Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Driller Killer (1979)

I blew it. This isn't even a fucking horror movie. As far as I can tell, it's just a painfully long music video for some shitty punk band I can only assume must have been friends with the director, Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, Body Snatchers). I think this picture's reputation is based more on it being banned from the UK in the early 80s (and therefore an infamous "video nasty"). It has several elements I like in a picture; breasts, lesbianism, gore. So, there is that. Unfortunately, it's all presented without a modicum of suspense, tension, or story (other things I like in pictures). I think Ferrara's an interesting filmmaker so I guess I can chalk this up to being his first picture. His Body Snatchers is near brilliant. This? Slightly less so.

Ferrara, himself, stars as Reno, a painter struggling to make it in New York City. He lives with his girlfriend Carol (recently divorced) and friend, also Carol's secret lover, Pamela (who appears to be always under the influence). They struggle to pay the bills and usually can't. Rent is due, the phone bills due, they can't even afford to go out. Reno is working on a painting of a buffalo that should land him big bucks with a distributor only it's taking him forever to finish the thing. Can't rush an artist I guess. To make matters worse, an awful punk band has moved in down the hall. They play their shitty music all hours, apparently never sleeping, eating, or shitting. Reno begins to lose it. He starts having bload soaked visions. He witnesses a knifing from the rooftop and is more than a little intrigued. Later, he witnesses a commercial for a new kind of portable drill, the "porto pak" (only $19.95!). Things are looking up for him because that's a pretty sweet looking drill. It does other things too, but who needs that shit. Also, the homeless problem is getting worse in the city, bunch of degenerate low life scum. Buy the drill (I'm guessing he stole the money), kill a few homeless, finish the painting, collect his money, and things will be a-ok.

The synopsis of this thing (not mine, the one with the dvd) wasn't exactly correct. It claims that the killings are a part of the product of his "masterpiece" being laughed out of a distributor's office. That part actually comes towards the end. Reno's killed about 30 people by then. The killings at first are shocking. Reno hovering over a dererlict, drill in hand. The first one is incredibly graphic as he basically drills up and down the poor guy's chest and stomach with blood spurting everywhere. As Reno realizes he loves killing almost as much as he hates the homeless, the kills come faster and furiouser. Fuck, they actually become quite comical and I'm not sure that was the intent. We'll see two bums talking to each other. Suddenly, the tense music kicks in as Reno charges into the scene and drills one of them before the other knows what's happening. After the powerful first kill, they're all pretty much like this. There's no suspense as to who will get killed next. The kill scenes aren't exactly constructed so much as, I don't know, made up as they went along? The movie is a long 90 minutes and could have easily dropped 10-15.

Which isn't too say I hated it exactly. I actually sorta admired the thing. Aside from the gore and the pretty sweet, slightly gratuitous, lesbian shower scene (featuring Reno's nude roommates), the script was full of little moments that held my interest. I liked the opening scene with Carol reading the depressing newspaper stories; "boy hijacks bus and kills two" and "poodle accidentaly microwaved explodes - owner dies of heart attack." Reno had a funny moment when his roommates score free tickets to see the band next door. Reno, scoffs, but eventually relents muttering "at least at a club I can walk out." Pamela offers a suggestion for Reno in his dealings with the art distributor; "you should let him stick it in your ass. use KY Jelly. It won't hurt." His look is priceless and then he hits the streets to murder some more bums. By the way, every person killed onscreen is a man. I think Reno sees himself in them, in more ways than one. Homophobe.

It's not a proper halloween movie, but it has some moments. Ferrara gets off some funny lines but his descent into madness is completely unconvincing. Taxi Driver this is not. I actually somewhat enjoyed the cheap look of the picture, all set in New York. The bums were probably real bums that Ferrara and his crew threw a few bucks at so they could pour blood on them. The score has its moments (loved the heartbeats leading up to a kill), but there was way too much of that punk band playing the same song over and over. The ending rips off Psycho; guy in drag, shower scene. I'll leave you with the art dealer's opinion of Reno's work; "no, no, no, this isn't right! This is shit!" I should steal that line to describe this picture. Ferrara has gotten much better with time. This picture hasn't.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Black Sunday (1960)

It's about time they made a movie (over 40 years ago) about a woman justifiably burned at the stake. I think those pitchfork mobs with torches were always given a bad rap. I mean, in the original Frankenstein they aren't portrayed in a very positive light and yet were acting in the right, in my opinion, since that behemoth murdered a little girl. I'm sure there are other pictures featuring these kind of mobs, usually taking place in eastern europe someplace, where they are portrayed as a bunch of raving, puritanical, monsters that are completely unsympathetic to the monster they are chasing. And then there is that Joan of Arc broad who probably deserved what she got as well. Know-it-all bitch. Also, the salem witch trials. You're telling me not a single one of those women was a witch? Or, at least, not rightfully god fearing like a real american woman should be? The only way to cure that type of blasphemy is through a purifying fire my friends. Yet, history, and the movies, looks down upon these mobs. Have you ever heard the term "mob mentality" used to refer to something good? Didn't think so, at least not within the last century or so. I think there's safety in numbers. It saves you from having to come up with your own opinion, formulate your own ideas. Also, if you're wrong you can just blame it on the other guy. Let's bring back the pitchfork mobs is what I'm saying.

Anyway, Black Sunday is the first picture Mario Bava directed and probably the best. Filmed in stark black and white, set in Moldavia (eastern europe somewhere on the road to Moscow). The film begins with one of those purifications by fire that I mentioned earlier during the seventeenth century. The strangely beautiful (I'd do her but she's pretty weird lookin) witch, Asa (Barbara Steele), and her lover, fellow satanist Javutich, have been sentenced to death by an angry mob (led by Asa's own brother). This is a great fucking scene, the best in the picture. Perhaps one of the best ever filmed. The atmosphere just oozes out of every frame, glorious fires, stakes, fog, crickety looking trees and a hulking, hooded executioner carrying a rather large mallet. Asa is sentenced to wear the "mask of satan" (alternate title for the movie). It's just a mask really, except for the metal spikes on the inside. Asa quickly curses her brother, her ancestors, etc before the mask is placed upon her face. That's not really the worst part though. Those nails haven't gone too deep into her flesh yet so here comes the big executioner with his hammer to really pound their point home. Her scream is cut short the instant the hammer connects and blood gushes from the eyeholes. Not exactly what you'd expect to see in a picture released in 1960. Unfortunately, the fires were put out by the devil's rain that immediately followed and the mob dispersed in a mad panic. They had to settle for burying Javutich (his mask was placed upon his face before the movie even started) in a graveyard "reserved for murderers" and Asa was laid to rest in the tomb beneath her families castle. Her crypt even comes with a window so she can see the cross that will "keep her nailed down forever".

I won't say that Bava completely blew his load with this first scene. I'm pretty sure he rested up for a few hours before continuing. The next load just wasn't quite as big. How could it be? The rest of the picture is still pretty good though. Two centuries later, Dr. Kruvayan and his protoge, Andre, are traveling through Moldavia on their way to Moscow for some sort of science-y conference. The wheel on their carriage falls off and the wander around while the drunken, imbecilic driver fixes it. They stumble upon Asa's crypt, Kruvayal fends off the worst looking bat in film history, destroys the cross above Asa's crypt (accidentaly, while fending off the bat), shatters the protective glass window and cuts himself in the process (accidentaly, while fending off the bat), etc, etc, you get the idea. His blood drips into Asa's eyeless sockets allowing her to return to the realm of the living. Barbara Steele also plays the role of Katja, Asa's doppleganger and ancestor. Asa's goal is to possess Katja and reawaken her love, Javutich, so they can live happily ever after (forever) while causing murder and mayhem amongst humankind.

It's undeniable that Tim Burton took some of his visual style from Bava and, in particular, Black Sunday. This picture looks very much like his Sleepy Hollow. We even have a protagonist, Andre, who is unabashedly a man of science although, in the end, he's a little easier to convince than Depp's Ichabod Crane was. The castle of Asa's ancestors (now occupied by Katja, her father, her brother, etc) is one of those classic gothic castles with hidden passageways, trap doors, and flammable tapestries. Every frame is perfectly set designed from the trees to the roads. It all looks artificial, but that only serves to enhance the otherworldly atmosphere. I thought the score was terrific but since I'm pretty much tone deaf I'll leave it for others to describe. It would have fit in perfectly with the scores from the old Universal monster movies.

It's hard for me to judge the performances. The picture is dubbed, sometimes badly, and who knows how closely the lines being said match up with the original screenplay. Steele, as the witch, is creepy when she's telling her victims to "look into my eyes". As Katja, however, she is much less interesting. Her exchanges with potential love interest Andre, include lines like "I feel like I'm being consumed hour by hour like this garden" to which he responds, "you mustn't give in to despair." Then, I think they banged (off screen). A little too soap opery for my taste. Arturo Dominici played the guy-witch, Javutich, and he was a pretty scary fuck. Looked kinda like Gary Oldman only with horrible pock marks (an unfortunate side effect of "the mask of satan", Asa had them too). Unfortunately, for a guy that's been dead for a couple centuries and with all the powers of satan behind him, he's not a very good fighter. His skill set involves rolling around on the ground. Andre is far from what I would call masculine (the guys a pussy pretty much, a love struck motherfucking pussy) and yet he holds his own with the guy/man-witch/demon/whatever.

