Monday, June 27, 2011

DEVIATION (1971) - the deviates tend to deviate

Certain professions in horror films raise immediate red flags. Say a group of lost teenagers happen upon a creepy house looking for directions. The owner invites them in, and the fat party stoner asks him “so, what do you do for a living?”. The owner replies, “well, as a matter of fact, I collect chainsaws. Would you kids like to see my vast collection down in the basement?”. Most of the audience (that is, anyone who hasn’t huffed vast quantities of paint fumes) immediately recognizes that no one would pay someone to collect chainsaws, and they attempt to provide the characters with helpful advice by yelling at the screen “GET THE FUCK OUTTA THE HOUSE YOU MORONS!!!”.

Thankfully, the teens ignore this advice and carry on exploring. After all, if they just immediately left the house, got directions from a friendly gas station attendant (I know there’s no such thing as a friendly gas station attendant, but bear with me; this is the world of make believe), the movie would frankly suck balls.

Taxidermy is a horror movie profession that doesn’t raise the red flags that it should, perhaps because it isn’t used very often. When Marion Crane eats that sandwich with Norman Bates in the parlor, she seems to find the stuffed animals leering at her to be nerdy and weird, but not seriously threatening. I’d like to think original audience members felt something similar, without the benefit of hindsight. Either way, the reclusive Norman Bates (the relatively sane side of his personality) probably uses taxidermy as a harmless hobby to try and deal with death and to pass the time, while his other half, mother, actually runs around killing people. After all, Norman would never hurt a fly, but is exactly the kind of guy that would have some weirdo hobby.

The “villains” of
Deviation are brother and sister Julian and Rebecca. Julian is a taxidermist like Norman Bates, without the overtly evil double personality. Instead, his evilness is of the passive aggressive sort, a disturbed recluse interested in death, while his sister is sexually repressed to the point that she can be driven to violence when her psychosis is properly "agitated". They are the tenants of a creepy old house but, in defiance of obvious genre convention, they are tragic villains, unaware of their own hidden evil. The real villain, it would seem, is sexual repression itself.

The story begins with the old hoary cliché of a couple (a boring married man and his young hot stuff mistress) encountering some car trouble on a dark lonely road, forced to take refuge in a creepy old house. What is the source of the car trouble, you may ask? Well, according to the driver, he collided with “a young man in a white poncho”. Let’s not beat around the bush. We're talking hippie roadkill, folks.

Hippie crimp action circa 1971? Ahead of it's time, I dare say.

Well, why are there incognito hippies running about the woods? Well, it turns out that brother and sister, in their sexual repression, have sanctioned secret hippie orgies, complete with bongos and weed and awesome writhing hippie chicks (I could only wish I was that repressed, but hey). The man driving the car (whatever his name was) ends up searching the house and coming upon one of these orgies. Instead of being turned away at the door, like I probably would’ve been, he’s invited in, and even forced to have sex with a hot hippie chick. To think, he only sought refuge in the house, hoping for a call to a mechanic and maybe a bed for the night, and he ends up in something akin to backstage after a Zeppelin concert. Granted, he ends up murdered as part of the brother/sister/local hippie weirdo dynamic, but, all told, it was a glorious night out.

The mistress wakes up the next morning, none too concerned that her “lover” has disappeared. After all, he was merely a well-to-do schlub, and perhaps penniless excitement would be more fitting. However, the resident bed ridden nutter aunt tells her “go I tell you! They’ll kill you!”. She ignores these pleas and instead hits up some reefer with Julian and his orgy buddies. After all, if your main squeeze mysteriously vanishes, and a creepy old lady tells you that you’re gonna die, you’ll probably wanna blow off some steam.

