Friday, September 30, 2011

LET KERMODE DO THE WORK FOR YOU: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)



Well, I don't have a lot to add to Mark's review below. In general, the movie felt like a series of setpieces rather than a cohesive whole, and I think it mostly failed in capturing the spirit of the first film (with the exception of a couple of the stunts). The entire movie has a digitally processed sheen that gives it an unnatural golden hue, which apparently was meant to give it an "old timey" feel. However, old timers didn't employ digital tinting, so this is a bit of a contradiction in terms (I may be wrong, but I'm not going to do any research on this). Also, the CGI really stood out considering there was an unspoken promise (or maybe spoken) that the movie was a throwback employing practical effects. The reality of any stunt is called into question (even if just subconsciously) when CGI is introduced in the equation. It's like how the integrity of all of baseball was put into question when it was found that several players had been using performance enhancing drugs.

"Remarkably unremarkable" is a good way to put it, actually.



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

STRANGE INTRUDER (1956) - finally, a movie about a child murderer who's a valiant hero and all around nice guy


While Abigail Folger was being stabbed by Patricia Krenwinkel (of the Manson family, of course), she pleaded for whatever life she had left by saying “I’m already dead.” While seemingly illogical on its face, this plea sort of makes sense once you put yourself in Abigail’s blood soaked shoes. She’s desperately trying to convince her attacker to stop, probably realizing that Krenwinkel’s goal is murder itself, rather than robbery. In a sense, she was mentally playing possum, trying to convince Krenwinkel that her goal had already been accomplished. Folger’s plea is one of the creepiest things ever spoken by my standards, with its creepy combination of utter hopelessness and illogical horror.



So, if someone is talking to you as they’re dying, you might not want to take what they say literally, but instead, in the spirit it was intended. This is especially true if the dying is a soldier that was captured, tortured, and denied food and water. This kind of physical exhausation and mental stress does not lend itself to clear thinking. So, it is unfortunate that fellow captured soldier Paul takes Adrian’s last words not only quite literally, despite the aforementioned circumstances, but he also takes them very much to heart. Adrian asks Paul to promise to murder his two children, since his wife had an affair, and he presumes that this guy will end up becoming their new father, or that they’ll end up fatherless. Better his children kick their little buckets than suffer through a life without good old dad. You might say that Adrian is a scumbag parent with an extremely high opinion of himself, but let's look at the circumstances. Adrian recently received a letter from his wife revealing that she cheated on him, and he is horrified when he ponders the thought his children learning of his death. This leads to a delusional and illogical choice of words under extreme duress that is, unfortunately, taken as gospel.

In fairness, Paul has also been stuck in a Korean torture camp, and is not of sound mind either. However, he is rescued and rightfully ends up in a psychiatric hospital back in the U.S.. He’s treated and released, so you’d assume that he has had plenty of time to reflect on his “promise”, coming to his senses that killing two kids because their father died is pretty batshit crazy (not to mention illegal in most states). However, Paul apparently has an uncanny ability to convey polite, ingratiating sanity, while inside he is a shellshocked shell of a man (that is an empty shell that is shocked from battle) with no life and no future. His only reason for being is his promise to Adrian, and he travels to Adrian’s boyhood home, seemingly hypnotized by his words. Paul is enchanted by this perfect small town and this perfect small life Adrian left behind. Perhaps indicating that he was looking back on his life as he was dying, Adrian reminisced about his childhood home rather than tell Paul about the new house he bought with his wife a few months before going off to war.

Paul walks right into the house while Adrian provides a nostalgic description within Paul’s mind, and Paul co-opts this nostalgia is if it were his own. Quite ironically, these words are guiding Paul to destroy this perfect world. Paul plays Adrian’s favorite songs on piano, the sound wafting through the air like a ghost, luring family members with the sound of Adrian’s spirit. He meets Adrian’s parents and younger sister Gloria Talbott, wearing jeans no less. He makes quite an impression on them with very little effort, especially Gloria, who quickly tells him “we can go swimming tommorrow!”. He’s already managed to get her out of those jeans. You devil you. Adrian’s wife (Ida Lupino) eventually shows up, and not only does she partially adopt Paul as a replacement Adrian (even leaving him to babysit the kids he plans to murder), but also confides in him like he’s a caring friend. She spills the beans about the affair and some resulting complications in hand wringing fashion. His empty face makes her think he’s an understanding listener, and he seems to have no particular horse in the race. Ida is not given a lot to do except to externalize guilt. Even so, she believably convinces that she had the affair because she missed her husband, and this other guy was a momemtarily replacement for Adrian. Also, her husband might’ve been dead at the time for all she knew. At the time, it was a “woman’s place” to wait dutifully at home while her husband was at war, no matter the circumstances, but you’d think she would warrant some sympathy in this situation, especially from herself.