There are, I'm sorry to admit, a few moments of unintentional hilarity. One being when the castle dogs have had their throats slit by a possessed victim of the witch (2nd straight movie where a dog dies!). Well, I don't know, I guess there's a pool of blood on the floor but those dogs still seem pretty happy and alive. They almost saved the scene with a quick cut, but I am pretty sure the one on the left rolled over to have its tummy rubbed. I also loved how the answer to all of life's problems (and horrors) can be solved with drugs. Katja, upon seing a hand reaching through the drapes of her balcony, shrieks in terror. Her brother and Andre rush in and can't find anything: "All clear, I'll get the sedative". Again, this just might be an issue with the dubbing.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a great picture that you can get lost in if you appreciate some great atmospherics. There are some terrific effects work here; Asa's reforming, scorpion infested eyes, a burning corpse, Asa's exposed rib cage (mid transformation). Andre though is a pussy throughout. When he thinks Katja dead he intones "my life is finished now..." Jesus man, get a hold of yourself. You just met the broad five minutes ago. Plenty of fish, or hookers, in the sea. Hell, even Asa is looking pretty fine. Just wait a few hours and I'm sure she'll be fully operational. I bet she's dirtier than Katja too. Those satanists always are. Alas, we'll never find out because here comes yet another angry mob with torches, a mere two hundred years after the last one. I wonder if masturbation was invented yet? And, if so, was it a stake burning offense? My advice for Andre would be to add Katja to ye olde spank bank and just move on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Deathdream (1974)

Classic. Yup, that's the first word that came to mind after viewing this picture. It's a fucking classic that, unfortunately, very few people have probably heard of. Bob Clark, killed last year in a car crash, directed two of the better horror movies from the 70s. This and the influential Black Christmas. Clark would eventually direct another, albeit wildly different, classic called A Christmas Story. Perhaps you've heard of it? Of course, he was also the genius behind such garbage as Porky's I-II, Rhinestone, and The Karate Dog (haven't seen it, but come on, really?). I still haven't seen Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things which sounds like it should be fantastic in every way based on the title alone.

Deathdream, based on "The Monkey's Paw" (haven't read it), is one of those pictures that went by many different names. Fuck, the title credits list it as Dead of Night (it's also known as Night Walk, The Night Andy Came Home, Uncle Sam 2: The Prequel, The Veteran, etc). It's a Vietnam war era story about the Brooks family whose son, Andy (Richard Backus), has been away in "the shit". The picture opens with Andy, apparently, being killed (it's a confusing scene, much like the war). His death is confirmed when a representative from the state department arrives at the Brooks home to deliver the news to his family. His mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin) goes immediately into denial and, later, is shown chanting "he's not dead" over a lit candle (hmmm...). His father, Charlie (John Marley, aka the guy that woke up next to a horse head in The Godfather) struggles to maintain his composure, himself a veteran of WWII. His sister, Cathy reacts as most sisters do, with blubbering hysterics. His a dog.

So, imagine their surprise when a few nights later Andy comes home. The family is startled by a noise and heads downstairs, together. Andy's appearence is a startlingly chiling reveal and the look on his face, well, it's fucking creepy as hell. How did he get home? Shouldn't he be dead? What the fuck? I guess it's not that much of a stretch to imagine the state department making such an egregious blunder. Probably happens all the time. Maybe his dog tags got switched? Perhaps what we witnessed in the picture's first five minutes wasn't exactly what we thought?

Andy, however, is clearly not the same. He is completely emotionless, zombie-like if you will. His answers to questions are short and curt. He doesn't eat. He doesn't sleep. He spends his time sitting in his room, in the dark, rocking back and forth in his chair. Ocassionaly, he disappears at night. On the night he arrived home, a truck driver was brutally murdered after having made the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker. There was a needle mark in his arm and his throat was jaggedly cut. Was this Andy's handiwork? What the fuck happened to him over there?

Fucking A man, they just don't make them like this anymore. Everything about this picture worked for me. The performances are terrific, natural. John Marley is great as the father, the only one willing to admit that perhaps Andy isn't quite the same. Lynn Carlin is, I guess, a typical mom if your mom was Martha Stewart. She blindly loves her son (as a parent should) and completely ignores his changing demeanor like when he strangled the family dog with one hand in front of some terrified neighborhood kids. It's a shocking scene. I expected him to release the dog just short of death but, no, Andy keeps going and then tosses the poor dog aside. If only the poor little guy knew karate. Anyway, this doesn't sit well with Pops ("That was the best dog I ever had"). This is most evident in an earlier scene where Pops, sitting alone and wondering what went wrong, calls the little dog up to his lap so he can pet him. It was one of those little yippy dogs (a schnauzer or a shnizit or something like that) so I wondered what the big deal was. The mother's last scene with Andy is actually pretty heartbreaking in its way. Even the minor characters, the mailman, the doc, Andy's girlfriend from before the war, the drunk guy in a diner, are completely believable (and in several cases funny).

Clark's never been one to make a pretty-to-look-at film (A Christmas Story is one of the more brilliantly ugly classics around) and that is certainly the case here. This is a portrait of middle america through the eyes of middle americans and middle americans and the towns they live in aren't always pretty. There are some gore effects in this picture and you might be pleased to learn that they were created by none other than Tom Savini. If that doesn't mean anything to you than we're finished. This was Savini's first film (he was billed as an assistant, but his stamp is all over it). It's not a splatterfest by any means. I'm trying not to spoil this one too much and to describe some of the effects would be to do just that. Here's a hint, probably too much of one, but fuck it. At one point, Andy sneaks out of the house and we see him scratching something on a gravestone in the local cemetary. We don't learn what he etched until the very last scene. No one leaves this picture happy, let's just say that.

Of course, this is all a metaphor for the problems facing soldiers returning from Vietnam. There are moments of power equal to anything in Coming Home and, astoundingly, set within the trappings of a genre film! The thing is, this picture might not have worked as well as it did had I seen it 10, 15, 20 years ago. Now, it's more relevant than ever with the situation in Iraq. It's like our own fucking Vietnam. Soldiers are returning now as fucked up as ever, families systematically being destroyed (I can't imagine anything worse though than what happened to the Brooks family). Anyway, this is a good fucking picture, way better than Uncle Sam, although I like that one too. War is hell if you die. Hell if you live. I guess it's no picnic if you're somewhere in between either. Also, there is a great scene at a drive-in where some poor schlub gets hit by a car and then driven over. War is no place for me I guess because I laughed and laughter has no place in war. Only the insane laugh at death or think a death that happens in a movie is real, for that matter. No idea where I'm going with this so I'll just end things here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Christine (1983)

I've never been a car person. I've owned one in my life (a honda civic) that I pretty much drove until it was no longer fit for travel (took me about two years). Something about the rocker panel. Wasn't even sure what that was but whatever. Since I live in a city now it's easy to get by without one. Still, I guess I understand the fascination. My dad is a mustang guy, watches Nascar religuously and always seems to root for the FORDs. There were always kids in high school with their heads constantly looking under the hoods of their cars. I don't know, always thought that was a waste of time. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a nice looking car but to show me the engine and act like I should be impressed by your eight cylinders (or whatever), well I just don't get that. I can check the oil, that's about it. The rest might as well be brain surgery. Maybe I've just never had the right car.

Christine is a picture about a car that seems right and the kid that loves her. More than anything (even girls). The twist is that the car loves him back. Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) starts out in this thing as your typical high school nerd; socially awkward, poorly dressed, oversized glasses, terrible with girls, constantly bullied, etc. Strangely enough, his best friend is one of the more popular kids in school, Dennis (John Stockwell); handsome, athletic, most likely not a virgin (if we are to believe him anyway). I loved the relationship between the two at the beginning. Dennis refers to a sophomore girl as a "sperm bank". Arnie counters that he doesn't think he's got enough to "make a minimum deposit". Dennis delivers the picture's best line when he says "what are you talking about, you're carrying your whole life savings between your legs." After the first day back at school, Dennis is driving Arnie home when Arnie spots something off the side of the road, an old beat up red Plymouth Fury. He's instantly smitten and purchases it on the spot. His justification? "For the first time in my life I've spotted something that's uglier than me.....and I can fix her."

Christine is not your ordinary car, however. In the opening (Detroit 1957, twenty years before the events of the picture) we witness her birth in an auto factory. She takes off a workers hand with her hood and, somehow, manages to asphixiate another worker that would have the audacity to smoke inside of her. She's evil from the start. No explanation. No possession by a demon or some deranged serial killer who met his demise at the exact same time she was conceived (at least, not that we know of). She just is. I'll be the first to admit that this is a silly fucking idea for a movie, but somehow it works. It's so professionally made and the actors take their parts so seriously that the premise never devolves into unintentional hilarity. Based on a Stephen King novel, one of his few early novels that I just couldn't bring myself to read, and as directed by John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween), Christine is quite simply a deranged story about love and revenge. Unfortunately, it's a bit too light on the gore (as in, there isn't any) and there's a complete lack of nudity. Interestingly enough, they were forced to go back and add a lot of "fucks" and "cunts" into the script to ensure a hard R (without them, this might have been a PG). Imagine that, the producers actually desired an R rating! "no ones going to pay to see a PG rated horror movie", they said. Yet another reason that PG-13 was the worst thing to ever happen to moving pictures.

Keith Gordon (future director of the great WWII film, A Midnight Clear) is terrific as Arnie "Cunt-ingham" (label courtesy of resident Bully, named Buddy). His character undergoes an incredible transformation from shy, nerdy Arnie to arrogant, asshole-like, contact wearing Arnie. Hell, he even gets the girl that Dennis had eyes for. He was the kind of kid that would sit at home playing scrabble with his parents and complain the next day because his mom wouldn't let him use "fellatio" to achieve a triple word score. Of course, now he's taking girls out to the drive-in and having them grab his junk (unfortunately, it's through the pants). As Arnie is transformed, so is the car. Into a thing of beauty (I guess). It's a little odd though that Arnie always calls her by her name and acts like he'd rather be with her than Leigh (his girl). He doesn't like when anyone else lays a hand (as in smacks or fondles I guess) his car or talks shit about her. Even worse, Christine doesn't like it. Wha...Wha....What?

This is a good one folks, probably a borderline classic (not quite what I had promised you but it will have to do). The car takes over Arnie's life and ruins his relationships with his friends and family. Oh, and the car goes off on some late night jaunts by itself to get rid of those that have come between it and Arnie. The image of Christine, in flames, chasing after Buddy is a great one. Most of the kills either take place off screen (for instance, we cut to black just before Christine tears a guy in two) or are completely bloodless. We learn the car's previous owner "killed himself" in the car and that his wife and daughter also met their ends on it's vinyl seats. There are some good supporting performances from Robert Prosky as Mr. Darnell (the guy that owns the junkyard where Arnie restores Christine) and Harry Dean Stanton as the detective investigating the mysterious car related deaths that seem to point directly to Arnie and his car.

Hmmm, I feel like I'm missing something here. Ok, isn't it kind of weird that Christine's radio can only get 50's rock and roll? How did Christine cause Leigh to choke on her muffin or whatever that was she was eating? How the fuck hard is it to get away from a car that's chasing you? Too often, her victims tried to outrun Christine in the middle of the road. What the fuck? Go in a building or off road it if that's your only option. Wouldn't you think it strange that her odometer goes in reverse? Finally, I fucking hate George Thourogood's "Bad to the Bone". I guess this was one of the first pictures that it appeared in, so I'll give it a pass.

It's a recommendation! It's certainly not the best work Carpenter has done (in the documentary, he said "I just wanted to work"). It's got a solid, and subtle, Carpenter score, lots of decent rock and roll (except that song I mentioned), some great visuals and solid performances. I can't imagine the source material as being anything other than terrible. I mean, an evil car can work for just under two hours but how the fuck am I going to enjoy the premise for 10-20 hours?? Not happening. There's a reason the Maximum Overdrive story (what was that called?) was a short story. Anyway, good picture, buckle up my friends and enjoy. It's going to be "a hell of a ride" (I think I took this quote from Total Recall). Also, the last shot promises a sequel but, come on now, that would be ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

I think this is probably the greatest horror picture of all time (amongst the ones I've seen of course). If any of you fuckers chime in with "the remake was better" or "this is overrated" I will proceed to write off all your future opinions completely (now stepping off soap box). I'm kidding about that last part. I realize there is a certain audience that this film might not work for, the type of audience that requires excessive gore, pretty actors, and maybe an absurd twist or something. That's fine. You have no taste, but that's fine. This is the first bonafide classic of the month and, hopefully, it won't be the last. I've been resisting a write up because, frankly, it's just so good. Also, there's probably been more written about this picture than anything I've covered here. What can I possibly add that hasn't already been said. The answer? Pretty much not a god damned thing. Here goes.

This picture will disturb the shit out of you. You'll feel dirty afterwards, maybe find yourself taking a shower. The opening crawl (read by John Laroquette) and the credits are a mastework in their own right. The credits occur over the sound of digging, ripping (i'm guessing sinew), and breaking (bone) as the now-famous flash bulb illuminates the hellish visions of decayed bodies and their various parts. It's a hot as hell summer day in Texas (August 18, 1973) and a news broadcast tells us of a series of grave robberies, where the corpses-skeletons have been propped up in grisly fashion, art of the macabre. Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her friends are traveling through Texas to visit the rural vacant home of her now deceased grandparents. Along for the ride are her wheelchair bound brother Franklin, Her boyfriend Jerry, Kirk, and Pam. As Laroquette's opening narration reveals, "what started out for them as an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare".

I'm guessing you've all seen this, right? Part of the brilliance of this picture is just in how un-stylized the entire thing is. Unlike the remake which removed the horror element the second the camera entered the recently blown out hole of that girl's head in the film's first five minutes, an admittedly cool shot that, unfortunately, doesn't do much except tell you it's just a movie. Everything about this picture seems natural. The look is stark and strangely beautiful (that's Texas for you I guess). The score is incredibly spare (with the occassional metal clanging sounds happening during the creepy parts). This is a magnificently directed picture by Tobe Hooper (his first) who would unfortunately never reach these heights again.

I dug the performances from the kids. They didn't seem like actors at all. Of course, it doesn't take long before Franklin (Paul Partain) begins to grate on the ol' nerves but that's to be expected. The guy was dragged on this trip by his sister into a part of the country that isn't exactly wheel chair accessible. Actually, much of the early parts of the film are told from his perspective. There's a funny moment when they reach their grandparents home and Franklin is stuck downstairs by himself. He begins to mock their laughter and pucker his lips, stick out his tongue, and spit while imitating his sister: "come on Franklin! It's gonna be a fun trip." Franklin is the only one that feels any kind of fear at the beginning which is a product of his general helplessness. He exhibits caution when they pick up Edwin Neil's insane hitchhiker ("I think we just picked up Dracula.") and then wonders why the guy cut his hand and burned the photo of them in an apparently ritualistic moment ("you think I said somethin to make him mad?").

I remember watching Casablanca for the first time in a class and absolutely falling in love with it. Afterwards, I was dismayed to hear several classmates ripping on it for what they deemed a cheesy, cliche-ridden picture. Well guess what fuck nuts? That picture started the cliches! If you can't view a picture through the scope of the era when it was made then I feel sorry for you. There is no greater movie watching experience then to lose yourself in a different time. Same thing here. This is the first picture, I think, that had a creepy gas station attendant that ended up being a part of the nightmare. This guy is played by Jim Siedow and is billed simply as "old man". He seems a bit too nice at first and he ain't got no gas ta boot. What he does have though is plenty of barbecue. Remember that picture Nothing But Trouble? There's not a doubt in my mind that Dan Akroyd ripped off Siedow for his performance. He's also the only guy that reprised his role for the sequel where he was billed as "the cook" I believe. Quick note on the sequel. I'm glad Hooper went in a different direction for that one. It's brilliant in it's own way. One of the most underrated pictures from the eighties. Someday I'll get to writing about it. Anyway, Siedow is the kinda guy that can poke you with a broom handle while telling you to "calm down and everything will be just fine." He's hilarious, at times creepy, and never likes to be undermined by his own family (do not tell him he's "just a cook").

That family includes the man-child in need of no introduction, Leatherface (played by Gunnar Hanson). Leatherface's entrance in this picture is one of the greatest moments in horrordom. As Kirk wanders into that house, looking to purchase some gasoline for their van, he stumbles and, in that instant, sees a big hulking man with a giant hammer. It happens so fast and is absolutely shocking. Kirk is dragged into a room and a sliding metal door is slammed shut. Leatherface is a genuine character in this thing. We're of the impression that he's more scared than anything. He flails about like a child that doesn't know his own strength, stalks around the house looking for more intruders even when there are none. This is the aspect I missed most from those fucking soulless remakes. Also, there's minimal gore in this thing. The horror comes from what we imagine happens to Kirk behind that metal door. What happens to Pam after she is slapped, still very much alive, on that meathook. Flashing back to the hitchiker for a moment, we might remember his little story about how to make "head cheese". That's just one option for dinner that night I guess. Maybe there will be some leftovers for Taco night.

There are a few shots that exhibit some style, I'm not gonna lie. As Pam, walks towards the house (and her demise) the camera looks up at her from behind, a shot that has been mimiced in several films (notably Cabin Fever and Doomsday). There's a simple matter-of-fact scene when Pam and Kirk discover a camoflauged area, presumably containing the cars of past victims. The scene is not lingered on like it would be today. It's more along the lines of "huh, how about that. Ya know what? I'm hungry." The kids do things that kids would do when they're not aware of any danger. Wander off by themselves until just Sally and Franklin are left behind by the van. This leads to a terrifying scene where Sally is forced to push Franklin's chair through the pitch black woods as they call out for their friends. Not a good idea I guess but, then again, they don't know they're in a horror movie.

The last 20-30 minutes basically feature poor Marilyn Burns screaming as she runs for her life. There's a brief intermission when they all sit down to have dinner and then the chase resumes. The infamous dinner scene. How'd that go in the remake? Oh wait, they forgot about it. Fuck man, this thing introduces us to granpa, "the best killer there ever was" (with a cattle hammer anyway). Unfortunately, he's lost it in his old age and i couldn't help but laugh as he attempted to de-brain Sally, now covered in blood. The dinner scene is all about the family and their (our?) warped values. These guys (where have the women gone?) eat together, slay together (except for Siedow, he "never much had the stomach for it"), I'd prefer to not know if they lay together. I think my favorite moment of the entire picture was when Siedow enters the house, takes one look at the recently chainsawed front door and bellows to the hitchiker "Look what your brother did to the door! Has he no pride in his home!?" Love that guy.

It's a classic alright. I've written more than I intended. The last image is an iconic one with Leatherface swinging his saw in the air like some crazy kid. Soon, he'll learn to appreciate women more. He'll realize that they're not just good for chasing and sawing up. Check out the sequel if you want to see him reach puberty and acquire a girlfriend. Now that I've seen the first one again, let me just say that I don't feel that dirty.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

October got off to a pretty good start and then I guess I started slacking (or drinking). I'm still planning on exceeding last year's numbers (twelve reviews) for the month. Maybe thirteen? By the way, I'm counting my "return to the grindhouse" posting as two reviews. Hopefully, I'll be able to work a few classics into the mix by month's end. Unfortunately, this won't be one of them.

Also, what's with my strange habit of reviewing sequels without reviewing the originals? I'm sure my "blog followers" (all 1 of you) are as confused as I am; Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Mimic 3, Exorcist III, The Hidden 2, Jack Frost 2, and on and on. And now this thing. I plan to get to the originals someday. I guess I just have a thing for part IIs and IIIs. Also, the originals, in most cases, are actually good. Quality pictures kinda go against everything I stand for. In addition, sequels go better with booze. Coulda used some for Sleepaway Camp 2. I did this thing dry. Thank christ it was mercifully short (a mere 79 minutes). I saw the original a little while back and I was full in the bag at the time. It was the tail end of a triple feature so what do you expect? The only thing I remembered was the big reveal at the end (how can one possibly forget? She's got a penis?! Whoa...).

Luckily, they recount the plot of the first one as a campfire story except the camp has changed from Camp Arawak to Camp Rolling Hills or Camp Running Pines or something like that, I forget. These are the kind of camps I wish my parents had sent me to when I was a teen. Horny girls fornicating with anything that moves. Except for the killing since I guess that's not too fun of an activity. The campfire tale is interrupted by counselor Angela who scolds the young woman delivering the story ("the killer slaughtered 30 campers, was a guy pretending to be a woman, and then later had a sex change that we, the tax payers, financed, etc"). Wait a minute? Angela? He/She kept the same name!? The storyteller is brought out into the woods by Angela and promptly "sent home".

This is a very funny picture I think. Angela is played by Pamela "sister of Bruce" Springsteen and it's a pretty solid performance. All she really wants out of life is to run a camp full of good kids but, unfortunately, these kids are too into showing off their boobies, smoking pot, drinking, having sex in the woods, and running their amateur pornography distribution businesses. Not things good kids typically partake in. Again, why the fuck didn't my parents send me here? Jesus, I went to Camp Sunset (or sunrise, who the fuck can remember?) and it was almost as gay as Sleepaway Camp I. I was a cub scout at the time and I seem to remember winning an eagle feather at the awards ceremony the final night. The eagle feather basically means you are a good kid and a dork and will not be having sex with a lady anytime soon. Winning that fucking feather set my development back a good ten years I would think. Also, my frog lost it's race and my "cabin" was full of bees. Not a good week from what I remember. Oh, and I failed the swimming test which means I had to swim in the kiddie section all week while my friends got to swim wherever the fuck they wanted. Shit man, I think that feather I "won" was a pity feather. In addition, no one got murdered that week. I do wonder what the counselors were doing after we went to bed. Actually, no I don't. They were all guys.

This movie is not exactly horror. We immediately know who the killer is and that pretty much destroys the suspense. There are some pretty funny scenes though involving Angela taking bad girls aside and drilling, strangling, stabbing, chainsawing, grilling, stuffing in a shit-piss-leach filled toilet to death. She remains cheerful throughout and always seems to cap off a kill with a sweet little line like "once I start a task I always finish" or "no more whining" or "goodnight campers". Always the dilligent counselor. It's for this attitude that she won "counselor of the week" courtesy of Uncle John (guy who runs camp) . Uncle John lost patience with her though after she "sent everyone home" and fires her. This doesn't go over too well and so she's forced to send him home as well. I think Uncle John was a pretty good guy that just needed a better process for screening his counselors.

I don't know, this is a pretty bad picture that manages to be fun despite itself while serving as a microcosm for everything that was right and wrong about the 80s (mediocre slasher films, mullets, hair metal, camel toe). One kid in a pool (what kind of a lake-side camp has an inground pool??) delivers the pictures funniest line when, upon seeing Ally (hot slut who constantly shows her boobs) in a wet t-shirt blurts out "Hey Emilio! Party hats at twelve o'clock!". I loved those fucking kids. The picture references Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre all in the same scene. It's not scary at all or even close to good for that matter. Nearly everything about the production is mediocre (gore effects, atmosphere, acting) but fuck it man, this was pretty fun. I had a good time with it and I didn't have one drop of the sauce. Ms. Springsteen returns for the next sequel so I'll get to it at some point. Just don't bother with the teaser trailer on the dvd. It's pretty much just a still of the title. I guess it must be pretty hard to live in her brother's shadow so I can see why she'd hack out a career in schlock. She does play the guitar and sing a little song at one point that was pretty fun so maybe she could have been successful in that field or at least land a job with the E Street band in the future. Bruce can't say no to his sister, can he?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

House of Wax (2005)

If you're ever going on a road trip with a bunch of college friends I think it would probably be prudent to take along an extra fanbelt, maybe a few jugs of gasoline as well, at least enough to make it to the next town which is invariably 20 or so miles away from wherever you broke down. House of Wax is the story of just such a breakdown except these kids actually managed to bring along two cars, one of which remains unscathed. Why not pile everyone in? That way they can all make the football game or whatever and not be murdered by the freaks living on the other side of the woods. It would seem an easy answer to an easy question. Except, the car that broke down was pretty sweet. Kid'll be damned if he's gonna leave it to be stripped. Also, no one's been killed yet.

Paris Hilton is in this but don't fret my friends. She acquits herself ok and then gets a pipe through her head. Surprisingly, not much resistance. The girl might even have a bit of a self deprecating sense of humor as there are several shots of her and her on-screen boyfriend, Blake (Robert Ri'chard), making out as they are recorded by a camcorder. Then, later, the killer documents her demise in a similar fashion. Paris' character Paige may even be pregnant which is a bit of a kick in the balls. It also might be one of the picture's few attempts at social commentary. Better Paris receive steel pipe through the noggin' then to let the sexed up socialite unleash her spawn onto the world. I don't know, I think she's probably grown up so maybe the commentaries a bit outdated by now. What I'm sayin is I'd do her.

Ms. Hilton aside, this film firmly belongs to Elisha Cuthbert as Carly and, to a lesser extent, Chad Michael Murray as her delinquent brother Nick. Elisha was in Captivity so not everyone is perfect. She's very good in this one though and her character is run through the wringer. What we're dealing with here is one of those standard forgotten small towns. The kind long abandoned, except for the twin brothers, let's say their names are Bo and Vincent. Bo was always the nice, quiet kid but boy that brother, Vincent. What a fuck up. After everyone abandoned town and, or, died, Bo went on to make something of himself. He ran the gas station, ministered the church, etc while Vincent I guess just occupied himself at the wax museum. Bo proved his superiority when he convinced Vincent that regular people would make better wax people than wax people. Bo's got the brain, Vincent the brawn. Amazingly, they're played by the same guy, Brian Van Holt, in a tour de force performance.

A contemporary slasher film needs two things to get by according to me and I'm sure some others; gore and thrills (an interesting character or two would be nice as well). The gore in this thing is pretty solid. Let's skip right over the roadkill pit and move onto the process for creating wax figures. They use what appears to be an embalming technique that basically turns your skin into wax. If you ever find your friend motionless in a house of wax, except for their eyes, don't, for the love of god, try to peel the "wax" off them. There's an intense scene when Nick is looking for Carly, locked in a room beneath the gas station with her mouth glued shut, as Bo attempts to get rid of him above. Carly slips her fingers through a grate and Bo, unbeknownst to Nick, goes at them with wire cutters. I will say that Bo is a bit of a cut-up and not very scary once you get to know him. His brother is in the silent killer mold like Jason or Michael Myers. Always around when you don't want him to be.

Of course anyone watching this thing is probably watching it for the house, itself. Ok, probably Elisha. Elisha is one, house is two. Anyway, this house is a wonder to behold. The final set-piece elevates this picture above all other slasher films from the current era (Wrong Turn, Chainsaw remakes/reimaginings, and so on). Holy shit man I couldn't tell if this was done with CG or practical effects, but it was astounding. Aside from the wax figures, the entire house is made of wax; the lamps, the beds, the stairs, the fridge....every goddamned thing. To conceive a final scene involving this house going up in flames as characters within fight each other for their lives? How, or why I guess would be the question, do you run up stairs that are melting? And, what the fuck? People have been disappearing off this stretch of highway for years now and, yet, it takes the smoke from a wax fire for the cops to even find this little fucking town?

This is a good one despite its reputation (25% on the ol' tomatometer). The musical score actually reminded me a bit of Danny Elfman and the obsessive nature, and pure artistry, of Vincent was decidedly Burton-esque. Hell, the town was even called Ambrose, clearly after Ambrose Bierce who disappeared without a trace as well. Although, Mr. Bierce's disappearence came nearly a century earlier. Alot of this seems smarter than a picture like this should be is all I'm sayin. Shit, this picture was nominated for 3 golden raspberry awards (supporting actress - Hilton, worst picture, and worst remake). Hilton won for worst supporting actress. That is fucking bullshit man. Just proves that those awards are just a god damned popularity contest. Elisha Cuthbert should have won for "best tits we didn't get to see". Come to think of it, we didn't see any in this picture. Still, I stand by it. You should too (or sit in front of it so you have a better view).

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Devil's Rain (1975)

I guess this is just another one of those devil films that were so in vogue back in the 70s except this one takes itself a bit more seriously then most. That's what happens when you cast Ernest Borgnine as goat-man-devil-thing, in the flesh, and have him face off against a family that includes the likes of William Shatner and Tom Skerritt. This is one of those films Shatner did while on leave from his duties as captain of the Enterprise and it is a pretty good one although the story is a bit too muddled, the effects too repetitive, the acting too hamhanded, and so on.

John Travolta shows up at some point in this thing as well. This, not Carrie, is his introduction to filmdom. Be warned, it's a "blink or you'll miss him" type part. I watched this twice over the weekend; drunk then sober. I guess I blinked twice. Although, this picture does ponder the age old question: If your soul has been collected by the devil (and stashed in his "devil's rain" aka poreclain soul catcher) causing your eyes to melt away, then does it even matter if you blink?

Shatner plays the oldest son of the Preston clan. Ida Lupino (lots and lots of TV) is the soon to be captured matriarch of the family and some guy shows up briefly only to melt away into the rain as the father. I guess back in the pilgrim days, the Preston's stole a book from some guy named Corbis (Borgnine) who is, in fact, Satan. Or, maybe he was just a vessel for Satan. I really had no fucking clue. Anyway, he wants the book back since it contains the names of all the souls he has claimed and makes for some good bathroom reading material. He's sick of reading the same copy of good housekeeping over and over. After Ma is taken, Shatner drives out to some southwestern ghost town to confront Corbis and gets challenged to some prayer reading duel. Since, official Satanist, Anton LaVey was the film's technical advisor we can be fairly certain that the duel was authentic. Satan, reading his own prayer, would challenge Shatner who would be reciting the Lord's prayer. It's not a fair contest though because obviously the followers of Satan will not be swayed by Shatner (not yet a Satanist). Anyway, the Shat is converted and, thankfully for him, gets to leave the picture for a while. Thus, it's up to Tom Skerritt, his stache, and his psychic wife to save the remaining Preston clan (I guess themselves) from eternal damnation, hellfire, etc.

Eddie Albert (Green Acres) shows up as a kindly, non-satanist, doctor and Keenan Wynn (westerns) appears briefly as a hellfire-sanctioned Sheriff. The ending is a blast if you can tolerate about 10-15 minutes of occultists melting in the devils rain. I could, but only because I passed the time trying to spot Travolta who I guess washed off this set and into "Welcome Back Kotter". The very last scene is fitting considering that the devil is really not one you can trust even after you've caused him and his hordes to melt into the earth. Also, of note, this was directed by the guy that made those Abominable Dr. Phibes pictures. After this one endured hellfires of critic-dom, he was banished to the damnation of TV. Fuck man, for a movie where everyone melts, characters lack eyes, this still managed to be a PG-good time once I sobered up.

Seriously though, everyone melts in the end. It goes on for way too long. Enjoy.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

I can't believe I've gone my entire life thus far without having seen the masterpiece that is Tombs of the Blind Dead. Holy shit, this picture has everything one could ask for in a horror film; foreboding atmosphere, creepy creature effects, beautiful women and their naked breasts (be patient!), a terrific score, all followed by a great apocalyptic ending. Sure, the pacing is a bit slow at times, the acting a little off. Big fucking deal, I'll take this one over most horror films that have come out this year (or decade for that matter).

Tombs is the first of a quadrilogy, the others being Return of the Blind Dead, The Ghost Galleon, and Night of the Seagulls. I'll be getting to the sequels immediately. Interestingly the director, Amando de Ossorio, doesn't consider the creatures in his film to be zombies at all (similar to Danny Boyle about 3 decades later) but, instead, they are more mummy-like. This is pretty evident in the picture as they rise out of crypts and organize with their fellow dead. There is clearly an intelligence at work here. Still, this is one of the better pictures to follow Night of the Living Dead. I found it hilarious that the Americans who purchased the rights tried to market their horribly cut version as a follow up to the Planet of the Apes. They re-titled it Revenge from Planet Ape and re-ordered several scenes, cut out almost all of the blood, removed the scene of a child being eaten, removed a rape scene (although, it's still awkwardly implied), etc. There's a prologue (available with the Blue Underground DVD that explains how the humans revolted against their ape captors, tortured them and removed their eyes. Later, the apes rose from the grave and this is their story. Are you fucking kidding me? First, the Templars are not ape like in the least, and Second, see "First".). The English language version included with my DVD was simply called The Blind Dead and, thankfully, did not insert this silly prologue into the film (it's featured as an extra). I watched both versions and was most turned off by the fact that the lesbianism was taken out of the English version. It's removal pretty much renders a flashback that occurs within nonsensical. Also, the dubbing is awful. In addition, no boobs (remember, Spanish language version = masterpiece. English language version = fun time if 6 deep into a 12 pack by the time the movie begins).

The story involves an ancient long abandoned villa in Spain, last occupied in the middle ages by some virgin-hating Templar Knights. Condemned for worshipping Satan, and various atrocities, they were captured and hung from the gallows after which crows pecked out their eyes. Apparently, they were later given a proper burial on their villa where they await an awakening by some noisy tourists who happen upon their un-hallowed grounds. These tourists include a couple vacationing in Lisbon, Virginia and Roger, who meet up with Virginia's college friend, Betty, who clearly has some sort of secret history with Virginia. Here's a clue: Once, in college, Betty pretended to be a guy and then they did it (lesbian flashback). Anyway, the three meet up and decide to take a trip on the world's most unhealthy train (with coal fumes blowing every which way, but at least coal smoke makes for a nice transition to a flashback). Virginia is embarrassed by her past and also jealous of Roger's interest in Betty. Upon seeing some ruins in the distance she jumps off the train (it's also the world's slowest train) and heads for the villa. Roger and Betty yell after her, pull the emergency siren, but the conductor refuses to stop in these parts. Virginia has a nice quiet evening by herself, lights a fire, even listens to a little music on her portable radio. It's the last thing that gets her killed. Templars hate Rock and Roll.

The Templars themselves look like they probably influenced the ring wraiths in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Heavily cloaked, skeletal hands (the one aspect of them I think could be improved with today's technology), faces cloaked in shadow, bearers of swords and, oh yeah, amazingly they ride horses. The horses themselves don't appear dead but I'm pretty sure they were supposed to be. There's a moment where Virginia, in an effort to escape, steals a horse and flees across a field with the Templars in pursuit that was eerily reminiscent of a scene in Fellowship of the Ring. One Templar would probably be easy to escape. Unfortunately, there appear to be hundreds of them. They move slowly and can only find their victims through sound or by feeling around with their hands. It seems the only way to escape is to stand still and keep your heart from beating. Not really an easy task. If you try to run these things will hear your steps and chase you down on horseback. They like to hack their prey with a sword and drink their blood from the still living body. I'm thinking these guys were into the raping when they were alive, but have become so decrepit (in the pants) that they resort to biting their female victims in a somewhat sexual manner (I swear one of the girls killed at the end was close to orgasming even as death slowly claimed her).

