Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sodoma's Ghost (1988)

Shit man, do I still have a blog? Totally forgot. Apologies. So, I had a few friends over and we watched this masterpiece called Sodoma's Ghost. Directed by Lucio Fulci (Zombie, The Beyond, Four of the Apocalypse, etc), Sodoma's Ghost is the story of some sexually depraved Nazi's who take over a brothel in France (during the WWII), indulge in sexual depravities, and then die (apparently)mid to post coitus when the house is bombed by Allied forces. I think. Then these dead aryan motherfuckers rebuild the house and wait for 40 some odd years for a group of horny teenagers to get lost, find the house, and become subjected to more depravities of a sexual nature. By ghosts. It's absurdly thrilling.

By "absurdly thrilling" I mean tedious, pointless, thrill-less, not erotic at all, etc. Piece of shit is the gist of what I'm getting at. There's an orgy at the beginning. It's not titillating in the least. I mean, we got naked breasts but no real context. It's like flipping through a late 80s playboy or something. Mildly amusing, can't not look at naked breasts, but you forget about them almost immediately. Also, it's unfortunate that I didn't take any notes because I can't remember certain details. For example, I don't know the names of any of the characters. Also, what the hell was the plot? I think I made that first paragraph up.

Uninvolving is a good way to describe this thing. It's a "later Fulci" which I guess is a way of describing pictures he made simply for the point of making a picture. Going through the motions is a good way of putting it. Unfortunately, Fulci's not good enough to pull this kind of shit off. Basically, what we got here is a ghost story with no scares. No tension. Fuck, I can barely remember any gore. I do remember the teenagers stumbling upon the house. I remember they had surf boards on their car?? Not sure where they were going to surf as there's no water in sight. I remember they got separated once inside the house. I think someone got their throat cut but that might be from a different movie. There's a blond Nazi ghost soldier in here somewhere. He appears to them as a solid human, I'm assuming so he could perform sexually. Some things happen, teens die, there's a scary mirror at one point, maybe some possession (?), and a few more breasts.

Then, the movie ends (major spoiler) with the house being bombed again or something, and the teens all wake up outside. Turns out the house was destroyed all along, it was all in their heads, or maybe this was a new set of teens and the ones from the beginning become sex starved apparitions for use in the, still unproduced, sequel? I don't know. Who can remember this shit. Also, I was drunk. Not Fulci's finest hour (and a half).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Road (2009)

The Road is the story of a road which is traveled by a father and son whose goal is to survive the road. Sounds easy enough I guess. What's so dangerous about a road anyway? Well, we learn early on that some sort of cataclysmic event occurred that destroyed civilization. We don't know what occurred and it's never really mentioned, only hinted at. Aliens? Meteor? War? Neutrinos from the sun melting the earth's core causing the crust to surf on the lava is my assumption based on the earthquakes. The picture is based on the novel of the same name written by Cormac McCarthy and endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. So, before we even watch this we can probably guess that this won't be your father's post apocalypse. No gangs of raving mad punk rockers, no talking dogs, no big, or even medium sized, action sequences, etc.

I'm always eager to see how a book I love (and I loved The Road) is adapted for the big screen. This one worried me a little bit. I mean, the trailer focused on disaster footage. Almost looked I Am Legend-ish which wouldn't be right for this picture. I had faith in John Hilcoat (directed the McCarthy-esque The Proposition) and Viggo Mortensen to get it right. They pretty much did. The movie is pretty minimalist. We got snippets of McCarthy's prose (in voice over form), we got heart ache, we got struggles to survive, and even a few tense situations (although these don't really define the picture). Oh, and bleak shit. Lots and lots of bleak shit.

The movie centers around the father (Viggo) and the son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). See, the son was born after the world ended. He knows nothing else. The father has two objectives. To teach his son how to survive after he is gone and also to protect him while he still lives. They head for the coast. It seems like a good idea. Along the way they scavenge for food, avoid contact with other people (most of whom will just try to eat them anyway), and stay warm. The world, meanwhile, continues to die. Earthquakes cause dead trees to fall. Fires burn the hills. All wildlife is pretty much extinct, excepting the occasional cricket which get eaten by the father and son.

I appreciated the washed out look of the thing. The performances by Mortensen and Smit-McPhee were very good. The people they meet on the road were all performed admirably by actors such as Robert Duvall, Garrett Dilahunt, Michael K. Williams (particularly heart wrenching), Guy Pearce, etc. The Nick Cave/Warren Ellis score is suitably minimalist, though not quite on par with work they did for The Proposition or The Assassination of Jesse James. There is a lot to admire here. It's nice to see an end of the world picture actually make things look shitty. I'm not sure it'd be a roller coaster action adventure (like in 2012). People would die. Horribly. Slowly. Governments would fall. Teeth would rot. Suicide rates would skyrocket. Cannibalism. Rape. All that shit. This picture, along with Testament and Time of the Wolf before it, seem to have a clue as to what this type of world would be like.

I guess the question is "Ok, all fair and good, but why do I need to see this shit?" Simple answer. You don't. Despite the Oprah recommendation this material probably ain't for everyone. I have a morbid curiosity. And, despite most of the shit I watch and write about, have a desire to see quality pictures from time to time. And, there is a little bit of hope to be found here (actually, there's a lot when you consider the obstacles these characters are facing). Sure, this world is a shitty place to live and it likely won't get any better. Sure, there's a scene where the father instructs his son the fine art of blowing out your own brains (they have two bullets left, one for each of them - better than being cannibalized), sure, there are horrors pretty much every where they go, etc. I don't know, if amidst all this shit people can still manage to do good to one another (i.e. "carry the fire"), then maybe there is hope for us. There will always be bad guys but the movie also makes a point to note that there will always be good guys too.

And don't be put off by the Charlize Theron part. She appears only in flashback. She's very good and her scenes work. We understand her decision not to continue on. There are several dreams the father has of sunnier times (fingering wife at a concert, waking up after a night of sex in a car, etc) which he awakens from as if he's just had a nightmare only to realize oh wait, I'm living the nightmare. The nightmare is that shit's all gone. These additions are almost necessary to keep the movie from being dragged down in bleakness.

I don't know what else to say except it's a good movie but probably not as great as I'd hoped it would be. Perhaps the book is not very adaptable. Or, Perhaps I liked it too much. Viggo Mortensen gives an oscar caliber performance. The end is incredibly moving, Guy Pearce shows up to lighten things up with the one little bit of humor the picture allows at the end. Which I think is also a moment where the viewer is supposed to think oh wait, that guy said something funny, maybe they're not completely fucked? There's some scary shit in a farm house basement. The kid tries to feed everybody they meet and make his father give them back their clothes after he steals them. I'm not sure I'd label this thing as "oscar bait" like I've heard some mention. I mean, what about this thing screams "oscar"? The cannibalism. The child murders. The rape? The fact that the death of the world is being depicted with relentless realism? Well, with the expansion to 10 best picture nominees I guess it's a possibility. If you enjoyed Testament or Time of the Wolf than you will probably enjoy this one too. Which is to say you're a fucked up individual for having enjoyed them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dead End Drive In (1986)

Dead End Drive In is the 80s. Aussie style. Which is to say its got the neon, the synthesized music, but also the punks with mohawks, bleached hair, and souped up cars. I imagine this is supposed to take place in the same world as Mad Max, only in the city (Sydney). Also, the world didn't crumble necessarily as a result of nuclear holocaust. Mainly, it was just the apathetic youth and their gang mongering. We got economies failing, riots breaking out, wholesale slaughter, gangs roaming the streets, rampant racism, and in Cape Town there was even something called "The Great White Massacre". Hundreds of thousands killed in that one. Great white sharks mutated, grew legs, and took to the streets. I assume. Anyway, back in Australia we've also got car crashes. Lots and lots of car crashes.

So, you can imagine that while most industries are failing at least the tow truck industry is booming. These guys are the bad asses of the post apocalyptic 1990s (yeah, the movie may have dated itself a little). Frank (Ollie Hall) is the poster boy for bad ass tow truck drivers. His younger brother Crabs (Ned Manning)? Not as much. Crabs (so named because he "thought (he) had it once") is small, but he tries hard. The life of a tow trucker is dangerous, but he wants in. Frank isn't so sure. His mother says he can eat all the shit he wants, work out as hard as he can but he'll always be small. Frank reluctantly takes him along one night. They come upon an accident. The cops are useless. People are dead or dying. Another tow truck arrives simultaneously. Frank lays claim to all three cars. So does the other guy. Frank's bigger. They strip the cars while fending off roving gangs. Just another night.