Edmond Purdom (Paul) is by no means a great actor, but he is quite able to convey vacant politeness. However, this character is saddled with far too much for him to handle (or for any actor to handle). He’s outwardly pleasant and sane, but inwardly, he’s a nut under the spell of a dead man’s voice. Also, he’s both villian and hero, eccentric and everyman, charismatic yet empty. A character can’t believably operate within such extremes simultaneously, and Adrian’s family members are often forced to view him in whatever terms service the plot. Also, you’d think one of the family members would get suspicious about him at some point, regardless of how badly they want to fill the void of a departed loved one. Despite a forced main plot engine, forced main character, and a cop out ending, it does achieve a morbidly ironic variation on a film like Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire. In that case, Barbara Stanwyck plays a character who deserts her family to become an actor, but returns after ten years, disgraced and hardly welcomed with open arms, despite good intentions on her part. In Strange Intruder, Paul is a socially accepted stranger welcomed with open arms despite having murderous intentions, coming back home to return to a life that was never his to begin with.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.9

Stagecoach Outlaws (1945)

A black hat wearing stagecoach outlaw is busted by Buster Crabbe, so he decides to break a ruthless bandit out of jail to help him better rob people. The bandit also knows the location of some hidden loot. However, old man Fuzzy (a reoccurring B-western slapstick character played by Al St. John) ends up locked up in the bandit’s cell. The outlaw gang assume Fuzzy to be the bandit, and Fuzzy plays along, assuming the role in bumbling fashion. Of course, Fuzzy helps Buster take the gang down from the inside, leading to a pretty badass stunt filled finale in a super rickety old house set that looks like it was made out of cardboard.

This PRC cheapie has a very solid transfer considering the source. Never released on home video. Buster and Fuzzy teamed up for several other westerns that are on Netflix instant:

Oath of Vengeance (1944)
Prairie Rustlers (1945)
Lightning Raiders (1945)
Outlaws of the Plains (1946)
Overland Riders (1946)
Prairie Badmen (1946)
Gentlemen with Guns (1946)
Ghost of Hidden Valley (1946)

Buster also starred in The Lawless Eighties (1957) and Gunfighters of Abilene (1960), both of which are on Netflix instant.


Flaming Bullets (1945)

A gang of outlaws are making money by breaking out wanted criminals from jail so they can shoot them and collect the reward. Tex Ritter from the Texas Rangers (not the baseball team dumbass) tries to bait the gang by posing as a wanted criminal, since he happens to look like a dude on a wanted poster. Another typical B-programmer built on coincidence and do-gooding, this nevertheless ends with a fight in a saloon filled with laughing gas, which is certainly novel.

Okay transfer is watchable. Another Texas Rangers (Tex Ritter, Dave O’ Brien, Guy Wilkerson) film Frontier Fugitives (also 1945) is also on Netflix instant.


Cheyenne Roundup (1943)

A gang is run out of town by marshall Tex Ritter, but it turns out that the leader of the gang has a do-good twin brother (Johnny Mack Brown), so the two team up. Of course, the evil twin dies, so the good twin adopts his identity and goes undercover to try and break up the gang from the inside as they try to rob a gold claim. Fairly nice photography for a quickie B western, but padded with songs.

Very good transfer, and never released on home video. Tex Ritter and Johnny Mack Brown also teamed up in several other films that are on Netflix instant: The Lone Star Trail and Raiders of San Joaquin, both 1943 (I don’t think the latter was ever released on home video). Johnny Mack Brown stars by himself in Stagecoach Buckaroo (1942), also on Netflix instant and only previously available on VHS.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960) - sort of like Swiss Family Robinson, but for dumb people who are scared of spiders


Here's the whole movie...public domain, yo.