What happens in the second half comes as a result of little tragedies built on sexual repression, perhaps akin to Polanski’s
Knife on the Water. This might appear to be yet another entry into the “hippies are assholes genre” among the likes of I Drink Your Blood, Helter Skelter, The Devil’s Daughter (I swear I’ll get to reviewing that one), and of course, the “Passion of Joan of Arc” of the “hippies are assholes” genre, Gimme Shelter. However, what we have are two "villains", while vaguely associated with the “free love” ideal, are really festering islands onto themselves, isolated from humanity despite their monetary ability to attract hangers on. After all, if happiness is a warm gun, perhaps it’s really the warmth your attracted to…that is, any warmth you can get your hands on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Movies I wanna see: NOCTURNA (1979)

So, why do I wanna see Nocturna? Well, let me put it this's a disco vampire movie. It stars Nai Bonet (she co-wrote it too). Brother Theodore is in it. So are John Carradine (of course) and Yvonne DeCarlo. Oh...Sy fucking Richardson is in the movie. Don't know who Sy Richardson is? I call...bullshit on that.

Did I mention it's a disco vampire movie? If not, let me be clear...a disco vampire. Do they snort some coke or drink some blood? Answer: both. Here's a clip:

Unfortunately, the VHS is incredibly scarce. I reckon that, for the price of what it would cost for an original VHS copy, I could buy a polyester suit, a bag of coke, and some plastic fangs, and enact my own disco vampire movie. Granted, I'm hot garbage on the dance floor, but people don't tend to insult those who wear fangs out in public. Just take Nic Cage from Vampire's Kiss as an example. Look at this picture of him wearing fangs in a club...would you fuck with this guy? Of course not.

Monday, June 20, 2011

RETURN OF THE FAMILY MAN (1989) - Father's Day fun with an obscure South African slasher about a dad that kills his family and hits the teen market

Here's the cover of the rare ass VHS. Notice the similarity to the Sorority House Massacre poster:

Alden has one of those "shitty lives" many of us can sympathize with. His pizza delivery job entails that he has to drive around in a pizza themed Jeep Wrangler, desperately attempting to secure a piping hot pie into the hands of some asshole within a 30 minute time frame. He is also forced to dress like a Men Without Hats video dancer, his stereo stuck on the same 3rd rate Fishbone song. This doesn't exactly scream "upward momentum".

However, his fortune turns when he delivers a pizza to some hot girls, no doubt ready for…oh wait, some guys are shooting the place up with uzis. It looks like a coke deal gone wrong (or maybe a pizza deal gone really really really wrong), and poor Alden is in the wrong place at the wrong time; namely, with a machine gun pressed against his head. Maybe it’s his lucky day after all, as the clip turns out to be empty, and he promptly gets the balls out of dodge.

Well, it looks like Alden’s ex- girlfriend Vickie and her current boyfriend are about to embark on a trip to an abandoned mansion. Alden witnesses news footage of the shooting on TV, and, for some reason, assumes the cops are after him, the pizza dude, for the Scarface-style coke massacre. Vickie lets Alden tag along as the most awkward of third wheels, that is, he who is on the lam for a crime no one suspects him of. Vickie’s television is thankfully set to the exposition channel, and we learn that “The Family Man”, a notorious murderer with an ironic moniker, is being transferred to a different prison.

Apparently, a carful of misfits is also visiting the same mansion, located in a town called Borden (probably named after Lizzy Borden, the heavy metal band, or maybe that chick with the axe). At the wheel is Libby, the bitchy blonde American; Weasel, the British punker covered in buttons; the token Indian asshole Marty; Sylvie, the French Girl; and Evelyn, from South Africa. Libby provides a scenic tour for these cosmopolitan schmucks, showcasing the best of small town Americana. In reality, they find themselves somewhere in South Africa, in an area dressed up to look like the U.S. of A. At least it’s convincing enough for these characters to constantly point out stuff like “hey, it’s all so American!”, and “let’s grab one of those ‘hamburgers’!”, and, of course, “look at all these xenophobes who can’t even watch a slasher movie set in a country different from theirs!”.

One of the local customs involves the townsfolk performing a ceremony in the middle of the street, celebrating the installation of a new cable TV satellite. Unfortunately for them, the sight seeing schmucks collide their car into the dish. The locals are none too happy (even flipping their open/closed business signs when they see them coming) as their dreams of being able to watch bass fishing on ESPN2 are tossed into the proverbial paper shredder. This gives everyone in town a reasonable motive for murder, although my money is still on that Family Man guy. Lo and behold, he escapes the funny bus, not only blowing away the guards, but the other inmates too. I guess you can’t leave any witnesses during a prison transfer escape.

Alden and the couple drive into town eating pork rinds, nearly colliding with a station wagon. Arriving at the mansion, they discover it’s a dilapidated shithole. Trash is strewn everywhere, and there’s even a wall missing. The other schnooks arrive, and most everyone is upset at the rickety living conditions. Not Weasel. He’s stoked that he can wreak havoc in the house without any noticeable consequences. They used the same dynamic with Vivian in The Young Ones, which just goes to show that destructive punk rockers live in garbage dumps not out of necessity, but rather, because it fits a lifestyle choice. Also, they’re broke.

Some random family of assholes is seen having a poolside barbecue, where dad has concocted a 3 foot wall of flame, as he apparently intends to serve his family cow ash. The Family Man shows up, and the smartass kid asks him if he wants a burnt hamburger. He kills the family and then sits them down to dinner, as if re-living a meal with his previously slaughtered family.

Meanwhile, the group recants stories of other murderous “family men”. Sylvie tells of a French version that would steal your toes when you’re asleep. Marty tells about an Indian guy also named The Family Man, who would kill his family, change his identity, marry again, hack them up, ad inifitium. The difference between the American and the Indian family man is that the Indian guy would grind his victim’s faces down with rocks. Apparently it’s one of those Hindu deals. Either way, I find it pretty interesting that, not only is the Family Man legend universal, the physical manifestations of this boogeyman are also universal. I guess that's less a series of boogeyman than the sad simple fact that once in a while, a father will murder his own family and go on a killing spree, regardless of ethnic background.

Regardless of the stories, various news reports, and dire warnings, they decide to fix the place up while some fidgety synth slop curls the collective toe. They celebrate their colossal achievement by cooking some marshmallows over the fireplace before pairing off to have sex. The only pair left out of the exchange are Weasel and Evelyn, she of the South African chaste morals. Weasel, depressed, tries to alleviate his pain by sticking a Twinkie in a mouse trap and waiting for some action. Lucky ass Marty even hooks up with Sylvie by explaining Hinduism to her, which amounts to “we are all part of the collective universe, so if we screw each other, we’re really just screwing ourselves”. Christ I need to try that one.

The next morning David finds a secret room with a dead family, a dead dog, a hand in a music box, and a foot locker full of money. I guess the party the night before really got out of hand. Regardless, the Family Man shows up and plants a sledgehammer in the back of David's head. This kicks things off, as the characters stumble around the house while the Family Man kills them off. You’d think they would just drive away, but the killer drove both their cars into the lake without anyone noticing. This forces them to fight back, resulting in some MacGyver-esque shenanigans when they each create a weapon. There’s the blow dart, the molotov cocktail, the spray can flame thrower, and, most impressive of all, the Polaroid camera/hairspray can trigger nail bomb. They decide to use Libby as bait, and manage to set the Family Man on fire. This doesn’t curtail him very much, though. He just says “you made me angry!” and sticks her head in a Cuisenart.

They decide to try Plan B (get the fuck outta dodge), but this quickly hits a snag. Evelyn has to go to the bathroom, so she and Weasel head back into the house. Naturally, the Family Man shows up and lynches her with her fanny pack. This leads to the trap frenzy finale (a la A Nightmare on Elm Street), eventually resulting in the Family Man getting his family ass blown sky high with a propane tank.

Reveling in his new lease on life, Weasel says he’s gonna take a vacation in El Salvador (I’m pretty sure that’s a Dead Kennedy’s song). The survivors walk away victorious, hitching a ride with a truck as the credits roll; the smooth rock synth and occasional guitar chords hammering home the victory.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

SORORITY GIRL (1957) - a portrait of a sociopath

For a film from 1957 about a “bad girl” (Sabra) manipulating others for her own selfish gain, you might expect a “bad seed”-esque portrait of an evil monster. However, what we have here is a tragedy borne out of what Sabra thinks it means to be human, like a robot feebly attempting to blend in with the human race. Director Roger Corman, utilizing the bluntness of characterization and plot machinations of exploitation films of the time, manages to craft a fairly realistic portrait of a sociopath, even by modern Hollywood standards.

The key to the movie is to simply look at the interactions between Sabra and her mother. Sabra insults her mother by saying she doesn’t care (honestly, as many may deem it), so her mother rips up a check written out to Sabra in retaliation. Mother tells her “you were a brat the day you were born”, and Sabra responds by suggesting that this particular character trait may have been inherited. Dearest mother retorts with “the only thing you’ve inherited is money”, meant to suggest that Sabra is riding the proverbial gravy train, and any personal problems are self created, surely absolving mother of any responsibility in the matter. Quite ironically, she accidentally defines their relationship with that very statement, that money is the extent of her parenting and, therefore, the totality of their relationship.

This mother/daughter dynamic defines Sabra’s relationships. Once Sabra is granted power over a pledge named Ellie, similarly to how her mother held sway over her, she resorts to employing this diseased dynamic. For Sabra, a relationship is essentially an extortion between two people, an attempt to gain from the other, just as she would attempt to pry money out of mother’s cold hands. Sabra attempts to advise Ellie along the way, cruelly insulting her under the guise of “tough love”, just as mother would snarkily point out Sabra’s flaws.

Sabra’s roommate finds out about her forcing Ellie to do things under the banner of “sorority initiation”, making her do situps and wash her stockings, amusingly quaint given the modern hazing that goes on. She threatens to reveal this to the dean, but Sabra blackmails her into keeping quiet. Relationships for Sabra are, after all, not about love, nor sharing, nor compromise, but rather, a means to an end. In this case…self-preservation.

Sabra appears to be conscious of this “diseased dynamic”, as I put it. She intermittently reflects on her situation in a rather realistic way (instead of simply supplying the audience with plot information), wondering why she doesn’t have any friends, despite being pretty and having money and driving a fancy car. In her world, these kind of things determine a person’s worth. At times her voice over reflects her lack of empathy with others, like when she thinks about stealing away Rita’s (Ellie’s roommate) boyfriend Norm, played by Corman regular and regular studmuffin Dick Miller. Sabra does so seemingly not out of maliciousness, but in complete ignorance of Rita’s feelings, viewing Norm as simply an object to be acquired.

Still, other times, Sabra recognizes that there is something wrong with her. Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar, where you’ve realized you have a problem, but continually try to push it into the background or justify It to yourself. Self-psychoanalyzation is a desperate hole, where a naïve soul can bury themselves in logic and reason. Ironically, Sabra goes to her mother for help, as she has no one else to talk to. She pleads to her in a desperate cry for help, and all her mother can say is “there’s nothing wrong with you…there shouldn’t be, you’ve had the best money can buy”. Mother, sadly but predictably, assumes it’s all a ploy to extort money.

This story takes a turn for the tragic when our flawed heroine attempts to redeem herself. She finds out that Rita is pregnant, with only her and Ellie knowing the truth. Sabra vows to help Rita, and hopefully right the previous wrongs against her, and, indeed, all of the wrongs she hath previously wrought. Sadly, her flawed concept of relationships dooms this attempt. I won’t reveal what happens, except to say that this is not a tragedy akin to Hamlet or MacBeth, but rather, a sad character descent fitting of a 19 or 20 year old of the time period. Sabra is left alone on the beach, crying, with all of her peers staring at her in disgust. The human race, in microcosm, has decided that they want no part of her.

P.S. This was written as part of the Roger Corman blogathon over at Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear. Check it out here.

P.P.S. The stills are artwork from the opening credits, and shows that, despite the exploitative title and poster, the movie is aiming for psychological weight.

Monday, June 13, 2011

DEADLY MANOR (1990) - when a "spam in a cabin" plot takes place in a creepy house in the woods, things get extra spammy

Here's the entire movie. Remind me again why I bothered to buy an import DVD of this some time ago.

So sad. A young naked couple, struck down in their prime of their lives. Apparently, they were fucking on a motorcycle going 60 miles an hour, and somehow, this tragically led to their demise.

Open and shut case? Well, a mysterious black car drives away from the scene, so maybe it was all a devious conspiracy. A “third party”, hiding on a knoll (whatever the fuck that is) may have shot their tire out during the whole “screwing on a bike while hauling ass” deal. I’d point to this as the most logical explanation for the two deaths, but logic can later be chucked out of the window, as cinema need not follow the laws of the universe. We shall see.

A truck hauling a Bob's Big Boy statue (I guess he’s going in for repairs after getting molested by hooligans) lets off a hitchhiker. Four teens ready for a weekend of fun at the local lake are having issues making sense of the map. Luckily, they bump into the hitchhiker, who will guide these assholes to the promised land.

As if smacked by the hand of fate, our schmucks get a flat tire. Further complicating matters, a badged porker pulls up, and the fat goofball has to swallow his joint (he’s wearing a spiked bracelet, Godzilla t-shirt, and a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off, for whatever that’s worth). However, things work out after all. They fix the tire, elude the tyranny of the man, and take a side road to a creepy old house and decide to stay the night…oh, never mind.

Interestingly, sitting on the front lawn is a monument of the dented black car, placed on a stone slab, complete with blood stains and a photo of a girl. Even more ominously, the second floor window suddenly closes, which the fat guy thinks was done by a "biohazard mutant zombie". On top of all of this, it starts to downpour, scaring the bejeezus out of Helen, who runs off for the safety of the deep dark woods. The hitchhiker kicks the door down, some false scare birds jump out of a closet, and everyone immediately decides to inspect the cellar. As Peter eloquently observes, "muthafucka, there are coffins in the basement!". Things become even more ominous when Helen, after wandering in the woods for awhile, gets her throat slit.

Well, I guess you know where this is headed. The gang never waivers in its desire to spend the night in the shadiest of domiciles, even when they happen upon a collection of human scalps, not to mention a photo book of nude corpses (yay nudity!). They also find various sassy photographs of a live girl (more nudity…yippee!), who in fact is still living in the house, a nutball trapped in a past of former modeling glories (shades of Silent Scream). The "actress" is played by Jennifer Delora of Robot Holocaust and some other crap, wearing a creepy porcelain mask. Even the walls occasionally crack (a la Repulsion), symbolically representing the fracturing psyche of the girl.

She and the house have now become symbiotic; two decaying bedfellows that are remnants of a happier, less bat-shit crazy time. If that wasn't enough already, through the ubiquitous expository newspaper headline, we learn that the hitchhiker is on the lam, but, alas, ain’t no sheep.

These kids are a curious bunch, eager to investigate
any and all suspicious noises and disturbances, but not equipped to do so. They eventually become dead certain that they are in fact being slaughtered, so they head for the car, but the battery has been stolen (I bet it’s those damn hoodlums that “compromised” the Big Boy statue). Fatty and his girl head to the road to wave down a passing vehicle and, luckily, some creep picks them up. Unfortunately, the creep slits fatty’s throat in slow-mo (I should’ve seen that coming), and his girl escapes through the woods, supplemented by the ever popular owl insert.

She ends up back at the house and finally tries the telephone, but unfortunately, some asshole forgot to pay the bill. Jennifer finally pulls off the mask, showing off her deformed face. I’m guessing this must have contributed to the downfall of her modeling career, but she blames her unceremonious intruders for her unfortunate complexion.

A handy flashback finally explains everything. We see the naked bikers from earlier with their clothes on, riding along, harassing the shit out of Jennifer and her dad in that black car. This causes them to veer off the road and crash, and consequently, become crazy retard killers. Not only do they kill the bikers, but they strip them naked and leave them in the middle of the road. If that wasn’t enough revenge, they come back to the scene and retrieve the bodies, and then hide them behind a wall in the house for curious teenagers to happen upon. There’s also that car monument thing on the front lawn. Whatever helps you cope I guess.

Well, the pork patrol actually comes to the rescue, plugging the dad and whisking away the final girl to certain safety. Everything is finally hunky dory, a tangled web of conspiracy and conjecture laid down through stone cold logic. I admit to jumping the gun, wrongly assuming that the naked corpses were truly victims, completely free of blame. I think we can all learn a lesson from my failure here, that is, to be aware of, and be able to defeat, any and all assumptions when rationally examining something. After all, human beings are…holy shit! Jennifer suddenly appears at the cop car window, yelling “I’ll kill you bitch!” at the final girl. I just totally lost my train of thought. Well, who cares, that final jump scare was fucking awesome. I hope I didn’t give it away.

The credits roll to an "atmospheric" synth job that vaguely sounds like South Park’s Phillip Glass parody. This wave of sensuous electro brain massage leaves me to ponder many things…but mostly, I stop to ponder the final girl. Instead of the usual virtuous young woman, we get the slutty biker chick dressed in red.

Why does she survive when all of her dear friends are processed into cold cuts? I think the answer is in her most glaring character trait; she’s fucking the annoying fat ass in the Godzilla shirt. Like Mother Theresa before her, she is reserved a place in heaven (or in this case, gets to keep all of her limbs) for previous acts of charity. God bless her.

P.S. The director is Spaniard Jose Ramon Larraz, and I'd like to think he adds a bit of gothic euro stylishness to pure 80's American cheese. Perhaps that's wishful thinking on my part.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

EDGE OF THE AXE (1988) - an exterminator, an axe murderer, a computer nerd, the women that love them, and the tangled web of murder between them

The Michael Myers retread in Edge of the Axe starts things off with a unique approach to axing innocent victims. In broad daylight, on a busy street, he saunters into a car wash and plants his axe through a lady’s windshield while she drives through the fucking car wash. As absurd as this might seem, it does look pretty damn cool, especially in slow-mo. On second thought, it sorta seems logical, since those suds and big brushes can take care of a lot of evidence. Not to mention, in a car wash, no one can hear you scream. Sort of like space.

Soon after, some chick finds the head of a pig in her bed. I guess the killer is responsible, possibly intending it to be a warning to members of the pork patrol, trying to dissuade them from investigating any local car wash murders. Either that, or it’s some sort of obtuse Godfather reference.

This sets the stage, as it were, but the story is really about two schmucks, one a computer nerd, the other an exterminator. The setting is apparently somewhere in rural California, and you get quite a good feel for the locale, what with the many driving shots of the town. The cynics might complain these shots are there to pad the run time, but it's their own faults they can't comprehend the simple pleasures of staring at redwood trees for five minutes.

Interest is piqued when the exterminator investigates a smell in a bar and finds a corpse. They are hardly concerned, it would seem, with the dead body and the news of the car wash murder, and they just giggle their way over to another bar, where they drink up a storm with two pretty hot chicks (you only live once I guess, and anybody can die at any time, so relax a little). The nerd even accepts a wager from one of the girls over a game of “Alien”, which, surprisingly, is a bit of an aphrodisiac. I think I’ve finally found a solution to my problems with women…oh wait, it looks like they invented it for the movie. Goddamnit.

The nerd’s new girl is truly a godsend. She’s beautiful, kicks ass at video games, and likes nothing but to spend all day with the nerd while he explains his computers to her. However, even I am admittedly impressed with what this guy is towing. It’s circa 1986, and dude has got both a rudimentary internet and an archaic form of e-mail, and looks to have developed an early form of artificial intelligence. I was still dicking around on my Commodore 64 at the time. Not only that, all of this stuff helps him get laid. Asshole.

So, a bar floozy also gets the axe (her being a slut is probably irrelevant; I just like typng the word “floozy”), and the exterminator hears about it but is still not overly concerned. He's too busy spending a carefree afternoon on the lake, in a speed boat with his hot new girlfriend (despite the fact that he’s married to an annoying hag). The lady that found the pig head is the next to get the axe, and I’m reminded of the earlier scene where her husband told the cop about the severed pork noggin, and the piggy (the one with his head intact) told him that there was nothing they could do about it. You’d think the pork officer would want vengeance for his fellow swine, but alas, no. Apparently, he is only out to protect and serve his own donut shoveling ass.

The killer's connection to the two “heroes” is finally cemented when the exterminator’s wife is murdered, but this hypocrite of a husband just thinks she ran off with another dude. In the meantime, the final girl (the nerd’s new chick) spends a lot of time in church and on the nerd’s magical interweb, researching the case of the axe killer and sending instant messages to her new beau. She is key, as you might imagine, to the confusing twist ending.

The director is Jose Ramon Larraz, one of the pseudo masters of Spanish horror, and he injects some Argento-esque style into the murders to separate the film from its otherwise regional slasher trash roots. It’s sort of like taking a trip to northern California with a couple of schmucks, to one of these Redwood preserve towns, and occasionally a cut-rate giallo breaks out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) - a relationship is like a gotta beat the shit out of it and raise your arms in victory

Folks, it’s a jungle out there.

I should know, growing up on the streets and all. Well, technically it was a cul-de-sac, but close enough. Let’s not split hairs here folks.

A lot can happen on the mean cul-de-sacs of America. One time I was getting out of my car, sipping a frappuccino, when some punk kid on a skateboard came by and knocked it out of my hand! The unruly BALLS it takes to stoop to such unscrupulous lows.

Maybe that’s a “white person problem”, but destroying other people’s property is a crime whether it’s a tasty frozen coffee drink or a Porsche 911. Thankfully, the neighborhood watch eventually found the kid and had him drawn and quartered. Sometimes you just gotta let the bad guys know who’s boss. Being that I was the victim, I got to see the whole thing for free. Yes, it was fucking awesome. I guess the whole fiasco was worth it in hindsight.

Supernerd Scott Pilgrim has his own “white person problems”. He’s trying to upgrade from a hot Asian girlfriend (maybe plain looking and nerdy by Hollywood standards, but not mine) to an even hotter non-Asian girlfriend. This titular “world” has the nerve to deny him his god given right to dump his worthy girlfriend Knives (a seemingly perfect match to boot) in order to consummate a superficial relationship with hot chick Ramona.

The first half hour or so is a great setup, as Scott pines for dream woman Ramona and manages to land her, despite already dating Knives and not bothering to tell her. He quickly finds himself in woman trouble when he invites Ramona to a battle of the bands and Knives happens to be there. Patented Cera awkwardness ensues. The film slyly and humorously digs on these hipster types and their hipster ways, as well as presenting a world that is stylistically skewed through Scott’s pop culture prism.

In order to land Ramona, he has to defeat all of her ex-boyfriends in a series of Matrix-y fights. This central conflict becomes the fatal flaw of the film. The story starts off with a naïve geek struggling to deal with relationships, under Ramona’s spell to the point that he acts like a total dick to Knives. However, once the battles progress, he becomes the invincible hero who will no doubt succeed in his quest to “upgrade” from Knives to Ramona.

Just as the “relationship” between Ramona and Scott becomes one note (a guy seeking his superficial dream woman), the battles become a series of one note struggles. The fighting scenes (and, to a lesser degree, the battle of the band scenes) overwhelm the movie, to where it’s no longer about a nerd dealing with women, but about a good guy that simply has to defeat the bad guys. It’s also as forced in as conflict can get. It comes across as a lazy way of appeasing comic book movie fans with fight scenes, and eventually destroys any detailed characterization that had been built up.

The fight scenes also demonstrate why I don’t care much for traditional superhero stories (minus the first two Superman movies). You have a good guy that doesn’t have to follow the rules of reality defeating bad guy(s) who will always lose. This is about the least interesting dramatic plot I can think of. I think the main reason for its popularity is the positive feeling an audience gets when good defeats evil in simple, black and white terms, much in the same way that a forced happy ending is “feel good”.

The movie sets up a world where Pilgrim filters his world through pop culture, and they could have continued in this direction, a genuine, awkward romance visually presented through nerd metaphor. This would have been a great direction to take, in my opinion, but it’s mostly dropped for this hipster superhero plot. This may have been exactly how the graphic novel was constructed (I haven’t read it), but that’s no excuse. It simply doesn’t fit together.

Granted, the empty spectacle on display is somewhat entertaining in and of itself, but also disappointing considering what could have been, maybe a stylish, hipster nerd Manhattan. Instead, we have a forced story of perfunctory good vs. evil, a hero saving the princess. Meanwhile, Knives is, quite literally, left out in the cold.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Movies I wanna see: HEAVY METAL SUMMER (1988)

Yet another potential slam dunk (or make that hat trick) from our Canadian friend Rafal Zielinski, the Ingmar Bergman of the 80's sex comedy. Folks, we're talking Screwballs, we're talking Loose Screws, we're talking Recruits, and, most impressively of all, we're talking Valet Girls. Check out this clip and bear in mind that the film maintains this level of awesome for a full 90 minutes:

Rafal was also responsible for Ginger Ale Afternoon, a sort of comedic take on Tennessee Williams that features a short nude scene from Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson. Yes, Lisa Simpson tits, by proxy anyway. You're welcome folks. He also directed the Sundance winning drama Fun, sorta of a cross between Natural Born Killers and Thelma and Louise, but with lesbian undertones (but, considering it stars Alicia Witt and Renee Humphries, maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part).

ANYWAY, Mr. Zielinski apparently co-directed Heavy Metal Summer with some other dude. The original title of the movie is "State Park", and it was renamed "Heavy Metal Summer" for home video, maybe the biggest title improvement in movie history. I don't know about you, but if I'm checking out 80's sex comedies, there's almost no chance I'll want to dive into something called "State Park" unless I'm a total completist (or turned on by forest preserves). However, there's NO way I'm passing on a movie called Heavy Metal Summer. Yeah, it might be a piece of shit, but it's got hot weather in it, and that means chicks in bikinis and hopefully some nudity. I can probably assume some jackassey antics (maybe a panty/bikini raid or something) and, of course, a big fat party guy doing big fat party guy things. Throw in some heavy metal and you've got yourself a movie that, no matter how much it fails, can only win. Oh yeah, did I mention the Nuge was in it? Yes, Ted fucking Nugent. Yeah, he's probably an asshole in real life, but thankfully, this doesn't appear to be real life, but a world where there is only summer and heavy metal, in no particular order. I say it's a perfect fit.

Unfortunately, it's not out on DVD, and the VHS of the movie is maybe the rarest of all 80's sex comedies. When I checked the listing on Amazon a couple of months ago, there was one used copy listed for $1000! It's gone now, so maybe somebody actually ponied up the dough. I know what you're probably thinking: "what kind of an asshole charges $1000 for a VHS tape?". I go the other way on this one folks. I say if you can get some schmuck to throw down their kid's college fund for a movie called Heavy Metal Summer, you deserve praise as some sort of genius. In fact, an honorary degree from Harvard Business School might be in order. I'm probably alone on this one. Either way, hopefully the guy that bought it thinks the movie blows and resells it on Amazon for $2.50 plus shipping (that's my ceiling on this one). I'm holding out hope.

P.S. The movie was apparently filmed in Montreal but is listed on IMDB as being an American production, so it may or may not qualify as "canuckleheadsploitation". I'm just not sure on this one.