I liked the introduction to this world. I like that a guy with blue collar skills is king. And, like most kings, Frank's got his treasure; a gorgeous red 57 Chevy. He won't mind if Crabs takes it out for a spin, maybe pick up Carmen (his girl) and hit the drive in for a night of Ozzploitation films? He'll have the car back before Frank even knows it's gone. Well, like most futuristic worlds this one's got some unusual rules. Like, it's illegal to walk on an "S" road which sucks for Crabs after his tires are stolen while making love to Carmen in the back seat. So, he and Carmen are stuck there. Just like all the other teenagers wandering around the place. I guess they didn't notice all the broken down cars when they pulled in? Or, the electrified fence, or the locking gates? Man, this place is like a serious dead end or something.

Crabs isn't like most post apocalyptic 90s Aussie teens though. He's not content to live a life of movies, junk food, and raucous parties (filled with sex, drugs, booze, etc). He wants out. Carmen's more typical. She befriends some girls and before you know it they're doing each other's hair. Punk style. Crabs befriends the manager of the establishment (the only adult on site). He wants new tires, a phone, anything. Frank's gonna be pissed! Crabs settles for a fosters and some talks. There's gotta be more to life than this.

I had a lot of fun watching this picture. I mean, imagine a concentration camp for teenagers? We got lots of great 80s sounding music. A few explosions, a car chase, a couple fights. I expected these kids to form gangs and battle it out, but that never really happened. The only conflict, in this regard, was that Crabs wanted out and the other teens want to stay. The atmosphere is intensely 80s and helped by the fact that the whole thing is set in a drive in. I recognized a couple of the movies shown; Brian Trenchard Smith's great Turkey Shoot and The Man From Hong Kong. Trenchard Smith directed this picture as well. Also, the one where the leprechaun goes into space. Stick to the Aussie shit, man. This one would have been fun with a few friends and a few beers. I made due without any of those things.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Knowing (2009)

Knowing has one big strike going against it. And a couple little strikes. The big strike, of course, is Nicholas Cage. I'm not saying Nicholas Cage is a strike against the picture being any good. I'm just saying that he's a huge reason why people won't see the thing. For every Ghost Rider or Bangcock Dangerous or The Wicker Man the guy makes, his detractors seems to forget how good he was in shit like The Weather Man, Matchstick Men, Adaptation, Bringing Out the Dead, Red Fucking Rock West, Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona, or even god damned Peggy Sue Got Married. Fuck man, I ain't gonna defend something like the remake of The Wicker Man, but I gotta say I enjoyed the hell out of that thing, warts and all. It's fun to watch Cage work even against god awful material. He gives it his all, every fucking time out. You'll never see him sleepwalk through a performance. Seems to me, all anyone ever wants to talk about, when discussing his performances, is his hair. Shit, I didn't even mention Birdy, Moonstruck, or even The Lord of War. All good pictures. All good performances by Nicholas Cage. I have noticed a correlation though. People didn't seem to hate him until his hair started getting weird. Maybe he should just shave it all off? Point is, I like the guy.

Another strike against Knowing is the director, Alex Proyas, who hasn't really made a worthwhile movie since Dark City. Apparently, Proyas wasn't as visionary as we originally thought. His follow up to Dark City was a little seen drama about a rock band called Garage Days. Middling reviews and even more middling box office on that thing led him to an adaptation of Asimov's I, Robot* which is probably the equivalent of someone like Ridley Scott (I was going to say Michael Bay, but figured that would be too cruel) adapting Shakespeare's HAMLET, stripping it bare of any meaning, and giving all the character's machine guns. Actually, in light of Baz Luhrman's Romeo & Juliet or Titus, that's a fucking terrible analogy. Point is, Proyas was going downhill, needed a hit. Why not hook up with Cage (whom most people seem to hate) and a script about the possible end of the world? What's the result? Just his best film since Dark City, that's what. Ok, that doesn't mean shit. How about: This could easily end up on my 2009 top ten list (if I get around to doing one this year). It's that fucking good.

A possible third strike is the supposed theology/scripture/belief in god/whatever the picture supposedly embraces. The only people seeing this are those who would blindly believe in God's lack of an existence rather than just saying something like "I don't know" or "I don't really believe, but what are you going to do?". You know, atheists (not all atheists, just the angry ones). In my view, the movie isn't preachy . There's no god pulling the strings here, in my opinion. I hate bringing religion into anything. I hate talking about it. I don't go to church and I don't really believe in God. Will I say God definitely doesn't exist? Not if I can't prove it, I won't. Uh....anyway...Knowing is just a story. A good story. I'm pretty sure the bible had a few of those. It's ok to like this picture.

Shot in Australia, but taking place in Boston (for the most part, this works as we got exterior shots of actual Boston coupled with closer shots that seem like they could be in, or around, Boston - if you don't live there that is), Knowing is a story about big ideas interlaced with a ridiculous premise that somehow works. The film opens in 1959 as students at a Lexington elementary school are preparing to place their drawings of what the future will look like in a time capsule. One girl places a sheet of paper filled with numbers in the capsule. Later, they find her in a closet scratching more numbers into the door. Also, she hears whispers. Cut to 2009 and the time capsule is about to be ceremoniously dug up. A student at the school, Caleb (Chandler "what the fuck is this? a decent child actor" Canterbury), receives the sheet of numbers and takes them home. His father, John Koestler (Cage), chastises him for taking the paper home and then slowly becomes drawn in by the numbers. By the end of the night, bottle of whiskey in hand, he's obsessed with them. One particular sequence stands out: 91120012996. On September 11, 2001, 2,996 people died. He starts googling other numbers on the paper. They all lead him to other disasters. We got the date and the number of people killed. All written back in 1959 by a young girl hearing voices. All the disasters dating back to 1959, in order. If only he could figure out what those other numbers within each sequence that seemingly have no meaning mean. Uh oh, are those voices Caleb begins to hear?

Koestler is a professor of astrophysics at MIT. He gives a lecture on randomness vs determinism. How is it possible the earth was situated at the exact distance from the sun that would allow for life to evolve? Was it luck or was a higher power involved? A student asks what he thinks. "I think shit just happens". As Cage grows more obsessed with the numbers his tune begins to change. He notices three sequences that haven't happened yet. One happens, in a virtuoso scene, when he discovers what those other numbers mean. I'll just say the scene involves a horrific plane crash which, unbelievably, appears to have been shot in one continuous take.

Like all good suspense pictures this one actually manages to be suspenseful. We got strange beings that appear to Caleb, and are usually spotted by his father as they creepily shuffle off into the woods. They're the source of the whispering. So, who are they? What's their purpose? The answer to who they are is not really made clear. Gods? angels? aliens? Mormons? Eerily reminiscent of the strangers in Proyas' earlier masterwork, Dark City, these beings loom over the picture as some sort of sinister chorus, subtly guiding events with a little nudge here, a giant kick to the balls there.

Eventually, John and Caleb meet up with Diana (the luscious Rose Byrne) and her daughter Abby. Diana is the daughter of the girl with the numbers from the 1959 sequence. Her daughter also hears voices. John and Diana feed off each others paranoia. Hysteria ensues while the children remain strangely calm. Maybe they know something we (also, John and Diana) don't?

Fuck man, we got a man struggling with his faith here (a pretty common theme in film). John lost his wife to a fire years back. That disaster is found within the numbers. He could have saved her. He's estranged from his father, a minister. His sister says she'll pray for him but he just shrugs her off, tells her to leave. How is it he can believe in the numbers but not in a higher power? Who says it's god relaying the numbers? Ok, fuck it...this picture's almost a year old. I'm going to spoil the mother fucker.

Here goes....major spoiler to follow. Tread carefully. Seriously, only read past this point if you've seen the movie or harbor an irrational hatred for everything Nic Cage. You've been warned.


Anyway, turns out the numbers that appeared to not have any meaning were actually coordinates. The final sequence of numbers ends without giving any coordinates. It ends with the numbers "33". Why, that's not so bad in the grand scheme of things, right? 33 people? Not even the equivalent of a scratch. Well, fuck man, turns out that's not a "33" at all, but an "EE" ("everyone else"?). Koestler heads to an observatory where he and his colleague come to the realization that a solar flare is going to envelop the earth. Well, what the fuck do we do now? There isn't time to organize a space shuttle mission to the sun with a giant bucket of water. They're pretty much fucked.....end spoiler.

thankfully, I went back and realized I kept spoiling this mother fucker below even though I clearly said I wouldn't. Sorry.

I won't give you anymore else. Or tell you if, and how, they get out of this one. Shit just happens man. I will say that it irritates me when detractors of this picture are turned off by any kind of religious allegory the story purportedly evokes. I don't know man, those beings might be angels but maybe they're just aliens that look like angels and that's how angels originally made their way into our stories. Maybe god is an alien? Maybe there is no god, just a society of aliens that leave trails of mist that sometimes, if you look at it in the right light, vaguely resemble the wings of angels? This picture has no agenda is the point I'm making. Well, it does actually. It's agenda is to entertain you, first and foremost. Are you fucking serious with that "I don't like the fact that they pushed god and his angels down our throats and then the heavens opened up and the kids were transported to a new Eden" kind of bullshit? What about the final scene with Koestler and his father, reconciling as the flames engulf the entire world? Are we to understand the movie wants us to believe they're off to a better place? I don't think so. Maybe Koestler halfheartedly believes so. His father says "this isn't the end" and seems to mean it. It's good to know that Koestler maybe regained some faith right before he and his family were cooked. Wouldn't we all like a little faith at that very moment? Unfortunately for them, the movie never seems to indicate, or even mildly support, that there's a life after death. If those strangers really are aliens I'd argue that the movie argues against it. But then again, that would mean inferring that the movie really argues for anything at all. Except for you to be entertained, an argument it easily wins. I was. A fucking lot.

