for forty dollars a day (split three ways).  Time's sure have changed, but it's an honest living.  At least, that's the way Judd looks at it.  Longtree and Westrum have other ideas.  Well, one other idea.  The plan, along the way, is to convince Judd to make off with the gold for themselves and retire somewhere nice.  Westrum's got a few days to convince him in his own subtle ways.  He tells him shit like "a poor man dies with only his clothes of pride on his back" while Longtree's got other, more blunt, methods: "Let's just bend the gun barrel over his head."  After all, splitting the gold two ways is better than three ways.

Like most good Peckinpah movies, this one's full of some colorful characters.  They spend one night in a farmer's barn.  The farmer, Joshua Knudson, is played by Peckinpah regular, R.G. Armstrong.  He's the kind of character that often shows up in his films.  Bible fearing, apt to quote scripture at the dinner table, dead wife, etc.  I could be wrong, and it's been a while since I seen it, but I think Armstrong plays the exact same type of guy in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.  I'll let you know when I watch it again.  Well, this Knudson fellow also happens to have a lovely,  young, tom-boyish daughter named Elsa.  If you read my previous entry in this series, you can only imagine what kind of shit she endures.

Eventually, our three gold transporters make it to Coarsegold with Elsa in tow.  Long story, but Elsa is somewhat betrothed to a miner in town and decided to run away from home after her father slapped her around.  Course, she was talking to Heck at the time, so in Joshua's eyes, she deserved it.  Slut.  Anyway, she's to marry this guy in town named Billy Hamlin.  Unbeknownst to her, Billy's got four brothers, all scum bags.   One of those scum bags is another Peckinpah regular, L.Q. Jones.  It's possible you know him as the director of A Boy and His Dog.  It's probable that you don't.  Another brother, my favorite brother, is named Henry and played by Warren Oates (yep, you guessed it, another Peckinpah regular).  Oates doesn't clean up too well.  In preparation for Billy and Elsa's wedding (to happen that very night she wanders into town) the brothers drop him in a trough.  So, Elsa's to be married and, apparently, whored out by her new husband to his four brothers.  Meanwhile, Steve, Gil, and Heck continue into town to collect their gold. 

Well, shit, sometimes the good movies are the hardest to write about.  And this one's pretty great.  The script is simple, yet fairly profound.  We got lots of great dialogue like when Judd talks about the younger generation: "Boy's now adays.  No pride, no self respect....all gall and no sand."  There's not much in the picture's technique that makes me think Peckinpah; we got no slow motion (he still hasn't worked up to that yet), we got no shooting of mirrors, we got no freeze frames.  It's all in the feel.  There's a sadness hanging over every frame.  The dying of the west, a new breed of men taking it over, things becoming more cut throat, friendship meaning less than the ever loving dollar, etc.  Also, women still getting smacked around.  Some things are timeless, I guess.

The score is nearly iconic.  Fuck, it's great and wasn't even a Jerry Fielding score.  It's by George Bassman who did things like The Wizard of Oz and The Road to Zanzibar.  The script (which Peckinpah was actually allowed to tinker with before shooting) is chock full of great little character moments.  Like the scene where Judd lectures Heck about littering on the mountain.  I particularly liked the drunken judge who, upon marrying Billy and Elsa, says "a good marriage is like a rare animal, hard to find."  Then Billy takes Elsa into the honeymoon suite to begin their, ahem, consensual consumation only to be knocked out cold by a falling bookshelf.  Of course, in to the honeymoon suite struts two of his brothers, more than prepared to uphold that value which the Hamlin family holds most dear, the value of sharing.

A late night rescue ensues, followed by a flight across the mountains, pursuit by those idiot Hamlins, betrayal, mountaintop gunfights, escape into the valley, and....spoiler....ultimate tragedy.  The very end of the film is moving in the way that most great films are.  It's legitimate.  It's earned.  The last image, of Judd looking up into the high country, should be famous.  We rode with these characters and we cared for them.  They're not two dimensional (well, maybe Elsa...and the Hamlins).  The one who surprised me the most was Heck Longtree who evolved into a god damned, fully formed individual by the time this thing ended.  And then there's Warren Oates, who, in the middle of a hectic, edge of your seat, fight for your life, climactic gun battle starts shooting the heads off of bothersome chickens.  Ah, that's so Peckinpah.

Next up:  Charlton Heston tries to run Peckipah through with a sword

Motifs: aging men in changing times, friendship, betrayal, drinking, abused women, shooting the heads off of chickens

Peckinpah regulars:  R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates