Friday, August 29, 2008

Rabid (1977)

Who would have ever known that Marilyn Chambers could act without her mouth full? Apparently, Sissy Spacek was the top choice for the role but one of the producers didn't like her Texas accent. I think we can all be thankful for that. By god, if we can't bring the mainstream to porn we can bring the porn to the mainstream. Or, as maistream as the twisted mind of David Cronenberg can possibly be. This is, after all, a picture about a woman with a vagina under her armpit that opens up to reveal a disease spreading needle protruding from a bloody penis. Huh? God bless him.

It strikes me as strange that more horror films haven't been shot in the wilds of Canada. What a fucking blight on our world, huh? Snowy, barren, and almost completely unoccupied. It might as well be the fucking arctic circle and we're only talking about a locale not that far from Montreal. And, what's with the road names? Concession road 11. Concession road 12. Concession road 13. What does that even fucking mean? Pretty fucking easy, if you ask me, to get slaughterered, tied up, bound, gagged, and so on. I'm telling you, Canada is a goldmine for horror.

Anywhoo, Cronenberg has always been more interested in the horrors that come from within than anything supernatural, otherworldy, or involving a deformed family of backwoods Canadian yokels raping and maiming their way through lost city folk. His nightmares are a world where medicine, disease, sex, etc strike out at their creators. Rabid is his first major feature after Shivers (I still haven't seen it, I suck). Chambers plays Rose, a young woman who, after a horrific motorcycle accident, undergoes a radical skin grafting procedure. Thank god the Keloid clinic, a purveyor of such radical surgeries, was located within eyesight of the crash. Dr. Keloid performs the procedure (um, shouldn't they wait until she's stable before performing cosmetic surgery?) and everything seems normal. Except that Rose wakes up weeks later with a vagina (could be an anus, actually) under her armpit and an insatiable need to thirst. On blood. Man blood!

Here's why I really like the casting of Chambers (Private Fantasies 4). She's comfortable in her own skin (and out of her clothes). She wouldn't think twice about walking around topless whether it serves the scene or not. Guess what else? She proves herself very capable as an actual actress. Somehow, she's able to maintain an innocence throughout the film despite what we know to be a fairly sordid film history. She may be the spreader of the foulest disease our neighbors to the north have ever encountered, but you wouldn't know it from spending time with her. Until, that is, she seduces you and sticks that penis-syringe into your own neck. In one scene, she was seducing a cow until the drunken farmer came stumbling in and attempted to rape her. He got fucked instead. These scenes were great, especialy the aftermath as Chambers gently carresses the stunned, near comatose victims.

The movie is, perhaps, anti-cosmetic surgery but there are no real villains here. Keloid was genuine in his desire to help Rose. Keloids business partner, and co-financier Murray, is a genuinely good guy who spends the majority of the film driving Rose's boyfriend around in an attempt to track her down. As the epidemic spreads, he decides he just wants to get home to his family. When was the last time you saw a good hearted executive in a horror picture? He's played by Joe Silver (Shivers) and brings the film some much needed humor. Not quite as much as the guy wearing the "jogging kills" tee shirt. That guy cracked me up. Rose's boyfriend, named Hart, is probably the least interesting character in the film. Unfortunately, he's there for long stretches so, at times, its a bit of a slog to get through.

Here's the nature of the disease. Rose injects a guy with her penis-thing. Guy passes out. When he wakes up he mindlessly starts biting people. Those bitten become infected. So, I guess my favorite scene is the one where Keloid, recently infected by Rose, tries to perform surgery. If I'm the nurse, I'm not quite sure I want to hand him those scissors. Also, I liked where they found the girl Rose was "making out with" in the hot tub (see poster art). It's the most haunting image of the picture that I didn't remember the first time I saw it (too drunk). So, here. I've saved you 90 minutes and given you the image for free. Enjoy.

What else can I say? Do you like it when porn stars appear in "regular" films? Do you like assholes in armpits? How about penises that poke out of said asshole and spread a form of fast moving rabies? I do, so I watched it and dug it. I'd even go so far as to say that this movie had more of an influence on recent fare such as 28 Days Later then Night of the Living Dead did. Martial law is declared in Montreal and the military doesn't seem to discriminate between infected and non-infected too much. There is a nice moment where a rabid guy attacks Hart's car and is promptly shot by a sniper. The military swoop in, sanitize the car, and wave Hart through. Business as usual.

Keep in mind, the ending is a downer and the action moves a bit slow at times. It takes a while before the shit hits the fan although there is a pretty spectacular car crash for a budget this size about 30 minutes in to tide you over. This is a "foaming at the mouth" picture that may have come after I drink Your Blood, but is certainly superior in every way. The camera moves around enough to keep us involved and creates a bit of tension in a couple scenes. The score helps as well.

Final thought: I guess I'm in no rush to have sex with Marilyn Chambers (or any other porn star) after viewing this one due to my crippling fear of needles. At least dip it in alcohol first.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Messiah of Evil (1972)

I love the seventies. It was a decade of long feathered hair, exposed skin, luscious lips, hip hugging pants (on women!), and...ahem...lack of grooming in certain areas. If you catch my drift. It was also a decade, apparently, where the guy (Willard Hyuck) that made one of the worst pictures of all time (Howard the Duck) could, somehow create something not quite as awful. Those were the fucking times.

I actually rue the fact that I didn't come of age in the seventies. I probably would have lost my virginity at about fifteen (as opposed to an age resembling something much later than that) to a buxom teacher's assistant or someone resembling Farrah Fawcet. Instead, I came of age when all the "cute" girls had high unmoveable hair, makeup caked faces, and yellow stained fingers from chain smoking marlboro reds. Whatever, I got screwed. Anyway, I watched this picture called Messiah of Evil which features an actress more beautiful than the lovely (then, certainly not now) Ms. Fawcet. I'm referring to Anitra Ford who is probably most famous for being an original "Price is Right" girl which, unfortunately, means she got fucked by Bob Barker. She gets fucked in this movie too. Literaly and then figuratively as she's eaten by a horde of cannibals inside the supermarket (not that uncommon an occurrence within the town center of Point Dune).

Messiah of Evil evokes Lovecraft with its use of an isolated coastal town and also its constant use of inner monologues. Unlike those Lovecraft stories that are good, it's interminable to sit through at times. A woman with one of oddest names for a main character ever, Arletty (Marianna Hill) travels back home to the town of Point Dune to find out what has become of her father, who after sending her some disturbing letters (also Lovecraftian) went missing. Her father, an artist, lived in a house by the shore. The walls of his home are adorned with paintings of ordinary people who appear to be doing nothing more than watching. In fact, one of my favorite scenes is when another young woman (this pic is full of em) is taking a bath (in a tub clearly constructed for this picture) and a group of people are painted on the wall as if they're her audience. The set design, for the most part, is terrific.

Like many Lovecraft tales (think "Shadows over Innsmouth") something is clearly not right in the town. First of all, there's a white guy, with black features, driving around in his pickup and killing people. Probably the first clue. Arletty, on the way into town, stops at a gas station where the attendant is seen firing a pistol blindly into the night. It's hilarious when he notices her pull up; He puts his gun in his pants and carries on as if everything is fine. Then the white-black guy shows up with a truck full of bodies (unbeknownst to Arletty) and murders the attendant as soon as she leaves.

Basically, what we have here is a zombie film. There are hints at some sort of infection, although this is never made clear. In the pictures best scene, another poor young woman decides to attend a film in town, a film which is clearly the worst edited western of all time. She sits down and notices one or two others in the theater. Slowly, more file in until the theater is full. It's a perfectly set up scene that really comes to a climax as soon as the young woman realizes that not one of them is watching the movie on screen. Unfortunately, for every scene like this, we are treated to a scene that just goes on and on and on, with zero sense of pacing. The grocery store scene I referenced above is great and all, but unfortunately, there's some awkward stilted stuff that leads up to it. Tighter pacing and a few dropped subplots would have resulted in a great little picture. Oh, and maybe a new director too...and a few more breasts.

It's a film worth checking out. For seventies horror, you could do much much worse (and also much much better). The performances are all pretty solid including Michael Greer who shows up at the house with a couple of hot broads (threesome?). Unfortunately, I watched the copy that came with my "50 Chilling Classics" movie pack so it's very possible some of the gore was edited out. A couple of the cuts during the flesh eating were a little too quick. Strange that they left in the scene where Arletty vomited up bugs (including what I think may have been a scorpion). Oh yeah, there's stuff about an actual messiah of evil who comes out of the sea every century or so and causes the moon to turn blood red. I think he was a crazy preacher that hooked up with the Donner party. Whatever. I did manage to make a few "jokes" while watching this such as "if I were a zombie would I be so picky as to insist on breast meat?" and "would eating a guy make me gay?"

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (1994)

Here's yet another film where all the critics, or at least 61% of them (it scored an absurd 39% on the tomatometer), were wrong. I'm not going to call it a great film, but it's certainly a very good one and features, perhaps, the greatest Robert Deniro performance of the last twenty years. His monster proves to be the most human character of the film.

If you know how to read then you should be familiar with the story. If not (you can read, but you haven't read this), then what the fuck are you waiting for? It's a great fucking novel man. Get on with it! Victor Frankenstein (Brannagh) is not really a man of hard science. As a relatively young man he travels to Ingolstadt to study medecine, but ends up accosting his professors for not teaching the works of long dead kooks, who practiced "witchcraft" and "alchemy". The school tries to teach him to preserve life, but he only wants to create it (apparently not in the biblical sense since his fiance is adopted sister Elizabeth, the sublime Helena Bonham Carter, and as far as I could tell they never once had "relations", i.e. a solid round of boning). Frankenstein falls in with a bit of a kook, an underused John Cleese, who teaches him about the reanimation of dead tissue. Then, the city is attacked by a plague and Cleese is murdered while trying to administer a vaccine. His murderer is hung, Frankenstein procures the body and the rest is, as they say, history.

I loved the reanimation method which involved a tank of amnionic fluid (Frankenstein waiting outside a birthing house while a nurse provides him with a bucket of the stuff in exchange for a few bucks is a classic moment), lightning, and I think some electric eels...or maybe they just stood in for the lightning. Shelly never really delved into the science behind Frankenstein's work, so this has always been open to interpretation. This method seems a bit more scientific than the other film version...or the method used in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. This picture is actually a bit too insane at times, a little too kinetic. Brannagh, who doubled as the director, apparently never met a shot he didn't like. If this thing had been edited a little tighter we could be discussing a masterpiece. The Set design is splendid, from the urban plague ridden nightmare of Ingolstadt to the serene aristocratic beauty of Geneva and finally to the frigid arctic, scenes that bookend the film. The scenes in the arctic have a strange beauty and appear shot on a stage which, in a strange old-timey way, enhances the atmosphere. It's no wonder that this is a companion piece of sorts to Bram Stoker's Dracula, another beautifuly shot yet batshit crazy picture, since both are produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

The acting in this picture is, almost across the board, outstanding. I'll just come out and say it though. As an actor, I can't stand Kenneth Brannagh. Luckily, he is ok here, but I can't help but think that if they had cast someone with a bit more range and a bit more legitimately intense (as opposed to simply playing intense which Brannagh does throughout) this picture would be the definitive adaptation. Hell, here's an idea. Reverse the roles played by Aidan Quinn and Brannagh. Quinn plays Captain Robert Walton, an arctic explorer obsessed with the northwest passage. His obsession is clearly used to parallel Frankenstein's. Brannagh I'm sure had his plate full directing the thing, so why not take the smaller, but still pivotal part. Also, Quinn's a better actor all around, so it's a win fucking win. Oh well, they'd never listen to me. Bonham Carter is terrific as Elizabeth, Frankenstein's bride to be and also his sister!!!! She gives her heart to Victor, but his creation, ahem, takes it for himself (great fucking moment).

It's Deniro, however, who ultimately makes this a picture worth watching. This is an oscar quality performance and the best yet portrayal of Frankenstein's abomination. Deniro brings layers to the "monster" never seen before. At one point, he tells Victor "I am full of love and rage. If I don't satisfy one, the other will consume me" or something close to that effect. The film's best scenes occur when Deniro (I don't really feel comfortable calling him a monster and since Frankenstein never gave him a name, we'll just go with Deniro) stumbles upon a farm house towards the start of winter. A poor family lives there, close to starving, unable to harvest their frozen fields. Deniro hides in the pig sty and, while they sleep, picks their crops and chops some firewood. He then watches and learns from them through the cracks in their cabin. Deniro doesn't blindly stumble upon the family like the original movie version would have. He is aware of his appearence, ashamed of his face. Deniro briefly befriends the blind old patriarch, touchingly refers to himself as "ugly", before being beaten away by the son. It's this moment when Deniro decides to seek vengeance for the creation of such a life, vengeance upon his father. Then later, he decides a fuck buddy will suffice ("if I can't have a wedding night, I'll be with you on yours").

That's about it. I personally love this picture and, once again, found a mini-masterpiece in a bargain bin for a mere $3.99. It's certainly not scary, but if you're looking for something with great atmosphere, a tragic anti-hero, a prissy mis-cast overacting Kenneth Brannagh, and a few scenes of shocking over the top gore, then look no further. If, on the other hand, you're looking for nudity, I suggest you rent Bram Stroker's Dracula and jerk off to the Monica Belluci scenes (or the Sadie Frost bangs a beast scene, if you're into that sort of thing). I know I will.

Monday, August 11, 2008

King Arthur Unrated Director's Cut (2004)

I was going to review this movie about a giant crocodile or possibly this film about a fellow sex addict named Caligula, but then I decided since I like that movie Excalibur so much, I should probably check out this movie about that same legend. Unfortunately, this picture follows the recent trend of placing myth within a historical context. The logic being that if you take out all the things that make such a story good (magicians, gods, naked broads, and so on) that, somehow, the story will be made better. Addition by subtraction, I guess. So, instead of a great sweeping tale of wonder and awe, we are given a realistic grime-soaked epic where Arthur is actually a Roman General near the end of their British occupation and Guinevere (Keira "do I look fat in this leaf-thong" Knightley) is the daughter of Merlin, who is, instead of a magician, the chief of some woodland savages. Instead of Richard Gere, Sir Lancelot is a foppish gay, etc. So, if you go in not expecting a story about a legend, but instead a "true" story about some, possibly, made up guy you will find much to enjoy.

This is a picture about destiny, fulfilling one's obligation, and the birth of a nation. Arthur and his Knights (Arthur is Christian, his Knights are pagan) have just fulfilled their contract to kill and maim for Rome. Now, they basically just want to go home and get laid, but Rome has one last job for them before they can retire. Rescue an important Roman family from the clutches of a Saxon army (led by Stellan "I'm just here for the paycheck and the free vacation" Skarsgard) and they will win their freedom.

I suppose I can only recommend this one if you care nothing about the accurate portrayal of history on film. Thankfully, I could really give a shit. Entertain me with some bloody action, a reasonably tight story, and bountiful boobs and I'm there. Unfortunately, the "bountiful boobs" are provided by Keira Knightley, who has none at all and doesn't even show what she does have.
At least there's some action, right? Well, yeah, there are some fights. Some very poorly shot fights. Lots of slow motion where you still can't tell what's happening. My favorite fight was when Arthur was fighting Cerdic (Skarsgard) and the warriors in the background were clearly just going through the motions (as if they didn't think they were even being filmed). Embarrassing.

The only standouts in the cast were Ray Winstone (always great) and the relatively unknown Ray Stevenson as two of Arthur's knights. Stevenson later appeared in the HBO show "Rome" where he stole most of his scenes as the loyal brute, Titus Pullo (and he got to bang Cleopatra before Caesar or Anthony). I'm really looking forward to him taking over the role of The Punisher from Thomas Jane this Christmas. He's perfect. Mr. Fantastic himself is Lancelot and is bland as ever. Not good when you're playing the most charismatic of the knights. I'm supposed to believe that Guinevere would let him put it in her? Don't worry, he doesn't in this picture since this is based on "history" and not myth. Whatever. Clive Owen was miscast as Arthur. I don't know, I just have trouble believing him as Arthurian. Something about Owen seems decidedly modern. Must be his severely limited range. It's kinda like casting Keitel as Judas I guess.

This one was directed by Antoine Fuqua who has made a terrific picture (Training Day) and some not so terrific ones (everything else). He's got a good eye (except for action, though maybe that is the fault of the second unit). I just wish he had chosen to make a real King Arthur movie. I saw his unrated director's cut (as soon as you slap the "unrated" label on something the masses swarm as if they expect to see double penetration or flying heads and geysers of blood. Sorry, this thing is still pretty tame in my opinion). Where the fuck is Morgana and Mordred? Why the fuck is Merlin the leader of a tribe of una-bombers? Fuck, Merlin shows up once or twice but never gives any sage advice. At least let the old bastard apply a "magic" balm to some wounds every once in a while. He lends his disheveled homeless army to Arthur for the final fight, but then just sits on the sidelines and watches. Although, in his defense, some of the broads in war paint are pretty smoking.

There are some interesting plot strands that are completely dropped like the conflict between Skarsgard and his son. The son doesn't seem happy when his father gets pissed and kills one of his own men. It's an interesting character moment but, then later, after enduring a humiliating mental beat down by his father the son knifes one of his own guys as well. So much for nobility. This guys an asshole too. It's a wonder that the bad guys can even field an army for the climactic showdown. This picture also has the requisite scene where two combatants spot each other across a crowded battlefield. They walk towards one another (in slow motion of course) ocassionally pausing to slay an enemy that gets in their way. If I was cast as an extra in this picture, I would have snuck up on one and knifed him in the back just to prove to the director how fucking stupid this cliche actually is.

It's possible I know nothing about history. Almost certain actually. Maybe Arthur did exist. Feel free to call me out on this in the comments. I just think it's sad that some kids might grow up watching this movie thinking Arthur was some grimey douche who fought an even grimier douche on some hill. Where's the fucking Magic? I can't wait for the Clash of the Titans remake where Perseus cuts off Medusa's head only to realize it's just a bitch with really thick dreadlocks.

I guess just stick with your Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven Unrated director's cut DVDs.