*I recently revisited I,Robot and I have to say it's not as bad as it seemed when I first saw it. Some parts even border on the soulful. Sure, it's Asimov on steroids. Steroids are sometimes acceptable with a doctor's note.

Mute Witness (1994)

Mute Witness surprised me by being a picture from the 90s which I'd never heard of that actually managed to be pretty good. I'm always finding shit from the 70s, and sometimes the 80s, unheard of by me that's pretty decent. Truth be told, I usually don't even bother looking at 90s shit. Most of it's direct to video, shot on video, cheaper than a two dollar hooker,etc. So, yeah, what a shock it was to stumble upon Mute Witness, a picture full of vibrancy and featuring one of the more sympathetic leads you'll ever see in a movie you're unfamiliar with. Also, lots of tension, solid chases, some Hitchcockian turns, zooming cameras, never ending hallways, creative effects, and..uh...some nice cans.

Our story opens on a film set (inside some vast warehouse) in Moscow where an American film crew is hard at work on a cheap slasher picture. We got a director (who seems like he's 18), his girlfriend (can't remember her job on set), and the girlfriend's sister; a woman who works as the special effects artist. Her job consists of creating the fake blood, making the blood burst on impact, etc. Also, she's a mute girl. I wonder if she'll witness any shit?

Anyway, the shoot closes up for the day and the crew files out. The mute girl (Billy) forgets something and goes back inside, she'll meet the others later. While inside she hears something, sounds like sex. She stumbles upon another set and watches from the shadows. It's a porno shoot with some guy in a mask boffing some blond Russian bimbo. Billy becomes amused and keeps watching (my kind of girl). Suddenly the masked star pulls something out from beneath the pillow, a knife. The cameraman keeps filming. Billy screams. Mutely. The knife comes down, the blood flies, Billy runs away, but can't get out because she's locked inside. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse between her and the snuff filmmakers as she alludes them in the warehouse. She hides in an elevator shaft, under garbage bags full of body parts, etc. She tries to make phone calls, but cannot speak. Luckily, her and her sister have come up with a "tap" system of communicating. It's clear the director, Anthony Waller, has studied his Hitchcock, De Palma, Coens, etc in the way he constructs these warehouse bound scenes.

Eventually, the action leaves the warehouse and the picture loses a bit of steam. Cops become involved, but are they really cops? What's Alec Guinness doing taking what amounts to a 1 minute cameo as "special mystery guest"? Guinness plays a shady character who apparently is the head of the Russian snuff film industry or some shit like that (I'm sure he had no idea what the picture was about before signing on or even after his five minutes of work was complete).

There's a terrific moment when the snuff guys have to convince the cops that the "mute witness" doesn't know what she saw. She didn't witness a murder. It was all special effects, see. She, as an effects artist, should know better. It's a reasonable explanation made even more reasonable after a shocking demonstration. In a thriller type picture involving people that make thrillers type pictures we can never have enough surprise fake deaths. Well, maybe this picture layered them on a bit too thick.

So, we got quite a few deaths. Some of them real. Some fake. We got some black humor. We got some light humor (such as the weird scene where the director and his girlfriend go out to eat and he squirts the sauce on his meat). We got some almost, but not quite, full frontal female nudity. We got several ingenious scenes where Billy runs from trouble, screaming, but no one can hear a god damned thing. Marina Zudina as Billy is something close to a revelation. She does a great job of making us root for this character who can't talk, grunt, scream, etc. She also gives a striking physical performance (unclothed and fully clothed). All this contributes to her being dubbed the "silent scream queen" (by me).

The other performers acquit themselves ok. Evan Richards and Fay Ripley are fine as the director and his girlfriend (mute girl's sister) but it's not surprising that we still haven't heard of them. Richard's, in particular, is at least able to milk this thing for some comedy (note his reaction to his girlfriend beating the tar out of a policeman). The snuff thugs (couple of Russian actors) are amusingly incompetent, but also menacing enough that we believe they'd have the gall to snuff a mute girl even if it does take Alec Guinness ordering them to do so. They're reluctantly menacing. Guinness is just old. His legacy is in tact because the picture is far from an embarrassment. I guess much of that credit can go to Anthony Waller, the director. He's someone to watch out for. He ratchets up the suspense, the chills, the blood, etc. He knows when to move the camera and when to keep it still. Parts of this picture played like some sort of strange homage to Powell's Peeping Tom. The guy clearly knows his film. Let's hope he doesn't go and blow it with his next picture. Oh wait, he did...and he's done nothing worth talking about since. Oh well. In his case I guess it's too bad he'll always have Paris.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Hallo-fucking-Ween (a week and a half late): Wrapping it up with some mini-reviews!

Yep, Halloween was a week and a half ago and I'm just finishing this thing up now. No apologies necessary. It's my blog and I don't get paid for this shit. Also, I wasn't around on Halloween and then I just sort of forgot all about it. Also, I don't have any movies fresh in my head to finish this countdown off with. So, instead of the standard shit, you're getting the shorter, less detailed, shit. I may expand on these write ups at some point.

Tourist Trap (1979)
Tourist Trap is just strange. Like Pixar's Cars it's a movie about the death of the small town. The interstate highway system swoops in replacing the old system of routes and..uh...non-interstate highways. Little towns become disconnected from all but the most patient of travelers. Businesses must either relocate or eventually fade into oblivion. One such place is SLAUSEN'S LOST OASIS, an old timey wax museum run by Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors. Still open for business, but failing to get any. Connors (as Mr. Slausen) is forced to be aggressive to drum up customers. Luckily for him, he comes across four teens searching for their friend (the friend's demise is splendidly depicted in the opening scene). By "looking for their friend" I mean skinny dipping in a swimming hole (unfortunately for us, no nudity which is an absolute shame when you consider that Tanya Roberts is one of the teens. Doubly frustrating when you remember that she showed her assets in the PG rated Beastmaster). The teens end up at the tourist trap (car trouble?), admire the wax figures for the life like artistry, drink sodas, get separated, and then slowly picked off one by one. You know the drill. Standard shit, except for several unique touches strewn throughout. You got weird humor, telekinesis, creepy mannequins that seem to come alive, chases through a swamp, and an oddball score. The final freeze frame is hilarious in its bizarreness. A somewhat forgotten oddity that deserves a renaissance.

Kidnapped (1974)

Out of all of Mario Bava's pictures, this is definitely my favorite. It's easily his most modern. Shelved for over twenty years (after Bava died and the studio went bankrupt) it was finally released in the 90s. I've seen two different cuts (Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped) and if they were fresher in my mind I might actually take the time to dissect the differences. What we have here is something completely unlike any of Bava's other works. Gone are the gothic trappings, the supernatural elements, any of that giallo shit we might be used to. Instead, everything is stripped bare. It's like the Bava accoustic album (don't worry, the score is pretty fantastic). It's like Bava watched Last House on the Left and then decided to make something similar while setting the entire thing in a car. Not just any car. A little car. The plot is simple. Four hoods, with names like "Blade" and "Thirty Two" rob a bank and, in the process of getting away (during which their driver is shot and killed), commandeer a new car and take some hostages (a man, a sick child, and a woman). Bava prepares us for the trip by involving the hoods in a standoff with the police where one of the hoods slits a woman's throat to show they mean business. We now realize anything can happen in that car...and anything pretty much does. Their boss attempts to maintain order and, for a while, he's successful. The tension escalates until it becomes nearly unbearable. Bava plays around with identity. The horrors here are real. We even got a scene where a poor woman urinates for her captor's amusement (and if that doesn't sell you on this thing, well, uh....). I was going to mention how this was a clear influence on Reservoir Dogs (at least in part) but according to the imdb it was released five years after Tarantino's film. You'll be disturbed and exhilarated simultaneously. The ending of this mother will shock you.

