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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

15 Days: The Long Weekend (1978)

This is why I do it. This is why I wade through all the shit (see The Suckling). Every now and then a movie comes along and just hits you right where it counts. I'll try not to over sell this one too much (although, I think it's pretty brilliant). This is exactly the kind of picture I like. Long Weekend is a 1978 eco-horror picture from Australia. We're introduced to a bickering couple too hung up on their own lives to give a shit about their surroundings (in this case, a secluded campsite on the ocean). I kept thinking of Straw Dogs while watching this thing. Same kind of husband-wife dynamic. Instead of assault by crazy townsfolk, we got crazy wildlife (and maybe even some evil vegetation. Who can tell since the whole thing's pretty ambiguous.). Though, the wife isn't raped by a gator and his buddy or anything like that.

Anyway, Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a married couple who've had just about enough of each other. Hints of infidelity are thrown about, maybe an abortion, Marcia is jealous of Peter's dog, etc. "I know", Peter says, "let's go camping! Just the two of us, with no one else around. Just me, you, some trees, the ocean, lots of sand, etc. It'll do us some good" (I'm paraphrasing). Marcia would rather stay in a hotel but she eventually relents. They pack up the jeep, Peter sneaks the dog in the back and off they go....joyous hours spent together in the car, snapping at each other, smoking cigarettes. It gets dark. Peter stops for some beer while Marcia sleeps. They continue their journey. Peter nearly dozes, then strikes and kills a kangaroo. Fuck it, what's the big deal? Just one harmless, now dead, kangaroo. They turn off the highway, Peter starts to smell the ocean, they seemingly drive in circles through a forested road which suddenly doesn't look much like a road. Perfect place to set up camp.

Well, turns out that kangaroo maybe had some friends. Perhaps that eagle flying over head, the growling possum maybe, shit, the encroaching forest too? This one's a slow burn. Lots of development. Peter and Marcia fight. A lot. Still, there are moments when their relationship approaches something resembling sweetness. A little peck here. Some sweet nuthins, some cuddling. Unfortunately, Peter is one of those guys that considers himself an outdoorsman but really belongs nowhere near it. His lack of respect for his surrounding environment is evident from the start; littering, firing his rifle wildly into the ocean, the woods, not burying his shit (I made that one up, but kinda assumed that's what he would do). It's inexcusable on his part. Marcia just wants to lie down and read her romance novels. She's easily forgiveable, also slightly adoreable. Also, she bares her breasts.

This one's actually pretty terrifying at times. If you've ever been lost or had a nightmare of being lost or hate the fucking woods this one's not for you. Nature strikes back. The camera work is exquisite. We can never be sure where the danger is coming from. Up above (the eagle), the ocean (shark maybe?), the trees (possums or...the trees themselves?). I can't think of a more claustrophobic picture that's set in the great outdoors....not to mention on the shores of the largest body of water in the fucking world. Once the sun goes down in this world, the fear of the unknown becomes almost unbearable.

And then there's that god damned manatee. Yeah, a manatee washes up on shore. Peter and Marcia investigate. As time goes by, the (dead?) thing moves closer and closer to their campsite. Peter shoots it with his rifle. The thing keeps getting closer. I had a theory here (thankfully, not supported by the film). Animals from the forest would come out and drag the thing up the beach just to fuck with Peter and Marcia. Seriously, what else could it be? A fucking zombie manatee? Don't make me laugh. Seriously, that's what you think? Moron.