Truth be told, the characters are not that interesting. Betty, in her defense, runs a mannequin factory that suffers from piss poor location (too close to the morgue I guess). Roger is pretty much a typical guy; not too cunning or brave. I think my favorite characters were the minor ones. I absolutely loved the morgue attendant. When Betty and Roger are brought in to identify Virginia, he gleefully pulls the sheet off the wrong dead body knowing full well this wasn't the one they had come in to see. Later, Virginia rises from the dead and sucks the blood from his neck but he doesn't really complain too much. I also really dug the smuggler who was the original suspect for Virginia's murder and goes with Betty and Roger to the villa to clear his name. He was a bit like Han Solo actually (good with the women, quick with a joke, a softy overcompensating with a bad attitude), except for the raping. I never really saw Han Solo rape anyone. The raping did seem a bit supperfluous to be honest. It occurs during a night spent in the ruins and Betty is the victim (she doesn't seem that shaken up by it afterwards and calmly refuses the offer of a cigarrette). Roger is unaware as he's occupied with the smuggler's woman barely an arm's throw away. Betty deserves better.

The ending makes up for it though, in spades. I won't go into detail except to say that it involves a train full of innocents, once again, passing by the ruins at just the right (or wrong) time. It's a shame most viewers accostomed to modern horror (i.e., little character development, an overabundance of CG gore, little to no nudity, total lack of charm) won't appreciate this one at all. One friend (we'll just call him Benial) absolutely hated this and couldn't believe my other friend and I loved it. He was pretty sure we were lying. Apparently, a swarm of horse-riding blind dead should be easy to get away from. Whatever, the score is terrific; weird and creepy (I'd buy the soundtrack if I could find it). The sets are sublime as well, loved the authentic ruins and the scene set in the mannequin factory. If you pick this one up (or rent it...fuck that, this is a blind buy if there ever was one) I implore you to get the original Spanish cut. The english language version (besides missing the 30 minutes) has had its balls hacked off and squashed. Fuck man, it's worth it alone for the slo-mo horse chases. Also, the lesbianism.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hatchet (2006)

For October, the plan is to write up some horror films that I can recommend to you, my audience. This is one I can vouch for, but with some serious reservations. Don't go into this thing expecting the reinvention of horror or even a return to the slasher films of the early 80s. It's not even close to either of those things. Upon release, this was billed as just that by several movie sites. This is what it is. A film that feels exactly of its time. Which is to say, not scary and full of innappropriate attempts at humor. This picture came out the same year as another similarly heralded film, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon which was similarly a disappointment. Vernon, at least, started out interestingly enough but then devolved into just another run of the mill slasher film, and not a particularly good one at that. Even worse, it featured one of the most grating antagonists I've ever had the displeasure of dealing with for an hour and a half. At least Hatchet's villain lacked a personality. In the words of Kirk Lazarus (Tropic Thunder), they went "full retard" in this one.

The film centers around a group of revellers at Mardis Gras. Ben (Joel David Moore) is the awkward one who'd rather take a swamp tour and stare at gas lights than drink and look at boobies. He's the main character and I couldn't fucking stand him. All he does is mope around and complain about his ex-girlfriend being bent over the chair his mother bought for her by some meat-head. This is the kind of character that's supposed to die immediately. Not one we're supposed to root for. His friend Marcus, "token black guy" from Not Another Teen Movie, is the token black guy in this one and, therefore, also comic relief. Joining them on their swamp tour are a couple of ditzy wannabe starlets, a guy (poor man's Rick Ducommon) pretending to be a producer so he can see those starlets naked, a morose young lady harboring a secret, the old typical american tourist couple, and their guide (an asian pretending to be black or "Jackie Tucker" as Marcus humorously labels him). Story: They get lost in the swamp and attacked and picked off one by one courtesy of resident swamp legend-retard, Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder who has seen better days and roles). The character of Jason Voorhees (played by Hodder and others before him) had personality even if that personality had only two settings; angry and sad(it was all in the eyes!) . This picture is barely a tiny curly hair on Jason's ball sack.

The attacks come quick and brutal with limbs shredded, ripped, torn, etc (he's got retard strength). How did Crowley come to be? As a child, he was teased by some local kids and locked in his cabin to burn. His father tried to rescue him but accidentaly chopped him in the head with a hatchet while he was trying to break in. Now, years later, Crowley or his ghost or whatever is pissed and seeks vengeance on anyone that dares venture close by. So far, it's a familiar story. It stays familiar.

All the characters play a type, which I've already vaguely described. Not one of them comes off as believable. They constantly do stupid things like wander off alone or move too closely to that bush that is shaking for no apparent reason. Here's a plan. Stay by the river and walk/run as fast as you can in the direction you came from. The "scares" aren't really scares at all. I didn't really jump too much because this Crowley fellow seems to announce his presence everytime with menacing screams and howls and I think chest thumping. The intial scare is almost always a false scare, then immediately followed by the real scare. Bush shakes..."ahhh....look at that cute raccoon!". Crowley jumps out behind them, grabs buxom babe or whatever. Let the rending begin.

So, I guess you're wondering why I'm recommending this thing at all? It's got a couple of the greatest kills you'll see in a picture these days. One lady gets her head ripped apart, with bare hands, at the jaw leaving only a dangling tongue. Another girl gets her lower jaw removed courtesy of an electric sander (with a very long extension cord apparently). I think they probably wrote the picture around these two kills. As far as I could tell, Crowley used a hatchet only once: to hack a guy in half in incredibly brutal fashion. Terrific effects work.

Also, It's hard to fault a picture that features cameos from two legends of the genre (Also Hodder, of course). Tony Todd and Robert Englund, who appears in the opening sequence with Joshua Leonard as mystery girl's father and brother respectively. Englund's character ain't that funny though when he accuses Leonard of "squattin to take a piss like a queer." We're used to seeing this guy as an asshole. Also, I'm not sure it was supposed to be funny when Leonard had his spine ripped out, but him yelling "oh god, it hurts it hurts" over and over certainly didn't help things.

I'll say one more nice thing about this one. I liked the atmosphere. Supposedly, they created the swamps of the bayou outside of L.A. somewhere (atleast, that's what I seem to remember from watching the "making of" so many months ago). Very impressive. Atmospherics straight out of Man-Thing and I mean that as a compliment. I think you should see this one because everyone seemed to love it when it came out. It just didn't connect with me. I like my horror a little more visceral, a little more real, a little more old school i guess. Otherwise, I'm just getting a hard on from the effects and that's not the kind that lasts too long. Pretty forgettable, but I think we'll probably be hearing from Adam Green (the director) again. Actually, we did. He made Spiral. I think it bombed (but I admit it looks interesting). Oh well, Hatchet 2 is slated for 2009 so there is that.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Hitcher (1986)

Jennifer Jason Leigh's second consecutive picture with Rutger Hauer, following Paul Verhoeven's 1985 grimey medieval adventure Flesh & Blood, doesn't bode well for their future together as the next Bogart and Bacall, Haim and Feldman, Swayze and Grey, etc. Spoiler alert!!!! I said spoiler!!!! The movie is 22 years old, I should'nt have to worry about spoiler warnings, but here ya go. Last time. Fucking Spoiler alert!!!! Ok, now that I have your attention, ready for this? You have every right to skip to the next paragraph if you haven't seen the picture. I mean, it's been a couple of decades already.....if you haven't seen it by now, it's probably not gonna happen. So, anyway, I can see why Leigh and Hauer didn't go on to become the silver screen's next great dyanmic duo, couple, or whatever. It probably has something to do with him tying her between two big rigs and then turning one on and taking his foot off the clutch so it slowly rolls away tearing her in two. For no real reason other than to fuck with Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell). It's just a motiveless horrific crime against the incredibly cute Leigh with the incredibly cute name, Nash (only on a girl). It's not surprising to learn that they didn't work together again after this one. Also, I wouldn't really consider them a couple...or a duo. End spoiler.

Aside from the fact that the killer (a terrific Hauer) has no reason for doing what he's doing, this is a pretty good picture. It's like if they had taken that movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and dressed it up as an action-thriller, with plenty of horror elements; finger in french fries, unstoppable killer who seems to have the supernatural ability to be in all places at once, a poor sap (that would be Howell) framed for a series of crimes he hasn't committed, a dog licking up the blood of it's dead master, etc.

C. Thomas Howell plays a young kid just trying to make his way to California in a "drive away" (term used for a car that someone is hired to deliver). Hauer is the hitch-hiking drifter picked up by a sleepy Howell. As soon as they pass an abandoned VW Bug and Hauer comments on the former driver no longer possessing his legs, his arms, or his head, Howell wonders if he made a mistake. Later, when Hauer holds a switchblade to his balls, he wonders even harder. Soon, Howell sees his chance to escape a painful death and takes it by flinging Hauer out the door and onto the pavement as he speeds away. End of movie.

You wish. We're not even fifteen minutes into the thing yet. What follows is an epic cat and mouse game where Hauer is not really just a cat. He's a big fucking cat. A Lion that chews on a mouse without killing it and then bats it around for a while. This movie is vintage 80s. It is new wave pop. You couldn't make this movie today in an age where people no longer hitch-hike and don't leave home without their cell phones. Oh wait, they did remake it. Still haven't seen it. Hauer is one of the great screen villains as John Ryder. He's like if John Matrix, Casey Rybek, and John Rambo decided to have sex with each other and then one of them drifted across the american southwest killing people randomly. This movie would be the result. This guy, Ryder, is one fucking evil action hero. He steals a truck, blows up a gas station, shoots a helecopter out of the sky with a pistol, attacks and decimates a police station Terminator-style. The only thing about him I didn't appreciate was the neediness. He needed to be Howell's center of attention (hence, the horrible fate given the picture's only female character...oops, forgot spoiler). Howell-Hauer develop some sort of twisted symbiotic relationship where one becomes the other. It's "reprehensible" (according to Roger Ebert in his 0 star review). I'd counter that It's a movie. Motives are for "Law and Order SVU".

I thought the portrayal of the cops in this thing was interesting. Jeffery DeMunn (The Blob, The Mist, "Law and Order SVU") is a veteran movie cop. Besides Leigh, he might ultimately be the only other sympathetic character. Of course, he only shows up for the last 10 mintues or so. The other cops ranged from "any fool can see this kid's no killer" to "you spit on my gun ass-wipe, now wipe it off so I can blow off your god damned head and claim you lunged at me". The majority of the cops fell into the first camp, so I found that a bit refreshing.

I wish I could say more about Leigh's character, but she really wasn't in it too much. She bought into Howell's innocence from the start and then they hit the road together for a bit, trashed a few cop cars along the way and slept togehter (without the sex or nudity) in some seedy desert hotel room. That's it. I'm thinking the writer, at the time anyway, wasn't sure how to write parts for women so they just got someone imcomporably cute and talented like Leigh and hoped for the best. Speaking of the writer, Eric Red went on to pen the screenplays for Near Dark, Blue Steel, and Body Parts. He's a talent alright. The director, Robert Harmon, unfortunately didn't do shit worth noting after this one (I haven't seen Wes Craven's They. Any thoughts?). It's a shame because this one's damn good. Everything from the desert photography, to the performances, to the action scenes (including a pretty sweet car-helicopter chase). If only he hadn't made a picture that was so "diseased and corrupt" (Roger Ebert again).

Well, I'm fucking up the month of Halloween. I was supposed to increase my review output atleast two-fold. Also, this thing is only borderline horror...and most of the tense scenes occur during the day except for that one where Jennifer Jason Leigh is tied between two trucks and torn in half by crazy old Rutger Hauer.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Return to the Grindhouse: Don't Go In The House and Blood Freak!

It was a Friday night and I had shit for plans. So, I couldn't think of a better thing to do than head over to the Brattle theater in Harvard Square to catch a double feature as part of their "Return to the Grindhouse" series. All I knew about the two movies playing were that one is basically Psycho with a flamethrower and the other involves drug abuse and a guy with a turkey head. I could check these out for a measly ten bucks or stay home and watch something equally shitty with a bottle of $18 Jim Beam. My choice. Holy fucking shit, you're never going to top this at the local AMC or Regal.

Unfortunately, I was working the next day near the ass crack of dawn so my imbibing would have to be kept to a minimum. I only had time for a quick pint at Charlies before heading to the show. I expected the theater to be either completely packed or completely empty. It seemed a little over half full which, as it turned out, was probably the perfect amount. After sitting in my seat I wondered if my lack of alchohol was a mistake. As it turns out, I didn't really need anymore. This was as much fun as I've had going out to the movies in a long time. I feel like this should be a regular thing, if not at the Brattle, then somewhere! Oh wait, it is a regular thing. Only it's usually just me. In a little apartment. With a bottle of jim, a bottle of gordons, or a few beers. Oh, and my friend Dan is often there. Unfortunately, for us anyway, these pictures are much more fun with a crowd. After a quick introduction, the first movie began. Sans trailers. The only, albeit minor, disappointment of the night.

Don't Go In the House (1980):

I didn't think there was any possible way to improve on Hitchcock's Psycho until I saw this picture. Basically, all you need is a flamethrower. That's it. Dan Grimaldi (Patsy Parisi from "The Sopranos") plays Donny, the awkward type of son a mother couldn't help but love even as she's holding his hands over a flame to "get the evil out". He's essentially a good kid; still lives at home, makes honest wages at the fire factory, and mommy doesn't have to worry about some harlot stealing her son away since this kid has no idea how to talk to women. He's a true momma's boy. Until, one day, Donny comes home from his job at the fire factory to find momma's a corpse in a rocking chair. Finally, he can play his disco as loud as he wants.

Donny's a strange one alright. He's reprimanded at work after a prank goes awry and a coworker catches on fire. I thought it was a pretty funny prank (the ol' flammable spray can in the incinerator gag) but his supervisor didn't agree. Donny, inexplicably, has a friend at work named Bobby. Inexplicable because this guy, Donny, is not really the kinda guy other guys befriend. Especially not a cool customer like Bobby. Bobby is a typical blue collar guy; fun loving, cheating, alcoholic, and into disco. For some reason, he likes Donny and sticks up for him at work. He even covers for him when he doesn't show up for a week or so. Their relationship is a bit on the homoerotic side when Donny says they should "spend a quiet evening together." This would be enough to put most men off, but Bobby insists he come out to the club so they can try to bang these two chicks. Donny acquiesces, but maybe that was a mistake, since he ended up setting his date on fire. I know what it's like man. I'm not good at the whole dating scene either.

Anyway, with his evil mother out of the way, Donny is finally free to bring home girls. Unfortunately, they all remind him of her, so these "dates" don't really end well either. Oh, did I say "dates"? I meant to say abductions. The first one involves the flower girl who misses her bus. There's kind ol' Donny with an offer of a ride, a quick detour to his home, and an introduction to his rotting mother. The first scene is one of the few effective scares of the picture as the recently knocked unconscious girl, now naked of course, comes to in a fire proof room. Locked up to chains on the floor and the ceiling. Let's just say the beautiful red head gives new meaning to the term "fire bush".

This was a fun one. The house was a terrific set, especially the room of charred corpses dressed in mother's sunday's best. Donny is in the Anthony Perkins mode of serial killer, albeit a little more pushy. He's not a very patient guy and his methods of getting girls into his truck become increasingly ridiculous. One girl, in a grocery store, resists his advances almost to the point of crying out rape. The clerk intervenes and Donny tells him everything is fine and that he's just going to go out and apologize. Cut to girls charred corpse. That Donny, hell of a guy.

Ok, so the guy is more than a little nuts. But he's got a flamethrower, so I'm giving him a pass. Still, I wouldn't let him date my sister or anything. I'm missing several plot points on this thing, but I do remember that it takes place in Jersey, which can be pretty fucking scary as well. If you're a Hitchock fan this one can probably tide you over until his next picture. Joe Ellison (he directed one other title, called Joey) probably won't blow you away with his directing skills. He's from the "ok, flamethrow the shit out of that dummy", point and shoot school of directing". It's a good school. He also did a great job with the soundtrack from this one. Some terrific disco hits such as "I'm on fire", "Your love is flamin'", and "disco inferno". I'm just kidding, couldn't remember the songs, nor could I find a listing online (I didn't really look, sorry). The songs were good though, 'cept this is 1980 (date of release). Someone should have told Ellison disco is dying. Or, he should have waited a year to start filming. This one's a part of the whole "don't-sploitation" sub genre which features such titles as Don't go in the Woods, Don't go in the Basement, etc. I'm surprised some joker didn't yell "don't watch this movie" at the screen. He'd be wrong.

Blood Freak (1972) :

We had about a half hour between movies and I strongly considered running out to the liquor store so I could smuggle in a half pint of Jim for the follow up. Since I rarely go out to Harvard square, I figured finding a liquor store wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world to do, so I just sat there in my seat thinking about it. Hell, I used the time to peruse the theatre and see who else was there. You know what? There were actually fucking real life girls there. Holy shit, man. Finally some hope. I was sitting next to Dan, we left the seat open between us as a sort of buffer zone, when some girl looked back and engaged us in conversation; "what did you think of the movie", "etc", "etc". Ok, so she looked at him first, but I swear she made eye contact with me. Dan is convinced she engaged only him whereas I'm convinced she used him to get to me. Regardless, that was the last interaction we had with the girl the rest of the night. Oh well, the beat goes on.