Chopping Mall (1986)
I'd long considered Chopping Mall as one of my own personal holy grail type films. The kind I'd long heard about but wasn't quite sure if I'd ever get a chance to see it. Basically, I'm lazy since this film really isn't that hard to track down. It's not on NETFLIX but damned if I couldn't find it on AMAZON. Anyway, I found a shitty edition in NEWBURY COMICS for ten bucks and it was totally worth it. A science fiction/horror amalgam filled with humor, references to Roger Corman films (his wife produced this), large naked breasts, and gore. Several horny teens get trapped in a shopping mall. It's a high tech mall with steel doors that slam shut and won't open until morning. Also, there are some security bots roaming around. Actually, they were security bots until a random lightning strike rendered them killbots. Now they're out for blood and also to make sure people "have a nice day". Apparently, the stars of Eating Raoul (unseen by me) have a cameo. As does Dick Miller reprising his role as Walter Paisley (now a beatnick janitor apparently) from Roger Corman's great A Bucket of Blood. The cast of teens are disposable. Thankfully, they are. Disposed of I mean. The funniest moment involves them hanging out in a department store, broken off into couples, as the camera pans across them displayed (on furniture) in various states of fornication. It comes as no surprise that the two nerds of the group are shown platonically sitting on a couch engrossed in a shitty B movie. I want to say "clearly they lived" but I was too drunk to possibly recall such minute details. One girl's got porn star tits, and she shows them. That I remember. The robots are ridiculous looking but they get the job done. If you must, go to youtube and spoil the head shot.

That's all I got time for. Maybe check these out and pretend it's halloween or something.

Friday, October 30, 2009

2 Days: Dead and Buried (1981)

I came to Dead & Buried a little late. Almost 30 years after it's release. I remember staring at the VHS box whenever I went to the video store but, for whatever reason, I always went with something else. It's a good thing because I'm not sure my young, slightly less mature sensibilities would have appreciated this thing. You see, this is one of those pictures I think might qualify as a masterpiece, albeit a slowly burning one. I've been known to be wrong about these things though. Let's delve a little further.

Dead and Buried is the story of a quaint little seaside town called Potter's Bluff. Apparently it's situated in Maine but I kept getting the feeling it was Oregon (even though I've never been there...weird). Turns out it was filmed in California with fog machines turned up full tilt to give it that New England, non sunny, type of feel. So, what we got here is a California town that feels like Oregon, looks like Maine...and is heavy on the atmospherics. Also, only two breasts in the whole damned thing and they come at the beginning. In addition, I think there's a male ass in here somewhere.

Potter's Bluff is a fishing community where people don't do much in the way of fishing. The opening scene tells me what kind of picture I'm dealing with here. We got a guy, a tourist, alone on the beach snapping photos (a heavy motif throughout) of things one would encounter on the beach; shells, sand, rocks, a half naked broad waiting to throw herself at you, etc. They have a great little introductory conversation where she gives him the name Freddie ("you look like a Freddie") and he dumbly accepts it not really giving a shit. Then he starts snapping photos of her telling her what great potential she has, she could be in PLAYBOY, holy shit can't believe she just took off her top and now I'm snapping her tits, etc, etc. Tell 'em what they want to hear and you'd be surprised what they'll do for you is a common mantra amongst some men. Not me, of course.

Anyway, at some point during the nude shoot on the beach, Freddie and the girl become surrounded by some sinister looking townsfolk. One guy takes the camera and starts taking photos of Freddie. They mess him up a bit, tie him to a pole, douse him in gasoline, and set the poor bastard on fire. Welcome to mother fucking Potter's Bluff, mother fucker. The town has a lot of skeleton's in it's closet I guess is the point of that opening scene, which is one of the better openings I've seen in a genre filled with...uh...good openings.

People come into this town, but they don't come out. Freddie's body is later found and Sheriff Dan Gillis (a splendid performance by James Farentino) is on the case. Only Freddie ain't dead yet. He's brought to the burn ward at Potter's Bluff General where he eventually succumbs to a syringe shoved into his brain by way of his eye courtesy of Nurse Lisa (the girl on the beach) in a scene that Tarantino was probably thinking about when he shot a similar scene in Kill Bill (also Brian DePalma).

Farentino gives his all as Gillis but the show is nearly stolen by that old stalwart Jack Albertson as William G. Dobbs, the local mortician. Albertson, in his final performance, is a joy to watch. Dobbs considers himself an artist and is never too broken up when a fresh corpse is brought to him. He prides himself on restoring his subjects to beauty whether they've been burned beyond recognition, knifed, gouged, etc. He's good at what he does but is "what he does" actually good? Also, what the fuck does he does?

Gillis is an outsider to Potter's Bluff himself. He met a local teacher (Melody Anderson), fell in love, married her, came to her town. Lately, she's been acting a little weird though. Teaching her class about voodoo is a little weird I suppose, but certainly nothing to get worked up over. Gillis is a bit of a straight arrow I have to admit. Though, her disappearing most nights is also a bit odd and perhaps his cause for concern is justified.

The picture layers on surprise after surprise but does it in a subtle way. We learn a little bit about Dobbs, a little about the townspeople, a little about why when a corpse is exhumed they don't find the corpse but instead just a wrapped up human heart, and so on. All important reveals, sure, but it's all just a set up for the final reveal which I have to admit I didn't see coming and is a slight nudge to the balls if not a full on kick. A few innocents try driving through the town but, like I blatantly spoiled earlier, not one of them makes it out. The attacks are increasingly tense with one guy snapping photos of the horrified victims as the rest of the townspeople close in for the kill. It's like a zombie attack only if one of the zombies had been a photographer in his prior life and remembered the act of snapping photos but not what it signified. Or, whatever. This is scary shit. Also, why do victims of this zombie-like mob turn up later working at gas stations in Potter's Bluff or at the grocery...or the local strip bar (I'm assuming the Bluff has a strip club and that some of these victimized women turned up working there).

The picture's got everything you want, but rarely get, in a horror film. An incredibly ominous atmosphere (fog machines, a real seaside town, believably creepy architecture), some terrific performances, genuine shocks, and some perfectly realized gore effects created by Stan Winston. Speaking of Alien, this thing was also written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shushett, who co-wrote that earlier masterpiece as well. Two masterpieces in row is pretty rare, but I think they've done it. My seal of approval comes with the knowledge that I watched this thing sober and still enjoyed the hell out of it. Try to keep at least one eye open or you might miss a very young Robert Englund as one of the creepy residents. Also, Barry Corbin (Wargames, No Country For Old Men) shows up and doesn't speak a word of dialogue that I can recollect. Shit man, just watch the thing. We got tits, scares, creepy going ons, etc.

Wow, Halloween is really tomorrow???? (note: I'm finishing this up on November 9).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

3 Days: Village of the Damned (1995)

I'm desperately trying to catch up here with a remake of a 1960 classic called Village of the Damned. I gotta be honest, as I always try to be. I never saw the original. All I know about it is that there are some creepy kids and it's black and white. So, this picture keeps the creepy kids, but loses the black and white. I guess I can review this thing based on its own merits.

Of those (merits) there are too few.

Which is disappointing because Carpenter made some great stuff leading up to this. We got his early shit like Assault on Precinct 13 (remake of Rio Bravo), Halloween (original concept? Perhaps inspired by Black Christmas), The Thing (remake of the The Thing From Another World), Christine, Prince of Darkness, They Live, and, right before Village, In the Mouth of Madness. That's like a murder's row of 80s to early 90s genre shit. I'm not even bringing up Big Trouble in Little China, Escape From New York, or Starman. The guy was on a roll. Unfortunately, with Village of the Damned, the cracks begin to show and by the end of the picture, everything's collapsed. I'd argue he'd never really recover. He got lazy. Sure, Escape from L.A. has a few moments and it retains much of the intelligence strewn throughout his earlier work. Vampires is a fun western. With vampires. Ghosts of Mars is like a remake of his own Assault on Precinct 13 only set on Mars. And with Ghosts. It's unwatchable. I've tried to sit through it many times and always pass out around the time Pam Grier loses her head. Anyway, the point is Carpenter isn't what he used to be and I think that Village of the Damned is where the train went completely off the rails.

Which is an absolute shame because the picture gets off to a great start. We got a quiet little Rockwell-esque village known as Midwich, U.S.A. We got a tight little community where everyone knows everyone. Even the town drunk is sorta just accepted and loved. We got Christopher Reeve, one of the sincerest actors in the history of acting, in his final role before the accident that left him paralyzed and ultimately killed him. So, I guess that leaves a bit of a pall over the entire project. Reeve plays the town doctor and is very good here.

The opening scenes are magnificent as some sort of unseen force ripples through the town causing everyone to pass out. Michael Pare (Eddie & The Cruisers), despite being one of the "stars" passes out at the wheel of his truck and dies in a fiery crash. One guy passed out while cooking barbecue and did a face plant on the grill. And, of course, ten women (including the doctor's wife, Pare's widow, etc) woke up only to discover they were pregnant. In some cases, it's impossible (one girl's a virgin, one couple wasn't having sex, one husband was away in Japan for the last half a year, etc). Anyway, the government shows up to investigate, led by the Kirstie Alley. She's the opposite of Reeve; completely insincere and, just all around, not good (her acting and her character).