Tensions escalate. A spear gun goes off on it's own (yeah right, I'm looking at you Possum), footwear is dropped from the sky, a poor dog gets left behind in a mad dash. The score is great, the sound effects eerie, the performances by our two actors and the animals are believable. This is as good a horror movie in the "nature strikes back" category that's you're likely to ever find. On a side note, has there ever been an ugly picture made in Australia? Even if you half ass the shots, everything comes out looking so god damned amazing. I can't think of one. Mad Max, Rogue, Wolf Creek, Thunderdome? In the case of The Long Weekend, that natural beauty only adds to the horror. Could have used a killer kangaroo though. I think the lack of vengeance on behalf of their fallen brethren is an almost gaping plot hole.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

16 Days: The Suckling (1989)

Holy shit am I tired. This was one of those fifteen hour days I talked about at the beginning of this feature (the now famous "19 Days until Halloween" thing). I'm going to keep this one very short. Thankfully, the picture I watched doesn't really merit a lengthy write up. Not that it wasn't fun. It sorta was. It's just how much can I possibly write about a movie where an aborted fetus mutates in some toxic waste and then tries to make it's way back home? Well, I could probably give you 1,500 words easy now that I think about it.

The Suckling is about as pro-life as a picture can get. Or, maybe it's just anti-back alley abortions? I'm not really sure and something tells me the filmmakers could give a fuck either. Here we got a picture about a young couple (the girl's knocked up) traveling to a New York City brothel where they hear they give out abortions or something. Yup, they were right. In the same building there's actually an abortionarium, which is probably not a bad idea. These procedures, administered by Big Mama (she doubles as the resident Madame), are not particularly sterile. We got a coat hanger, we got a toilet. That's pretty much all you need. The fetus gets unceremoniously flushed, ends up in the sewer, gets covered in toxic waste (of course!) and voila! A CHUD baby.

So, basically we got a Night of the Living Dead type situation where a bunch of assholes are holed up in a brothel, their exits blocked by giant plecenta. The fetus grows to enormous proportions and with incredibly jagged teeth. It's goal, to shove itself back up it's mothers womb.

The picture deals rather flippantly with some sensitive issues; abortion, suicide, anal penetration, etc. So, if you're easily offended best stay away. The Suckling would probably be considered the best picture Troma released, except they didn't release it. The fetus reminded me of the baby from Dead Alive. After growing to full size, it reminded me of the mother (also, Dead Alive). The original box art apparently claims this to have the suspense of Alien mixed with the non-stop action of Die Hard. I'm too tired to argue.

Basically, this is probably not a must see Halloween feature. I may have dropped the ball on this one, sorry. I enjoyed it despite watching it sober. We got a few breasts, an abortion procedure that shouldn't draw laughs but does, the world's deadliest umbilical cord, and one smart (and elusive) aborted mutant fetus.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

17 Days to go: The Pit (1981)

The Pit is awesome. I could, and probably should, end the review there. This is the kind of picture that could never be made today. It stars Sammy Snyders as a twelve year old kid, named Jamie, whose only fucking friend in the whole world is a god damned evil teddy bear named Teddy. Oh sure, it's probably just all in Jamie's head, right? That's what I thought until the thing's eyes glowed red in the very first scene. Later, we see it's head turn when little Jamie isn't even in the room. Jamie loves talking about his friend Teddy and, later, about a pit full of trolls. Kids got an incredibly active imagination, huh? Nope, all real.

Shit man, Teddy is pretty much one of the greatest, although sadly underutilized, characters in moving picture history. The thing is a fucking pervert. He convinces Jamie to blackmail a neighbor into stripping in front of her open picture window (if she doesn't comply, they'll murder her kid) so Jamie can snap some photos. Later, we see Jamie and Teddy looking at the photos together. Teddy proclaims that he's "going to look at these all the time." Unfortunately, Teddy is a fairly minor character. Probably due to a limited effects budget. Every picture could use a little Teddy.

As great as Teddy is, Jamie's only a rung or two beneath him. Jamie's an odd kid. I've heard the word "autism" bandied about in a few reviews. I suppose it's possible. He's got one friend that's supposedly "imaginary". The one girl on his block that's his age is constantly making fun of him while her mother completely endorses her behavior. There's an old woman that gets pushed up and down the street in her wheelchair that says, about Jamie, "that boy ain't right." Kid can't catch a break. Even his own parents abandon him for an indeterminate amount of time (weeks?), leaving him in the incapable hands of his attractive babysitter, Sandy. Sandy studies psychology in school so she assumes she can handle Jamie. Jamie immediately falls in love with Sandy and before she realizes what's happening, he's convinced her to give him a sponge bath ("my mom does it for me."). This kid's got more guts than I ever had.

I guess there's a plot in here somewhere. It involves a pit that Jamie discovers at the end of a wooded path. In the pit, live four or five troglodytes (or "Trogs"), basically hairy trolls. Jamie takes an interest in them. No one believes him, except for Teddy. The Trogs are hungry. Jamie takes it upon himself to feed them. At first, he buys up all the steaks from the butcher shop. Then he tries to rob the delivery truck. Jamie runs out of steaks. That's when he comes to the realization that pretty much everyone in town hates him (little girl up the street, lady in wheelchair, babysitter's boyfriend, bully that won't let him in his club, etc)...So? It might take a little more prodding from Teddy to do what's on his mind. Not much.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that the picture is no masterpiece. I'm not even sure the word "good" applies. What it entertaining as hell. We got a great, awkward performance from Sammy Snyder as the troubled kid. Some scenes, in particular the ones where he leads his victims to the pit, are side splittingly hilarious. There's an underlying creepiness throughout the whole thing. Of course, that's to be expected in a picture that has a scene where a twelve year old stares at his babysitter's exposed breast while she sleeps. Quint over at the Aint it Cool News wrote sort of an anti-review of the picture. His heart just didn't seem to be in it. He compares it to an "after school special that dips into weirdness" (which isn't a wholly inaccurate description) then dismisses it outright. The message of this particular after school special would be something like "be nice to the weird kid down the know....the one that can't stop staring at your tits" or maybe "don't befriend a pit full of fucking trolls". I think I saw that one when I was a kid.

I could relate to this kid. I was a quiet kid early on, spent more time alone than with others. Spoke my first word later than what's considered "normal". I even had crushes on a couple of babysitters. Despite all that, I turned out alright. Other than the parts where he peeps in on naked women and causes the deaths of several of his neighbors, I'm not so sure he's that different from you or I. I can't really vouch for you, to be honest. Sorry. This is one of those pictures where, after it was completed, pretty much everyone involved called it a career. What's the point in continuing? This shit can never be topped.

Seriously man, it's good. There, I said it. It is good. I've almost got myself convinced. The ending, where poor Jamie is, once again, abandoned by his parents (this time, left in the incompetent hands of his grandparents), is delightfully warped. It's perfect for viewing with friends and booze or alone and sober. Teddy wants you to watch. Teddy wants you to turn off whatever motherfucking thing you're watching and put this shit in. Now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

18 Days Left: The Uninvited (2009)

Normally I don't go for these American remakes of Japanese ghost pictures. First, I'm not much in the way of a fan of the originals. Muddled stories and creepy ghost children don't really do it for me. If I had known The Uninvited was a remake, I probably would have skipped it without a second thought (except that it was lent to me, and I always watch movies I borrow). Shit man, I can't take another watered down PG-13 remake of a film I probably wouldn't enjoy anyway (would have been my thought if I knew this was a remake). Well, it turns out...this is a remake of a South Korean film (A Tale of Two Sisters). Not Japanese. Also, I guess the directors (The Guard brothers) are British or something. Not American. Fuck, maybe I'll find some enjoyment here after all.

I did.

This is my kind of ghost story. The kind that stars the hauntingly adorable Emily Browning. Holy shit, what eyes. What a mouth. What hair. I started to creep myself out when I realized the only other thing I've seen her in is Lemony Snicket when she was about 14. She's 20 now, so it's fine. Anyway, Browning plays Anna, a troubled teen living in a mental facility as a result of a recent tragedy that claimed her mother. After some time has passed, Anna is finally released into the care of her father (the always reliable David Strathairn) and is surprised to learn her father is shacking up with her mom's former nurse, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks). Also, living with them is Anna's sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel). Their house exists somewhere along the New England (Maine?) coast I'm guessing, since Strathairn is some kind of writer. There's a boathouse, a rocky shore, a winding drive, etc. Perfect shit for a ghost story.

It doesn't take long before Anna begins having visions. First, she sees her dead mother. Her mother points the finger at Rachel. Anna and Alex investigate. All signs slowly point to Rachel starting the fire that killed their mother. They investigate some more, steal the batteries from Rachel's dildo, and so on. I got to be honest here. This is where these pictures usually lose my interest. A fucking ghost can't rest in peace while it's murderer steals it's life. So, the ghost starts pointing the finger, presenting subtle clues, etc. Why can't the ghost just come out and say it. Maybe give them something obvious. Instead, it just sorta freaks them out, nearly gives them a heart attack by appearing at the most inopportune moments, etc. Also, I hate that scene that appears in most of these movies where characters look at microfilm to figure out the source of evil, what happened to those ghosts to make them so mad, why was their house built on an Indian burial ground/morgue, etc. Still, this movie has all that shit but at least it's done pretty well. They stick with the ol' Dad's girlfriend is a nurse who murdered some kids type of cliche, which isn't quite as well used as the others. Still, despite this stuff I'm not too fond of, we still got Browning to look at. Seriously, star in the making.

This one is full of some good creepy visuals. I particularly liked the visitation Anna receives from her just recently deceased boyfriend with the recently broken back. There's some good shit at a funeral involving a little dead red head that leads Anna to even more microfilm and thus more clues about Rachel's past. Of course, dad doesn't believe her. Why should he? She's certifiable. Certifiably adorable.

As Rachel, Banks is good. Some of her behavior early on in the picture doesn't really make sense when you think about how this one wraps up. A red herring is a red herring I guess. She does a good job of portraying a syringe wielding, dildo using, over bearing, wants to be a mother but doesn't quite have the make up for it, type. She tries.

Here's another confession. I guessed immediately that Alex wasn't really there. Well, not in the sense that an alive human being would be. See, I assumed she was a ghost too. No one, besides Anna, spoke to her directly, responded to her questions , or questioned that she and Anna were a bit too close, if you know what I mean (sharing a bed, the tub, etc). I have no problem admitting when I'm wrong. I was. Sort of. The Uninvited ends in an unexpected way. Actually, it's pretty shocking when you think about it. Sorta horrific. A little heartbreaking even. They fooled me. Good job.

This is a good one made better by low expectations. If anyone but Emily Browning had starred in this thing I probably wouldn't have jived to it as much. It's not really my type of picture, but it's probably near the top of it's type. Of all the remakes of far east ghost-type horror films I'd put this one near the top, a few notches below The Ring. It's PG-13, sure, but it's not noticeable. I was surprised that it didn't pull it's punches at the end.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The first annual "19 Days until Halloween during which I will write up one movie every day for the rest of October Spectacular!"

I'm back just in time for some sort of Halloween type feature. I figured I'd be original and do some sort of thing where I write about a different horror movie every day until the 31st. Here's the original part: I'll start on the 12th! Ok, I'm just incredibly lazy and haven't been able to write about shit lately. Here are the parameters: Each day from now (the 12th) until Halloween (the 31st) I will choose a horror movie to write up. That's pretty much it. I'm not watching a movie every day. I'm not writing about a picture extensively every day. Hell, there might be a day where I'm lucky to give you a paragraph. Hopefully, that won't happen, but there are some days when I work 15 hours, get home at 11:30 with a wake up scheduled at 7:30 the next morning. On those days, I probably won't give you much. I'll give you something though, which is more than I've been doing lately. I have no idea what movies I'll include. Hopefully, they'll be something I've watched recently. No guarantees. Hell, perhaps I'll give up after a couple days. Hopefully, I'll be able to recommend the shit I write about. Anyway, here it is....the first ever...sort of....list...on moving picture trash. Really, it's just a list of movies in no order whatsoever.