I don’t mess with spiders, so hopefully they won’t mess with me. Folks, I stay out of their way. Say every spider decided to team up and horde all of the world’s shoes, and a group of them snuck into my room at night to snag my Sketchers. Even if I’m well aware of what’s going on, I’m gonna pretend to be asleep. Now I know what you’re thinking; what would spiders need with shoes? Maybe they could sell them for drugs, or build sneaker forts to protect themselves from predators. Or, maybe, just maybe, they want to make humans extra nervous as they walk around in their socks, scared that they’ll step on something sharp (or even worse, a spider). Resultingly, the human race become slaves to fear within a new arachnocracy.



So, maybe my fear of spiders makes me a big pussy, but I’d like to think that a fear of spiders is an evolutionary trait in all humans, genetically passed down from primitive man, who were big pussies that were deathly afraid of spiders. So, in summary, I blame primitive man. Anyway, because of this, Horrors of Spider Island manages to conjure these fears (at least within myself), no matter how little the spiders are seen, or how shitty they look. Just walking around “spider island” is gonna have me trembling like a wet noodle with the shakes (if noodles could be alcoholics).

Well, a bunch of swinging babes (one girl takes down a “no smoking” sign and then lights up) are auditioning for a dancing gig in Singapore, the only apparent qualifications being that they need to have nice legs. Since these girls have GREAT legs, they are immediately hired and fly off on a rickety plane so rickety it crashes into the ocean. They are left floating in a life raft, perhaps upset that they were naïve enough to think that becoming a dancer in Singapore was a solid career move.


"Before I die, I'm mo fuck me a fish"

These girls eventually land on "spider island", and are obviously no match for the rigors of island life. Luckily, they are accompanied by a manly man who takes care of the manly stuff, like when he happens upon a hammer and correctly concludes that it was used to mine for uranium. I didn’t realize that hammers were so specialized. It’s shit like this that explains why your average Home Depot is approximately the size of JFK airport. Anyways, they are overjoyed (or maybe just vaguely interested) at their luck, that they crashed into the ocean and paddled to an island filled with valuable uranium deposits. This joy (vague interest) is quickly squelched when they happen upon a dead scientist stuck inside a giant spider web. I’m not quite sure how he walked into the web without noticing, considering it looks like it was made out of common rope, but either way, the message is clear: this guy is dead, and some asshole spider is responsible.



Well, our male lead decides to explore the island shirtless (that’s how real men go about their business), and he is unfortunately bitten by a large, goofy looking rubber spider. When I say it looks “goofy”, I mean it looks like a big action figure for a cartoon spider, if that makes sense. Anyway, the dude turns into a “spider-man” that looks like a furry vampire (but maybe it could be said that tarantulas are like little furry vampires). Well, just like in Peter Parker’s case, with great power comes great responsibility, and this spider dude decides that it is his responsibility to hang around while the girls frolic and bath and dance, and (very) occasionally show up to bite somebody. You’d think these girls would be looking to get outta dodge as soon as they find out they are being sorta stalked by a spider monster, maybe try to build a getaway boat out of coconuts and hemp. But no, now that the guiding male is out of the picture, they are helpless to deal with the situation, so I guess they figure they might as well have fun, which includes flirting with two young men who happen to show up (they are assistants to the scientist). After all, as Cyndi Lauper famously implied, girls want to have fun because that is what they excel at in life (but maybe my interpretation is off).



So, instead of a shipwreck survival story married to a spider-dude horror fable, we have a movie about hot German models hanging out on an island (including Barbara Valentin, who would later become a Fassbinder regular), and occasionally other stuff happens. An obvious point of comparison is with She Demons (1958), also about a group of people shipwrecked on an island. Instead of spiders, they find out that a Nazi scientist is using the island to experiment on a group of models, turning them into monsters in the process. The most amusing/annoying character in She Demons is Jerrie, the shipwrecked rich bitch who complains about her fedora sweater getting stretched, that sort of thing. The castaways in Horrors of Spider Island are all like less annoying versions of this character (minus the male chaperon, of course), or akin to campy B-movie precursors to Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. This is a pretty brilliant move, since any potentially boring parts in She Demons is enlivened by Jerrie’s campy dialogue, and Horrors of Spider Island has many such characters to supply similar dialogue during those parts of the movie where nothing else is happening, amped up by the goofy dubbing (especially in the case of the girl with the southern accent).



There is also the brilliant exploitation setup of getting hot chicks onto an island and making sure they stay hot (don’t think Gilligan’s Island didn’t employ this). Even if they don’t immediately start making out, or one of them doesn't bump into Christopher Atkins and start getting frisky, their wardrobe will begin to erode, and there will be plenty of exotic ponds for these girls to wade in and splash water on each other’s chests. Apart from that, there is an implied bet placed by the filmmakers, putting their money on the hope that a male audience will overlook any lapses in logic and plot and simply stare at the ladies. It's money well invested folks. After all, I believe it was the great German philosopher Gunter Heinzburger that said "if you're gambling on the lowest common denominator, always bet the under."



P.S. This was written as part of Project Terrible over at Mondo Bizarro. This particular movie was suggested by Maynard over at Maynard Morrissey's Horror Movie Diary. I guess this movie is supposed to be crap, and if it is, while no S
he Demons, it's the kind of crap I enjoy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

ZONE 39 (1996) - if number 39 is such an Orwellian dystopia, zones 1-38 must be a humanity obliterating joke





Distilled to its essence, Zone 39 is about a technological society being able to get away with evil acts through the control of information. Apparently, there was an accidental chemical spill that has contaminated Zone 39, a desolate border region that looks a lot like the Australian outback (because it is the Australian outback dummy, but hey, that’s production value; some bang for your movie buck). Since the only potential victims are “workers and peasants”, the bureau in charge of disseminating all information to the population decides these lives are not worth the potential embarrassments and lawsuits and what-have-you, so they bury the story by simply not reporting it. Since the media is completely centralized, they can get away with this shit. After all, if you control all information, you control the truth.

The information bureau (or whatever it was called in the movie…you get the idea) is pretty hell bent on keeping their hold on something this scandalous. As it happens, an employee of the bureau, a computer security expert, is dicking around at work out of boredom when she decides to hack her way to some secret information, possibly more interested in exploring her field of specialty first hand than whatever number crunching she was supposed to be doing. Lo and behold, she stumbles upon the information about the contamination in Zone 39, that over 400 people have already died, with many more to come. Her supervisor yells at her for screwing around with her computer (not literally sicko) on the clock. The punishment continues when the company has her murdered as she rides the subway home. If that wasn’t enough, she was pregnant at the time. Perhaps there would’ve been a less evil way of dealing with this issue, but I guess they wanted to be thorough.

Well, her husband happens to be a lieutenant in the army (or an equivalent), and he is none to happy to find out that his wife was murdered. Her supervisor is nice enough to explain to him why his wife and child were murdered. Needless to say, he’s pretty pissed about the whole thing, and quickly becomes disillusioned with his government. Our hero then decides to take a border patrol position in Zone 39, despite the incredible risk involved (it was considered extremely dangerous even before it became contaminated). Presumably, he wants to make sure that his wife’s death was not in vain, and hopefully right an unspeakable wrong from a “system” that he is apart of.

Like many dystopian science fiction heroes, our protagonist (Peter Phelps, who is very good) goes from dutiful worker from within the system to a man trying to destroy this system. His character is believable during this transition, clearly conflicted throughout, and not simply on a blind quest to do the right thing. He is also haunted by his wife (Carolyn Bock, also bringing it) both literally and figuratively, since he periodically takes some virtual reality drug that works with some metal earpiece (I didn’t catch the details, alas), and this allows him to spend time with an illusory version of his wife. Instead of interacting with either a fantasy version of her, or directly linking to past memories, Peter imagines her as if she did indeed come back from the dead, and they discuss the fact that she has indeed passed on, the injustice of the zone fiasco, all while she occasionally nurses their dead baby. Peter has an ongoing conversation with his recently deceased wife, much like how it would realistically play out within one’s mind, only aided and further comforted by a physical manifestation.

There are even more elements and allegories within the movie I’ve yet to mention. If there is a major fault to Zone 39, it is that there is far too much going on within a 90 minute runtime. We are thrust into this universe via a virtual reality sequence, and are further exposed to a world with its own social and political structure, and its own technologies (like the virtual reality device and the unmentioned health indicator and other stuff), which is then split off into separate realities and multiple allegories. We are left trying to figure out the world itself, let alone what is happening within this world. It’s a bit like being thrust into a series like Max Headroom a couple of episodes in, left without exposition as to how the world and its technology work. Zone 39 feels like a six episode first season of a great science fiction show cut down to 90 minutes. Keeping with the Max Headroom comp
arison, there is a bit of a late 80’s/early 90’s cyberpunk feel, despite the movie being firmly planted in science fiction dystopia. While the budget is obviously low, it mostly doesn’t detract, and instead suitably reflects a dirty and rusty technological future, one which bluntly mirrors our own.



P.S. This was written as part of Project Terrible over at Mondo Bizarro. This particular movie was selected by Wolf Ninja over at Gaming Creatively. Check both out by making some clickey action. This movie more qualifies as a dirty hidden gem, so I gotta assume that the “terrible” part comes into play while viewing the terrible DVD cover, which looks like this:



Fuck you Hollywood. I don't know if you're specifically responsible (probably not), but fuck you anyway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Citizen Kane Blu-ray Buying Guide

So, I decided I wanted to buy Citizen Kane on Blu-ray, but didn't realize that it was going to be a complicated process. Here is a breakdown of all three versions after 8 minutes of intense research:

This is the common release available in any place that would bother to carry Citizen Kane. It's a box set that lists for $64.99 (it's currently $39.99 on Amazon). This set contains the following:

-The movie (duh)
-The Battle Over Citizen Kane documentary
-RKO 281 (1999) - a TV movie starring Liev Schreiber, which is basically a dramatization of The Battle Over Citizen Kane
-The Movie (duh) - and you can check out the transfer over at DVDBeaver
-Commentaries by Roger Ebert Peter Bogdanovich
-World Premiere of Citizen Kane Vintage Featurettes (1:08)
-Interviews with Ruth Warrick and Robert Wise
-Storyboards
-Call Sheets
-Still Photography with Commentary by Roger Ebert
-Deleted Scenes
-Ad Campaign
-Press Book
-Opening Night
-Mercury Theatre Broadcast of War of the Worlds
-San Antonio Broadcast of H.G. Wells Meets Orson Welles
-Theatrical Trailer

There's also some trinkets stuffed into the box, which are:
-reproduction of the 1941 souvenir program
-48 page hardbound book with photos and behind-the-scenes info
-10 production memos and correspondence
-5 one sheet/lobby card reproductions

There is an Amazon exclusive version here that also adds a copy of The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD. This version lists for 79.89, but is currently $59.99.

Finally, there's the version I got, which is the Best Buy exclusive here. It's one of those book cases, with the book inside being the same hardcover book that's in the boxset, just
smaller. Also, it's only a 2-disc set, which includes the movie, all of the special features, and The Battle Over Citizen Kane documentary. You don't get RKO 281, so Liev Schreiber groupies may want to skip this option. You also don't get any of the other trinkets and what-have-you. This version lists for $39.99, and is currently $34.99 (although I think I paid $30 for it last week).

Now, I'm not implying that you're supposed to buy Citizen Kane because you are presumably a movie fan. Do whatever you want. I bothered to go through and figure this shit out, so I thought I might as well share. Also, it gives me an excuse to post this:



Sunday, September 18, 2011

DEADLY GAMES (1982) - a kinda slasher that co-stars super manly man Dick Butkus as a subversive veil for homoerotic subtext


In order to honor another football season freshly begun, here is a review of a movie that costars hall of fame linebacker Dick Butkus.

“He was an animal…and every time he hit you he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital”
-Deacon Jones



Although Deacon was referring to the great Chicago Bears middle linebacker Dick Butkus, he may as well have been talking about Jason Voorhees. Although this might resemble similar hyperbole used by football announcers (“he destroyed that guy!”), one gets the feeling opposing players actually believed the hype when it came to facing Butkus. The proof, in one case, is in the proverbial pudding.

October 24th, 1971. Tiger Stadium. The Lions were trailing the Bears late into the fourth quarter and were driving. With Butkus fast approaching, wide receiver Chuck Hughes went over the middle of the field as the quarterback unfurled a pass. Chuck fell limp just as the football fell incomplete. The poor bastard suffered a heart attack, and Dick was standing over him as he died. It is standard hyperbole to say that a receiver “fears for his life” going over the middle with a crazed linebacker ready to take him out. I guess his heart couldn’t stand the hype.

Of course, this has nothing to do with anything, except to say that the director casts Dick against type as the sex object coffee shop chef, and even has him playing football (in a Dick Butkus jersey) while the girls reference the homosexual qualities inherent in the game. This shows a subversive slant to the material, which really comes to fruition once the titty twister ending is concluded.

This is really the story of Clarissa Jane Louise “Keegan” Lawrence (wait ‘till she gets married and adds some hyphenated names to that monstrosity). She’s a perky, witty rock journalist who heads back to her hometown after her sister mysteriously dies, and thereby relives her adolescence. Of course, sis was killed by a heavy breathing asshole, thrown out of a window after a classic cat and mouse charade and well appreciated breast exposure. However, the pork officer numbskulls think she committed suicide, but Keegan has her doubts, and intends to use her investigative skills (normally utilized to procure ribald orgy stories from heroin addicted rock twits) to find the mad slasher responsible for this incorrigibly assisted window leap.

We meet Keegan’s former girlfriends and soon-to-be victims at Butkus’ coffee shop, and are introduced to our main suspect, the local crazy Vietnam vet (played by Steve Railsback), who apparently lives in an old theater and watches horror movies when he’s not playing a Universal monster version of Chutes and Ladders. Also, the lead piggy on the case is an old Vietnam buddy of Railsback. Keegan develops a relationship with the cop, investigative and otherwise. You know, screwing one of the red herrings may not be a smart move. Railsback becomes the third wheel in a fevered, nearly romantic montage which includes: going for a walk in the park, playing on the swings, throwing a football around, playing that creepy board game, and indulging in that movie date staple The Monster Walks, all to the tune of a poor man’s Dionne Warwick (that is, if a man might hypothetically listen to Dionne Warwick).





All the while, we interrupt this foolishness with some solid stalk sequences (hampered a bit by bad lighting) where-in one or the other gook stompers are presented as the possible perp. In one particularly ruthless murder, a girl is buried alive in a fresh grave dug in like five seconds, her tombstone reading “Here lies Chris Howlett, who fell asleep Jan 25, 1980”, conveying the cold, clinical finality of a dirt nap. "Who fell asleep?" is also the film’s alternate title, but, unfortunately, the movie was never reviewed by Gene Shalit under said title. The body of the review undoubtedly would have read "I sure did!”. I guessed we all missed out on another overly concise, three-word descent into repressed mustachioed terseness.



(VAGUE ENDING SPOILED AHEAD)

In the aforementioned titty twister, Keegan is stalked in the theater by both psycho vets, stumbling through a room of mannequins and props before being presumably killed by a rope swinging Railsback in front of a movie screen. The twist here is that the revealed killer (the cop) and the red herring (Railsback) are both responsible, having been in malicious cahoots the entire time. Of course, I’m inferring some of this, but such is life with a vague, under lit, freeze frame ending. I suppose the video manufacturers realized the ending may be a bit unsatisfying to many viewers, so they included three extremely satisfying trailers. One for the incredible Dynamite Chicken, another for the irrepressible Tubes and one of their concerts, and the third for a mysteriously-unknown-to-me-prior Alfie sequel with Alan Price and Joan Collins. If that doesn’t catch your fancy, you can stare at the amazing box cover, which shows the iron fist of god tossing spiked dice at a pool of screaming blood, which has absolutely nothing to do with the film, but looks like a Dio album cover, and therefore gets a pass.