The story then jumps ahead nine months. An infirmary is set up for the mothers, doctors lined up, birthing procedures followed, etc. Only, Alley's a little too quick to announce one baby as stillborn while rushing it off to her private lab. Then the movie jumps ahead a few years. The space babies are now kids with platinum white hair. They got mind control type powers. Mara, Reeve's daughter, appears to be the leader. She convinces his wife, her mother, to submerge her arm in boiling water, walk off a cliff, and so on. Basically, to generally kill herself. Point is these kids got no humanity. They're evil. They hate people. They'd enslave them but since they can also read minds they know the people would eventually revolt. So, destroy them is the best option I guess. No way can they co-exist. Well, one of these kids actually develops a little differently than the others. David actually seems to love his mother, doesn't have this rationally, irrational hatred of mankind. I think we may be heading for some sort of showdown type thing.

Sort of. I mean, I liked this one in parts. Meaning, I liked the beginning. I liked some of the mind tricks these kids would pull. The whole project is pretty lazy though. We don't got much tension. I really only cared about Reeve's character. Hated Alley's character (which is good 'cause she eviscerates (spoiler) herself). I mean, an example of the inherent laziness of the script is the scene where a dad of one of the kids goes looking for his daughter in his truck. He gets a staredown, some eyes turn red, and next thing you know he's driving off the road and smack dab into a giant barrel of gasoline which just happens to be lying out smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the kids imagined it, I don't know.

There's also some shit about this being a global epidemic, we got threats of nuclear annihilation, etc. We got a scene where Reeve thinks of a brick wall so those little shits can't read his thoughts which is good because he's holding a briefcase with a bomb inside. They ask what's in the case but all that mind reading shit made them lazy and unable to properly deduce. There's shit involving a mob of townspeople which doesn't go very far. Some policemen turn their guns on each other, etc etc. Unfortunately, after a great beginning my interest began to wane. Where did these kids come from? Why is it that an alien race that has the technology to cause ripples that can knock out an entire population needs to concoct an overly elaborate plan just to destroy the human race. I'm assuming while the town was unconscious they sent down a couple of alien Cassanovas to have their way with the hottest women? Maybe these guys are just sex starved. Either way, this movie, for me, symbolizes the end of John Carpenter (or, is it?) and Christopher Reeve, so I gotta say I don't like it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

4 Days: Mark of the Devil (1970)

Here we have a SAW for the 18th century. The inquisition comes to Austria in Mark of the Devil, an early 70s exploitation "classic" that takes a sledge hammer to history, pours some tar on it, throws it on the rack, and finally cuts off it's head after having ripped out it's tongue. In other words, it's a pretty good movie.

Udo Kier (Mother of Tears) stars, in an early role, as Count Christian, the earnest assistant to the Grand Inquisitor, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom). Christian is sent ahead to a small mountain town to prepare for his lord's arrival. He believes in their work, wants to make the world a better place, is sincere in his mission, etc. Immediately, Christian strikes up a conflict with the resident witchfinder, Albino (Reggie Nalder). Albino abuses his power just a bit. After throwing himself at Vanessa, a beer wench, and being rejected, he immediately accuses her of being a witch, points out her mole as being the "mark of the devil", etc. Basically, the guy goes around raping maidens and then bringing them in for torture, confession, and ultimately, burning. Christian saves Vanessa's life and they immediately fall in love. That love is tested when Cumberland arrives and Vanessa is brought before his counsel on the charges of witchcraft (Albino is a devious son of a bitch). Cumberland upholds the charges while Christian remains passive.

The picture is built around grotesque acts of torture. One woman is placed on the rack, has her feet burned, her fingers squashed, etc. This shit goes on for hours. She is brought before the increasingly sadistic Cumberland who says she is to die. She thanks him for putting an end to her torture. Cumberland's reply: "We want confessions, not more corpses. Torture her some more." This leads to the picture's money shot, where the poor girl has her mouth clamped open and her tongue ripped out. The torture and gore is plentiful.

The picture, unfortunately, let's itself down by killing off Albino in the first thirty minutes and replacing his great, sadistic villain with one slightly less so (Cumberland). Albino is one of those characters an audience loves to hate. We'd actually root for the guy to die a horrible, preferably slow, death. Alas, we're left with a tepid choke job at the hands of Lord Cumberland after Albino calls him "impotent". A great character like this deserves worse. I mean, this is the kinda scum bag that would see a naked girl in a 2nd floor window, head up with his cronies, kill her boyfriend, and have his way with her, while accusing her of witchery.

The marketing campaign was pretty brilliant and helped to propel it ahead of the Vincent Price classic, Witchfinder General at the box office. Stuff like "This movie is rated V for violence" or claiming, in the tagline, to be "the most horrifying film ever made". Barf bags were handed out in theatres and, apparently, a few of them were used. It's all overblown of course. I can't argue with the "V for violence" thing, but I've certainly seen worse. The movie has one truly horrifying moment (the tongue scene). If you know where to look you can find far more exploitative shit.

My favorite scene involves a family being accused of witchery because they were putting on a marionnette show in their home. Apparently, the puppets were used to capture the soul of the viewer. The husband was promptly murdered, the wife and two children thrown in jail. Later, a slimy inquisitor is shown attaching puppet strings to a real live bunny rabbit. I have no idea what the significance of that is.

Still, I liked it. The setting looked completely authentic. We got real castles, real horse drawn carriages, period dress, period torture devices, etc. The performances, by Kier, and in particular, Nalder are effective. The women are mostly beautiful and come with large heaving bosoms. The cleavage on display here is astounding. You know, I guess the inquisition was a good time to be alive if you're a horny zealot. You can go around accusing women of being witches without one iota of evidence. Hell, I'm sure some of them were blackmailed for their bodies. Thank god this kind of history doesn't repeat itself. This could never happen today. Blackmailing women into having sex with you!? What a crazy world this used to be. Anyway, Mark of the Devil is a good one. The picture skimps on the supernatural elements completely. Not one confirmed witch. All those women burned at the stake were supposedly innocent. Crazy. The ending is graphically morose. The townspeople revolt. There's mayhem, graphic violence, nudity, minimal slow parts, etc. Give it a look.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

5 Days: Teeth (2007)

Revisiting Teeth, after having seen it over a year ago, I was struck by how god damned funny the picture is, an element that mostly escaped me the first time. Of course, a large part of one's appreciation of a film depends on their mood at the time they watch it. Perhaps, the first time I expected something more horror-ish, intense, whatever. There are several laugh out loud moments strewn throughout and, thankfully, they were all intentional. This isn't camp or any shit like that. It's all played pretty straight.

We're introduced to a high school student named Dawn (a terrific performance by Jess Weixler). She's a spokesperson for a group of christian virgins called "The Promise". She wears unicorn tee shirts. Her home life is a little off despite a loving mother (terminally ill) and stepfather. Her stepbrother, Brad, has been in love with her since they were little. Dawn, however, is not like most girls. For one, she doesn't put out. Also, she's got teeth in her vagina which, at first, she's unaware of since she's a virgin.

Well, shit, all the guys in this thing are assholes. Dawn meets a "nice" guy at one of her meetings. They go to the movies. The "R" rated picture isn't even a consideration, the "PG-13" one could likely have scenes of making out, so they settle on some "G" rated thing (we don't see the picture, sounds like looney tunes). Later, they go to a swimming hole, Dawn's friend points out a cave where people go to do "you know". Then they leave. It's all perfectly innocent. Dawn might be in love, fantasizes about marrying Tobey while in bed, feels something tingle...and reaches down...

This leads to guilt, humiliation, proclamations of "we can't see each other anymore", and finally, a rendezvous at the swimming hole where Dawn leads Tobey to that cave. Things progress a bit. There's some kissing and then Dawn says they should go. Tobey relents (a little), then freaks out ("I haven't jerked off since Easter!"), hits her, and carries on. Dawn comes to with him doing his business when suddenly there's a crunching sound, Tobey screams, his dick falls off, he goes into the water, and we never see the guy again. Dawn, for a while, convinces herself that she imagined it. She even goes back to the cave later and is shocked to see, in a great visual gag, a crab eating Tobey's penis. After researching vaginal mutations on, where else, the internet, she pays a visit to the gynecologist (another male scumbag) who does things like lube up all his (glove less) fingers to "test for elasticity". Later, as he writhes on the floor, clutching his fingerless hand he starts screaming "it's true! Vagina Dentata!"

Fuck, I never thought I'd enjoy a man-hating movie this much. I guess it's because it's hard to take it all seriously. Dawn's stepbrother Brad (John Hensley) gives great support. He's the worst of the worst. He still lives at home, doesn't work, mooches off his parents, smokes weed in his room, flirts with his stepsister, and bangs his girlfriend doggie style to her chagrin ("you know, I have a perfectly good pussy"). The guys idea of a joke is to hide naked in the shower while Dawn is brushing her teeth and surprise her when she tries to get in saying "I got you bitch". It's a little uncomfortable. Even more uncomfortable is the opening scene where Dawn and Brad (as young children) sit in a kiddie pool and somehow Brad ends up with a chewed up finger. Not sure how that happened.

As bad as Brad is, Dawn's "friend" Ryan isn't much better. Her supposed "hero" is good at telling women what they want to hear. She buys it, they have successful sex in his bedroom, a converted garage. Of course, this is after he pines her with alcohol and she comes to with him using some sort of stimulating device on her. Somehow, she accepts it. Later, during even more coitus, he answers his phone. Turns out he won a bet. In a later scene, during surgery, the doctor looks at Ryan's detached penis and comments "it hardly seems worth it". That's the last joke I'll spoil. There are many more.

How exactly does one get teeth to grow in their vagina? Well, I don't know? Maybe has something to do with those giant pollution emitting smoke stacks looming over Dawn's home? Or, perhaps she really is a mythical creature in need of a "hero" to save her. I guess the teeth are the villains and need conquering.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the trials and tribulations of discovering ones sexuality and then biting off dicks with it. Well, maybe "romp" isn't the most fitting term here. It's a "horror" picture in the sense that kids are losing their dicks and we see the results. There's some gore here. There isn't much in the way of scares, but it's not really that kind of picture. A scene involving a dog and a severed penis goes a little too far, in my opinion. That one hurt. None of this would work without the note perfect performance of Jess Weixler who is reminiscent of early Wynona Ryder. Actually, this one reminded me a lot of Heathers and just a little of Deadgirl. If I was still in high school it might make me consider that jerking off is actually a viable alternative to getting laid. Fuck, I'm sure I'd still take my chances (not that I ever did).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 10 - 6: Paranormal Activity (2007)

Well, this picture will have to cover a few days (for now) since I've fallen so far behind and I'm not sure I'll be able to catch up by Halloween. Paranormal Activity would fall into the "found footage" sub genre of horror (The Last Broadcast, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Cannibal Holocaust, etc). Fortunately, I wasn't aware it was a found footage type of film going in. Unfortunately, they spoil the thing with a bit of text at the beginning stating that the producers would like to thank the families of Katie and Micah (our two leads) which sorta implies that they're either dead or missing. My expectations were more along the lines of this being a "ghost hunters" or a Poltergeist type situation, only they tried to fool us into thinking this was actually real. You know, a few scares, a few jumps, everyone comes out ok in the end except for the ghosts who are still dead.

Instead (and slight spoilers may abound, so tread carefully...or don't tread at all) what we get is a little different. Katie and Micah have been dating for three years. She's a professional student. He's a douchey day trader. She moves into his house in San Diego, a two floor number with a pool out back, three bedrooms, sparse furnishings, giant tv, etc. The house isn't isolated. We got a sunny neighborhood, lots of houses, mind-their-own-business neighbors. The house looked brand new, so not your typical haunted house either. Well, here's a minor spoiler. The house ain't haunted. Katie is. Turns out she's had experiences since she was 8; feeling a presence, strange noises, unexplainable fires, etc. Micah has a point when he says this information could have been useful before she moved in.

Of course, Micah embraces this as a great opportunity to capture some paranormal type activities on camera. He sets one up in the bedroom, on a tri-pod to see what happens while they sleep. They turn the thing off once during the entire picture and it's for the freaking sex act. Everything in this picture is shown through the lens of that camera. During the day, Micah walks around with it while Katie tells him to put the thing away. She tells him that often. The first night, around 3 AM, everything seems fine. Then suddenly the door moves a few inches, then it moves back. Could be those swirling San Diegan crosswinds coming in through the window I guess. Things progress a bit, Katie calls a psychic who doesn't really help much. Apparently (and here is another spoiler) they're not dealing with a ghost. It's a demon, not the psychic's realm of expertise. He gives them the number of a good demonologist and leaves claiming "I've angered it just by being here." Thanks man, big help.

The "activities" progress from relatively harmless (the door) to pretty fucking terrifying (loud crashes, loud footsteps coming up the stairs, growls, and much worse). Micah doesn't help matters by calling out the demon, saying things like "this is MY house", buying a Ouija board which promptly burns on camera, of course, while they're out. Micah is incredibly unlikeable, but Katie's got our sympathies. The performances by these two non-actors are, for the most part, convincing. Katie calls the demonologist, against Micah's wishes, but he's out of town. Things get more desperate, bodily harm becomes a possibility. I guess there are no other demonologists in California?

This one's a rollercoaster. We got the moments of calm (daytime, for the most part) which lead to terrifying moments (anything after bed time). The anticipation becomes unbearable. The creepiness nearly unrelenting. I looked forward to the day time shit just so I could catch my breath. After a while, the character actions start to border on the idiotic. You got the footage, the proof! For chrissakes, have a bunch of friends stay the night, show the police, contact some family, do something! Don't just go to bed the night after Katie (spoiler!) is dragged from it. Call another demonologist, please. The special effects are seamless to the point that you'll be asking yourself "how did they do that?" a few times.

I guess we're all just a bunch of voyeurs, demons included. While our couple records every occurrence in their bedroom in hopes of catching a glimpse of the entity, our entity is clearly watching their every move. Whether, it's infatuated with Katie is never overtly explained. There's some connection there. Ironically, the one time they turn off the camera is to have sex. The demon saw it all and probably wasn't too happy, especially not with the "that was illegal in Kentucky" line. The demon wanted that ass first, Micah. Way to anger the demon.

The movie nearly blows it with an ending, apparently suggested by Steven Spielberg, that shows way too much while giving the audience their first view of some clearly computer generated bullshit. Something more subtle would have been preferred, perhaps one of the two alternate endings that were actually filmed. Despite that disappointment, this one might scare you. There's no escaping this type of entity. Katie can run, but it will follow (or so the psychic tells us). Still, I'll take my chances in a fully staffed hotel. I was more creeped out during the movie than actually frightened. Then, later that night, I lay in my bed until 2 or 3, watching TV, afraid to go asleep since it could mean waking up in an hour or two when my bedroom door opens and slams shut (on it's own). Or worse, with my roommate standing at the foot of my bed in a state of catatonia although, that would be horrific for other reasons.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Blew It (2009)

This ain't a movie. I had a feeling this might happen. I closed the last two nights at my 2nd job and didn't get home until after midnight each time. I thought about writing something, last night and now, but decided you might actually deserve something half way readable (unlike my review of The Crazies. Sorry George, you deserved better!) So, I'm going to fuck things up a bit and write these reviews when I have time to actually put some effort into them. I'll try not to half ass them too much.

Here's a sampling of some pictures in the pipeline. They might not all get written up. If you definitely want my thoughts on some of them leave a comment. I'll be back. Real soon.

John Carpenter's Village of the Damned
Cabin Fever
Dead & Buried

If there's something not from this list you want me to cover (and I can get it in time), Let me know!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

11 Days: The Crazies (1973)

Well, here we've got an extremely short review. I just got home from seeing the Raveonettes play with the Black Angels at the Paradise. Great show. Had a little too much too drink. Perfect segue to a bunch of characters who aren't acting themselves in a little George Romero film called The Crazies. We got the perfect Romero set up. Basically, the government blew it.

We got a little town called Evans City, Pennsylvania. We got a small group of citizens. We got some soldiers wearing gas masks. We got a bio-chemical weapon called Trixie. Here's what happens. Trixie gets in the water or some shit like that. People drink it. People go crazy. That's the gist of it.

We got some documentary type footage of government types invading a town, quarantining it, shooting citizens without impunity, etc. A couple of them try to find a cure, realize there ain't one. A couple of them go crazy themselves. I don't know man, this ain't my favorite Romero picture. It falls somewhere under the tier that includes Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Martin, and Land of the Dead. Also, maybe Monkey Shines. There are two stories. We got a group of government types debating whether or not to nuke the town. We got a couple of citizens trying to survive and dealing with infection amongst their midst. All told in a verite style. It sorta works.

I liked the nurse character. Her husband was alright. The husband's friend was a douchebag. I hated all the government bastards. This one's ripe for a remake and thank god we're getting one. Just don't watch the trailer since it will spoil the shit out of it. The best thing about this picture is the nature of the disease. Basically, people go crazy (i.e. "the crazies") and begin killing their loved ones. One guy tries raping his daughter. It's crazy shit all around. However, this isn't the rage virus. The infected can still communicate. One guy kills a few people, sees a friend and says something akin to "hey buddy what's up?" It's loco shit. I dug it, didn't love it.

Also, some of the acting is atrocious. Guys get shot, hold their stomachs, and fall down minutes later. A little too melodramatic for my taste. Then again, I guess that's to be expected when you hire high school kids to portray your gas masked soldiers. Still, worth checking out. A solid follow up to Night. Seriously though, skip the trailer for the remake. It gives everything away.

Well, as with most things in life, there's a lesson to be learned here. Don't drink and blog.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Thank god for fate. I had resigned myself to not seeing this probably until DVD. Then, I walked to work this morning to find my building closed. The result of a burst water main. I grabbed a little breakfast and thought about my plans for the day. I jumped the gun on my "19 days to Halloween" feature (see Fido) and then sat in my chair surfing the web for a bit. On a whim, I checked fandango. 11:20 showing of Where the Wild Things Are. Hmmmm....looked at the clock. 11:10. Set the computer down and booked it to the theater. I didn't even miss any trailers (though with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox, they all kind of sucked).

This one sure brought me back. Not to any particular movie, but to my childhood. A time when I actually used my imagination on a regular basis. Max (Max Records) is a typical child (at least back in my days). An overactive imagination, lots of time spent by himself, a fairly antagonistic relationship with his sibling(s). The movie opens with him building a snow fort, trying to get his sister to play, and then watching as her friends destroy it (thinking they're joining in on the fun). In retaliation, Max tracks snow in her room and on her bed, to the chagrin of his mother. The set up brought back memories of hours spent alone, exploring, dreaming up fantastic scenarios, building things, not receiving enough attention, and ultimately waiting for mom to get home.

One night, his mom (Catherine Keener) has a boyfriend over. Max acts out. He doesn't want frozen corn, he pouts, he yells, and he flees. He runs and runs and runs until he comes to the edge of a shore to an endless sea. Docked on the shore is a little sail boat. He gets aboard and sets sail through stormy waters ending up in a distant land. The land of the Wild Things.

The wild things are a wonderful creation of special effects and costume. Not exactly menacing, although they sometimes delve close to that, they quickly embrace Max as their king. Of course, a couple threaten to eat him first. James Gandolfini voices Carol, the one that becomes Max's closest friend. His voice work is wonderful, as is all the voice work, from Catherine O'hara (as Judith "the downer")to Lauren Ambrose (as KW) and Paul Dano (as Alexander). I didn't even recognize Chris Cooper as Douglas....

....shit, I'm gonna stop this "proper" review. Yes, the movie is great. I loved every minute of it, but I gotta be honest about something here. Sadly, I'm not sure kids today are gonna dig it like I did. I've been reading a lot about kids saying the movie was too sad, or it left them bored, or whatever. It's just not a movie for these times I guess. This is a movie for kids of my time and the times before. As the movie began, I wasn't sure what I was gonna think. We got this Max kid running around like a crazy animal, attacking his dog, and shit. Then we got a freeze frame as the title comes up. I thought the kid was pretty annoying at first. Then, something clicked. He built that snow fort, lined up some snowballs, and began an attack on his sister's friends. His sister was embarrassed, barely even acknowledged him as she drove away. This kid was me. He was all of my friends. When I wasn't at school, I could spend eight hours outdoors. Easy. I grew up with miles of woods, corn fields, beaver ponds to explore, had adventures, sat in a tree for hours at a time scanning the horizon. Do kids even build snow forts these days?

Mind if I get on my high horse, my pedestal, my soap box for a while? Possibly for the rest of this write up? Today, it's all about the electronic gadgets man. They got their ipods, their iphones, their PS3s. It's hard to imagine a kid spending more than an hour outside. I can't really say I blame them. I'm that way now with my DVDs, my laptop, etc. I'll kill my weekends watching movies. Hell, I just joined a gym and even most of that time is spent absent mindedly peddling a bike while I stare blankly at a TV or listen to my ipod. These are shitty times to grow up in. I can't even really blame the parents I guess. We're all victims to progress. Now, if you have a healthy imagination people might think you need therapy (which is something I heard referring to Max in this picture). Fuck man, it's depressing as hell to think about. Which is why I don't understand when people, ok mostly children type people, label the movie "sad".

It's positively life affirming. I felt good watching it. I remembered what it was like to be a kid for the first time in years. I'm not sure kids today will get anything close to this experience (well, sure, they're still kids but I'm pretty sure their experiences are different than mine were). Yeah, the creatures are great to look at. They're individual characters. They have their issues. They struggle with relationships, experience unrequited love, laugh, cry, and build things (only to destroy them). Yes, this is a movie that takes place within a child's mind but it's not something like Alice in Wonderland or The Neverending Story. The plot, if it can be called that, is simple. Boy feels ignored at home. Boy travels to where the wild things are. Boy and wild things learn some shit from each other, build giant fort. Boy misses family, says goodbye, goes home. That's the story. We got no villains, no major conflicts. Yeah, there are a few "fights", a few mildly tense moments, some laughs. The wild things act just like kids. Are kids. I don't know where I'm going with this one any more.

I think parents should probably try seeing this twice. Preferably, first without their children. I can imagine their enjoyment being influenced greatly by the enjoyment, or lack of enjoyment, of their kids. They see them stirring, complaining, becoming occupied with their cup holders, etc. It's not gonna happen for them. The picture did well it's first weekend ($32 Million), but I can already feel the negative word of mouth (mostly from parents and their kids) swirling.

I guess, to put it in simple terms, this is just a mood piece. Nostalgia is a part of that. The emotions from all the characters are real. The relationship between Max and his mother is genuine. I loved it, that's about all I can say. Did it make me sad. A little. Not for what was happening on screen. Everything on the screen filled me with happiness. Ah...hell....I may have cried a bit. There I said it. I had some tears at the beginning even and especially at the end, hell I think there were some during the middle parts. Simply because these characters were doing good to each other. The sadness I felt was more personal than that. I've lost my wild thing and I want it back. If only for a moment.

12 Days: Fido (2006)

This is what would happen if Bub (Day of the Dead) continued to evolve and then got sent back in time to the 50s. Radiation from space (where else?) has contaminated the entire planet Earth, causing anyone that dies, post contamination, to turn into a zombie. This leads to world war, as depicted in an amusing send up of old news reels. Eventually, the humans win out when they learn the secret to taking out the zombies ("get 'em in the brain"). Unfortunately, the radiation lingers so new zombies are popping up all the time. In steps Zomcom, a corporation that constructs collars that attach to the zombies and curb their desire for human flesh. It makes them placid, able to be controlled. They also construct walls around the cities and towns, dumping "bad" zombies and, perhaps, "bad" non-zombies as well into what's known as the "wild zone".

Against this backdrop is set a sweet "boy and his dog" story involving a boy and his zombie. Little Timmy (K'Sun Ray) lives with his Mom, Helen (Carrie Ann Moss) and his Dad, Bill (Dylan Baker). Owning a zombie on their particular block becomes a sort of status symbol. Their wacky neighbor Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson) even has a zombie called Tammy. He doesn't really use her for chores though, she's more of a wife type. We don't want to know what they do behind closed doors. Anyway, being concerned with what others think is a common trait amongst 50s housewives, so Helen goes ahead and orders the family a zombie without telling her husband who, it turns out, is zombie-phobic. This might lead to some problems.

Not for Timmy though. The two of them bond almost immediately. Well, after his zombie defends him from a couple of schoolyard bullies, they do. Timmy decides his zombie needs a people name. What about Fido? Later, Fido wanders off, his collar malfunctions, and he chomps into old lady Henderson. She becomes a zombie and Timmy is forced to kill her, but thankfully Fido's collar is working again.

While at school, Timmy meets a cool girl whose Dad (Henry Czerny) is the new security chief at ZomCom. Also, he was a hero of the zombie wars. Also, he's sort of a slimy son of a bitch who will do anything to protect his corporation, including throwing Timmy and family into the "wild zone." Yes, this is a zombie movie, but Czerny is the villain of this picture.

Basically, what we got here is a kid's picture which happens to have some gore. The relationship between Timmy and Fido is something we've seen before; Timmy and Lassie, Hogarth and Vin Diesel, Victor and Frankenweenie, etc. There are scenes where Timmy is in trouble and Fido goes to Helen for help that are ripped right from the annals of Lassie ("Is Timmy in trouble? Where is he boy?"). Sure, Timmy takes off Mrs. Henderson's head with a shovel and yes, the violence is treated lightly. Several people die during this one. Some of them come back. Others have their head separated from their bodies so they can't come back (per their dying wishes). I'm saying this is a kid's movie but I'm also suggesting maybe watch it with your kids.

Eventually, Fido gets recalled to Zomcom where he's going to be terminated, but Timmy learns from Czerny's daughter that he's just been enslaved. A rescue attempt follows involving Mr. Theopolis, Tammy, Mom, and, yes, even Dad comes around.

This one's a lot of fun. We got some sunny 50s type atmosphere on the surface. Some 50s radiation cloud and zombie atmosphere underneath. The performances are all note perfect, especially Carrie Ann Moss and Dylan Baker. Baker, in particular, is good at playing a man who projects satisfaction while beneath it all he's crumbling (also, see Happiness). He's the kind of man who can't really communicate with his son, would rather ignore him, but shows a little bit of tenderness in the scene where he presents him with a gift ("Now, I know you're not supposed to have a hand gun until you're twelve, but it can come in real handy").