19 Days until Halloween: Deadgirl (2008)
It's scary what disillusioned, angry young men will do under the influence of each other. Usually, we got a leader, a follower or two, and mayhem. Sometimes it's innocent mayhem; some vandalism, drinking, skipping school, talking back to parents, etc. Other times it's something worse; school shootings, home invasions, panty sniffing. Most often, it's just staying up late and playing video games. Probably less often than anything, it's breaking into an abandoned mental hospital, finding a zombie girl strapped to a table, and raping her. I'm not sure this happens very often so I can't say if the picture that portrays these events (that would be deadgirl) is based in any sort of reality or not.

Anyway, this picture will kick off my countdown to Halloween and it's a pretty good choice if I do say so myself. Basically what we got here is the story of two such teenaged boys. School's not for them. They don't fit it, jocks make fun of them, girls ignore them, blah blah blah. We got Rickie, the overly brooding emo type, and J.T., the more charismatic leader type. One day, they decide to skip out on classes, drink some brews, etc, eventually making their way to an abandoned mental facility where they drink some more brews, vandalize some shit, get chased by a demonic dog, and eventually head down to a basement where they find some girl (seemingly dead) tied to a table, covered in plastic. The girl moves. J.T. gets excited and says "let's keep her". It's pretty clear who the monsters are in this type of scenario.

Of course, the audience sorta needs to identify with one of these numbskulls so it might as well be Rickie. He's not really into it. He leaves. J.T. stays and gets to know the girl carnally. Later, he begins whoring her out to another boy from school, Wheeler. Wheeler is even more of an outcast than J.T. and Rickie. I guess it's good these guys are staying away from the school. Of course, it's pretty weird that the girl is dead. We figure this out not because she's decayed (she isn't) but because J.T. kills her a few times that first night after she tried to bite him (strangulation, face bashing, he shot her a couple times). If the girl was alive we got an exploitation film here. With her dead, it's pretty much the equivalent of Dracula whoring out the Wolfman...or Quint catching and whoring out Jaws. Any such scenario fits. Go ahead, give it a whirl. Ripley whoring out the queen alien, etc. Fun stuff.

I don't know, it's a fucked up scenario but it's believable in the sense that I believe a couple of asshole, emo-teens, capable of this shit. The performances are all pretty good, especially Noah Segan (Brick) as J.T. Shiloh Fernandez as Rickie just has to brood. He's James Dean minus the cool. Rickie also has an unrequited crush on a girl from school named JoAnn. JoAnn dates the quarterback. The quarterback eats guys like J.T. and Ricky for breakfast. Rickie's home life sucks. His father is non existant. His mother works nights. His only father figure (mother's jobless boyfriend) is an alcoholic. His only friend is a necrophiliac. Things are pretty bleak. That's high school for you.

This picture is creepy without being too scary. Violent without being overly gory. There's a naked dead girl who isn't particularly sexy. Is she a zombie? It's never really made clear. I mean, I think she's dead but maybe she's just impervious to death. She gets shot, but keeps living. I think there is implied penetration of bullet holes. We feel for the girl, want her to escape, have vengeance, and so on. J.T. rarely leaves her side and towards the end of the picture lounges about in the basement wearing a Hugh Hefner type smoking jacket. Her bite seems to transmit her "sickness". One unfortunate character has a disgusting mishap in the mensroom after being bitten. Things get out of hand.

The picture is advertised as being from the guys that brought us Hellraiser and Heathers. We got sick perversions of the flesh crossed with High School, so I guess that makes sense. I liked it. Good music that perfectly fits the mood. Some black as tar humor, some dead girl nudity. What's not to like? Eventually, things come to a head. Rickie stands up to J.T. Some jocks get mixed in. Rickie is forced to make a horrific decision. Yup, this is high school alright.

In closing, I can only imagine that this movie will do for having sex with zombies what Jaws did for going into the water.