As soon as Blood Freak ended I pretty much had no clue what I'd just seen but, I knew that I loved every fucking minute of it. First of all, this was one of the most inept pictures I have ever sat through and I've sat through quite a bunch. I just recently watched something called Oasis of the Zombies which featured a never ending flashback scene. The characters in that thing were so uninvolving that I couldn't even tell when the flashback began or ended. I had to piece it together after the fact. Well, this movie, Blood Freak, is much worse than that. The opening credits, I guess I'll stop there. Some guy, a cross between Russell Crowe and Elvis, is riding the most effeminite motorcycle I've ever seen (cross between a harley and a schwinn. A girl's schwinn). I'm guessing he must be Steve Hawkes since his credit shows up twice. Back to fucking back. He pulls over to help a stranded motorist, apparently. Again, I figured this one out after the fact. Then they drive up to a toll booth and we watch them sit there for a few minutes. Exciting stuff.

Steve Hawkes plays Herschell (which can only be a tribue to Herschell Lewis), a Vietnam vet living the straight life. Until he meets two sisters, whose names escape me (and imdb doesn't list them). One, sister A is a bible thumping jesus freak so it only makes sense that she would take Herschell to a party thrown by her sister, sister B, a not so good girl with a great ass. Anyway, Herschell falls in with sister B and her crowd, get's addicted to marijuana (after one toke!), get's a job at her father's turkey farm, and is recruited by a couple of mad scientists to test their experimental turkey serum or whatever. You shouldn't mix any kind of turkey serum with a drug as evil as marijuana. Herschell learns this lesson the hard way after passing out, being disposed of by the two mad scientists (in a couple of terrific performances by so-and-so and what's-his-name?). He wakes up later with a turkey head (see above) and a craving for the blood of female drug addicts. That's the story. Bask in the brilliantly conceived morality tale of co-directors Brad Grinter and Steven Hawkes (he's multi-talented).

If I was one for clever word play I'd probably come up with something like this one's a turkey. But, thankfully, I'm not. Also, that's pretty fucking lame. This is a picture that would make Ed Wood proud. I went to this double feature determined to get some unironic enjoyment out of these things, but I just couldn't help myself. I don't think I laughed this hard at Judd Apatow's latest picture (can't even remember what it was at the moment). Some scenes appear to have been placed in an order that doesn't make sense. One scene involves a voice over while others are talking and we can't hear what they're saying. I had no idea who the fuck was delivering the narration or if it was dialogue that was supposed to have gone with a different scene. Steve Hawkes as a turkey man is a wonder to behold. Every so often, the filmmakers would dub in the sounds of a turkey going "gobble gobble". He stalked his prey as if he were a zombie (I think he just couldn't see where he was going in the mask). The camera cuts back and forth, from Herschell to his prey, over and over....even as his intended victim has been screaming for the last five minutes or so. Plenty of throat slittings, one table saw amputation, and even a naked ass shot. The ass comes after the most poorly shot sex scene of all time (I haven't seen every sex scene, but I'm standing by this statement).

There really is no reason to recommend this thing except that, somehow, despite everything that's wrong with it (pretty much everything) I had a blast watching it. As soon as I find the DVD (it appears to be out of print) I'll be adding it to my collection. These guys somehow, against all odds (no talent or money) actually made a fucking picture. There's hope for us all.

That was pretty much the night. If I didn't have to work the next morning I would have stayed for the 11:30 showing of a nun-sploitation classic called Sex Demons. Instead, Dan and I headed back into Boston and went to Foleys for a quick drink (that quick drink soon turned into five) and wooed some women with our tales of flame throwed broads and also can a guy with a turkey head still perform decent cunilingus. Just kidding about the women part. They didn't come anywhere near us.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Basket Case 2 (1990)

It's that time of year again. October. Perfect month to review some horror classics. I'd love to be able to do a write-up every day but, let's face it, that's not gonna happen. Every other day is a bit more likely I suppose (if you're lucky). Let's start things off with a sequel to one of the greatest films ever made that isn't called Starship Troopers. Yep, I'm clearly referring to Basket Case. I'm positive you've all seen it by now since I wrote about it this past May. Remember? Duane and his brother Belial, that little basket-living, telepathy loving, burger scarfing, face-ripping blob. 'Member him? When last we saw our heroes, they were hanging for their lives from a sign outside their window at a seedy Times Square hotel. Things were looking pretty bleak. Duane was not a happy camper after his mutant blob-like brother raped his girlfriend to death. It seemed his struggle for normalcy would carry him and his little (stature-wise) bro to their graves.

Well, this picture begins exactly where the first one left off. Duane and Belial fall to the ground below and are whisked away to the hospital. Suddenly, the two brothers find themselves fodder for the tabloids, but luckily Granny Ruth and her...ahem...normal daughter Susan come to the rescue and bring them to their secluded Staten Island mansion. Granny Ruth (long ago, given the tabloid-ascribed name of "Dr. Freak"), has a thing for abnormals. You might say, she's hiding several in her attic. Actually, there's no might about it. In her house you'll find such diverse characters as "man with 27 noses", worm man, half moon, frog boy, huge arthur, toothy, Eve-the Belial loving blob, etc ad nauseum. The creature designs are fantastically grotesque. Why fanboys weren't jizzing over the introduction of the freaks (like they did over that scene in Hellboy 2) as reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina is, well, actually pretty fucking obvious. It's not a cantina first of all. Secondly, I'm not sure any of them saw this movie at the time it came out. Thirdly, no internet. Fourth....lost my train of thought. Anyway, Eve, like Belial is a disgusting blob of a creature, albeit with a much prettier face. In this environment the tables are turned on poor Duane. His brother is now the normal one. Hell, he even forms a fast moving (slow down little guy!) relationship with Eve while Duane sets his sights on Susan and, more importantly to him, escape from this world of freaks and, especially, his overly dependent brother.

This is a great fucking follow up, but I'll be honest. I was not happy that Frank Henelotter abandoned the crappy stop motion that was so charming in the first movie. Here, Belial is realized using animatronics. While I suppose he looks better from an aesthetic point of view, he's lost a bit of that cutsey otherworldliness that made him a bit more sympathetic (hell, he was absolutely endearing) in the first one. Also, he got fucking bigger. He's huge, ripped, stacked. I think he's been working out. The other thing that was a bit distracting was the time frame. This movie starts on the night that part one ended. Yet, part one was filmed nine years earlier. New York City and, in particular, Times Square changed immensely in that time. The cars were different, the marquees were different, the seediness was waning. Still, these are minor flaws which are immediately swept to the back of the mind as soon as we encounter the house of freaks.

The brilliance of this film is evident in the scathing treatment of the tabloids, a move that predates that Mel Gibson picture Paparazzi by over a decade. Kathryn Meisle plays a scum bag reporter named Marcie who discovers the whereabouts of Duane and Belial. They may be wanted for several murders but Marcie could give a shit about that. She's more interested in the seven figures that would come with breaking the story and ruining several lives in the process. Of course, this leads to a great scene where Granny Ruth rallies the troops with a motivational speech (think William Wallace) filled with lines like "the wolves are once again at the door. Our rights are being invaded by sideshow mentality." I was pleased to learn that not all freaks advocate violence when she soothingly tells some that it's ok to sit this one out if you're philosophically opposed to bloodshed. I tried to figure out which ones took a pass. To me, it seemed like they were all in on it. Although, Belial was the only one doing any face ripping really.

Why the hell did it take 9 years to make this sequel? For fucks sake man, it's a great story that needs to be told. Immediately after finishing this one, I added Basket Case 3: The Progeny to my netflix queue and moved it to the front. Part 2 is not quite as trashy as the first one, not nearly as bloody. It actually looks like a real movie with a few dollars behind it. Unfortunately, only a couple nearly obscured breasts, that I could tell, make an appearence. Kevin Van Hentynryck (Duane) has gotten much better as an actor over the years and manages to say most of his lines with a straight face, like this one to the tabloid reporter just before Belial goes all Belial on her: "He figured you could ask him a few questions, get to know him a little bit. Then he could rip your face off. No big deal." This leads to the picture's greatest shock moment.

Not much else to say my friend. Belial gets to have disgustingly sloppy mutant sex with Eve. I thought she grabbed his member at one point, but I'm pretty sure it was just a tumorous mass and it might have been his own hand doing the grabbing. Hard to tell what's going on when a couple of bulbous masses are doing the nasty. Thankfully, for Duane, Belial doesn't feel the need to bone his girlfriend (guess that would be Susan) in this one before Duane gets to have a go at her. I don't think Duane's ever really forgiven the little bastard for that move. He's still dealing with the blue balls that have lingered since that part one debacle. There are a few minor scares, the flash photgraphy scene in an attic full of freaks comes to mind. Annie Ross is terrific as Granny Ruth who, I guess, doubles as a psychiatrist. Belial on the couch elicited a laugh. "I understand your pain Belial, but ripping the faces off of people might not be in your best interest." Of course, the old bitch doesn't really heed her advice to the little guy as she later goes into full ripping-off-faces advocacy mode (at least where the press is involved). Hypocrite.

Amazingly, Duane is able to carry the story (amongst a bunch of freaks). It's good thing for him that Susan is completely normal, right? Think again. She's the biggest freak in the house. Let's just say she's not a virgin, she was knocked up six years ago, and she's yet to give birth. Fuck, I spoiled another one. Happy October you bitches.