Of course, I can't talk about Fido without mentioning Billy Connolly's performance. Completely believable, sweet, funny, etc. He's more than just a dog. The family grows to love him, well....still not sure about Dad. This picture is more optimistic than your typical zombie shit. More than anything, it's a love letter to George Romero and the glimmer of hope he provided via the character of Bub in Day of the Dead. If a zombie can find enjoyment in something simple, other than the devouring of flesh, then it's hard to argue they've lost all their humanity. Fido is an affirmation of that. Except they had to go and name him after a fucking dog.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

13 Days: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Now this is a sequel. Don't just remake the first movie (see Pumpkinhead 2). Here they take some of the characters from the first picture (the cook, Leatherface, granpa) and set them in a completely different locale (Dallas instead of South Texas), different time period (The 80s) and give them an opponent who is almost as crazy as they are (Dennis Hopper's "Lefty" Enright). They also manage to introduce a few new characters, Chop Top (a member of the Sawyer clan who was serving in Vietnam during the events of the first film), Stretch (a radio DJ and screamer), and L.G., Stretch's producer. Oh, and they also amp up the black comedy which, while present, wasn't very pronounced in the first picture.

The picture begins during the weekend of the annual Oklahoma/Texas football game, which is a pretty big event down in those parts apparently, a fierce rivalry where players and fans of the opposing teams loathe each other, drink to excess, and raise all kinds of hell. Also, it's the weekend of the world famous Texas Chili cook off. The picture opens with a couple of Oklahoman college boys driving down a stretch of Texan highway, boozing heavily, and shooting up anything "Texas" (we got a "remember the Alamo" sign, mile markers, etc). They call in to a radio station (DJ'd by "Stretch", played by Caroline Williams) annoying the hell out her, holding up the line, berating her, etc. She tells them to "hang up the phone" and finally, they do. Later, these two assholes play chicken with a confederate flag adorned pick up, running it off the road. Hours later, it's night time, and these punks are still going, calling in to the Stretch's show again, when they encounter that same truck. A great scene ensues involving a little more chicken, the world's longest bridge, and a chainsaw wielding psychopath in the back of the pickup, dancing, propping up a dessicated body (hitch hiker from the first film?), and sawing the shit out the Oklahoman car, and also the top off the driver's head as his stunned friend fires his pistol wildly missing the broad side of the proverbial barn. Stretch hears it all, and records it all.

Next day, we see Dennis Hopper investigating the crash. Turns out, he's a former Texas Ranger, and the uncle of Sally (the screamer from the first film) who has not recovered from a state of catatonia induced from the first massacre. So, he's got a bone to pick, has traced the family to the Dallas area, eventually teams up with Stretch, wields some saws of his own, etc.

The poster above gives you some indication that this isn't your father's Chainsaw as it's a clever spoof on The Breakfast Club poster. Yes, it's more gory, but it's also incredibly funny. See, the Sawyers have traveled north to participate in the chili cook off. Apparently, they have a home in those parts. An underground lair decorated with bones and Christmas lights. Jim Siedow, as Drayton Sawyer ("the cook"), is the only recurring actor from the first film and he's pretty hilarious, gets off some great lines such as, when chastising Leatherface, "It's sex or the saw!". Yes, much of the menace has been lost. Bill Johnson portrays my favorite version of Leatherface. He's hitting puberty, wants a girlfriend, and is more than suseptible to being pussy whipped. He wields his chainsaw as if an extension of himself, also as his cock. His first encouter with Stretch (at her radio station) ends with her convincing him to let her go by coming on to him ("you know how to use that thing?"). He spends the rest of the picture covering up her survival to the other members of his clan. Of course, grandpa is back and while he may have once been as "fast as Jesse James" with his braining hammer, that's not really the case these days. Oh, and the hitchhiker's body appears. Even in death, the family embraces his lunacy.

And then there's Chop Top, played over the top bat shit insanely by Bill Mosely. He's become somewhat of an iconic character. During the first film, he was in 'Nam (almost makes you feel sorry for Charlie, not to mention the other poor bastards in his platoon). Top came back with a steel plate in his head, which he covers with his "Sonny Bono wig". Through out the picture, he scratches at the loose skin around the plate with a coat hanger, picks the loose flesh off, and eats it. He also comes with a catch phrase: "Dog will hunt". He frequently adds "dog" or "hog" to various expletives, i.e. "you dog dick" or "you hog bitch". A welcome addition to the "chainsaw" universe.

As is Hopper as "Lefty". Sadistic, broken, insane, etc. He's given up everything in the hopes of avenging the pain that's befallen his family. It's not enough for him to kill the Sawyer clan. It would be easy to load up with some heavy artillery and blow them all away. In one of my favorite scenes, he shows up at a chainsaw store, plops down a pile of $100s, and begins testing them out as the proprietor looks on. He takes a few saws outside and brutally hacks at a log as the owner looks on, first frightened, then licking his lips excitedly, getting off, etc. Oh, and a marching band plays in the background.

Of course, the picture culminates in a showdown in the Sawyer underground lair, a masterpiece of set design. A clever statement on the over indulgences of the 80s, a disease that clearly the Sawyer's weren't immune to. Anyway, the family sits down to dinner, Stretch is brought out (screaming, she does this through most of the last 1/3 of the movie), granpa goes to "work", and Lefty begins hacking and sawing his way through the tunnels, trying to crash the party while singing "bringing in the sheep". Chop Top adds the harmonies. It's all bizarre, sort of frightening, and uncomfortably funny. The picture ends with the tables being completely turned on the original. Tobe Hooper has nothing to worry about. His legacy is firmly secure with this one; also Lifeforce (maybe even The Invaders from Mars remake). Not to mention the original Chainsaw. Yeah, it's been unfairly maligned, misunderstood from the get go by morons who wanted him to just repeat the first picture. This one holds up. It's not only a great sequel, but a great movie in it's own right.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

14 Days: Pumpkinhead 2 - Blood Wings (1994)

Pumpkinhead does not need an origin story. The original is scary, in large part, because we don't know exactly where the thing comes from (we assume hell, but it's never made clear). It just is. It's summoned, it kills those who have been chosen for extermination, it goes back to wherever the hell it came from when it's finished. It's simple. It's perfect.

Not only does Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings give it an origin story, they also humanize the fucker. Now the thing's a god damned "he". See, turns out Pumpkinhead is actually the deformed son of that witch that lives in the mountains (I guess). Years ago, some kids got together, sliced him up, and dropped him down a well. So, his mother casts a few incantations and he's reborn as pumpkinhead. Of course, he can only be summoned by his mother...and, in that case, only rest after he's killed his marks. Other than the addition of an origin story, this is the same god damned movie as the first one (minus the Lance Henriksen).

Some rowdy kids (including the Sheriff's daughter of course) accidentaly burn down the witch's home (with her inside). So, I guess she summons Pumpkinhead while she's burning...or maybe from the burn ward in the hospital. Whatever, man. Then the kids spend the picture running, hiding, futilely fighting off Pumpkinhead. There's a neat twist involving Pumpkinhead receiving 2 sets of marks; we got the kids that burned his momma and also the kids (now adults) that killed him in the first place. Or, maybe Pumpkinhead just decided to kill the 2nd set on his own...sort of a twofer deal. So, I guess a little different from the first one.

Somehow, amidst all this dreck, we got a good performance or two. Notably Andrew Robinson (the dad in Hellraiser) as the sheriff. His daughter is ably played by Ami Dolenz (any relation to Micky?). Also, Roger Clinton (yes, Bill's half brother) appears as the mayor, Bubba. Amusingly, when he thinks of Pumpkinhead, he thinks dollar signs and compares it to Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, etc. Something to "put our little town on the map". Soleil Moon Frye (Punky Brewster) shows up and gets skewered.

So, it's not a very good picture but I laughed a few times. I can't imagine those laughs were unintentional. Most of these laughs center around the medical examiner who shows up at the Sheriff's home, during breakfast with his family, to give the results of the autopsy; "His limbs were severed..." Uh huh. She immediately makes the following observation after finding a body; "If an animal got old Ernst, it wasn't of this world." Her best line involves a character being "one step away from scared to death." She's a great character.

Pumpkinhead looks the same as he always does. He appears, against shots backlit with lightning, looks menacing, kills a few people and disappears. I didn't notice any wings or anything though. Or, being more specific, "blood wings". Not sure what the subtitle is about. Maybe they were in the original script, but they didn't have the budget for them or something. We also only got one stylistic flourish in the entire picture. I don't always call for this shit, I'm fine when the style is a lack of style, as long as the story is compelling me. Here though, they got a scene where a hole is dug from the perspective of a shovel. It's a jarring moment, especially when you consider how flat the rest of the picture is. Jeff Burr (the director of this and Leatherface), embrace the style! This isn't a very good one. We got a couple boobies, a severed head, maybe a brief shot of a disembowelment. I watched it with some pumpkinhead beer so it was pretty tolerable. Went down smooth. The beer I mean.