Here we have two impotent males, unable to secure a female relationship or completely cross-over into raging homosexuality, stuck in a netherworld of fantasies, played out through horror films/board games and some ass-slapping football contests (and not to mention plugging Vietcong commies). Keegan’s demise becomes part of their misogynistic fantasies, completely eschewing the “logical” motive. Instead, the film plummets into the depressing depths of pure, unadulterated hatred of women for its own sake (a refreshing change of pace from the usual “hey, the killer has a motive for murdering women" excuse). This is assuming I successfully applied my vast knowledge of repressive psychology to…oh wait…never mind. Forget I said anything. It's probably all bullshit anyway. Boy, I'm excited for football season. I can't wait to watch those guys throw the ball around and tackle each other and roll around and stuff. It's gonna be fucking great.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

THE PROWLER (1981) - some poor teenagers become delayed casualties of Word War II, with the assistance of Tom Savini

To further piggyback onto my comparison between The Prowler and House on Sorority Row, here's my review of The Prowler.


We unexpectedly open with a doctored news reel about WWII soldiers coming home on the Queen Mary. It’s pretty bizarre to see a slasher movie placed in actual historical context. Anyway, some chick sends her soldier boyfriend a letter, basically retracting her promise of waiting for him until the war is over (i.e. she’s screwing somebody else). Even worse, she asks that they remain friends after he gets back. If he’s plugging Germans in your honor, and that honor becomes merely tagging along while you go shopping, it’s likely to short circuit a moral synapse or two. Best just cut and run.


Well, our turncoat Rosemary is attending her graduation dance, complete with some Glenn Miller songs providing the soundtrack to her life (well, what’s left of it). The music is also a cheap way of evoking the period, as you couldn’t so much as walk down the street in the forties without Glenn Miller being jammed up your ass. Well, Rosemary and her new boyfriend head to the gazebo to make out. Unfortunately for them, soldier boy pops in and double impales them with a pitchfork. As a soldier, you’d think he would just shoot them, but even in his homicidal state, he still has the where-with-all to embrace the intimacy and the cinematic thrust of a commonly found farming implement.


Well, it’s now modern day circa 1981, and another graduation dance is being setup by girls wearing shorty shorts so short they’re more like pillow covers for their asses. Sheriff Farley Granger informs the deputy and the heroine that a potential psychopath broke into a store in another town and may be headed this way. Apparently, he’s passing the buck because he’s going on vacation, and won’t let some psychopath infiltrating this small town detract from his trout fishing expedition. This news doesn’t deter the party girls, as one grabs about two gallons of vodka to “spice up” the punch.

To add some drama, Rosemary’s invalid father (played by Lawrence Tierney in a five second role) likes to peek out of his window into the adjoining sorority house, where a girl happily obliges him by flashing her headlights. I guess he’s supposed to be a red herring. Maybe the soldier Rosemary was screwing before the war was actually her father, and this wheelchair invalid stuff is just a ruse. Why not. I’ve seen stupider shit in my lifetime (i.e. religion).

Another girl gives us the obligatory sorority shower scene, who in turn gets an obligatory false psycho scare from her boyfriend. Apparently he had gone for more than 15 minutes without seeing her melons. Before lucky time can commence, he gets a bayonet through the top of his skull, which causes his eyes to roll into the back of his head (he seems to be in some pain). The killer joins our little missy in the shower, impaling her through the abdomen with a pitchfork (at least sparing her melons).

The graduation party is slamming, what with the Fly by Night-era Rush rip-off band kickin’ it old school (assuming you played D&D in school), and the loaded punch and plentiful cake. While everyone else is digging the party, our heroine is disturbed by a mysterious figure that seems to be following her. She alerts her worthless deputy boyfriend, and we infer that “worthless” and “deputy” are in fact conceptually contingent. They decide to investigate the disappearance of the sorority shower couple by creeping around in the dark and collecting clues, as per the Mystery Machine protocol handbook. They sneak into Tierney's house after he leaves (I guess he went out for his nightly wheelchair-bound jog) and find some clippings and what have you about Rosemary’s murder. I guess obsessing over your own daughter’s brutal murder is somehow considered suspicious.

They head back to the party and tell everyone to stay inside the auditorium, as there may be a wheelchair bound 85-year-old “running” around, hacking up teenagers. Unfortunately, the titty flashing girl didn’t get the memo in time, and goes out for a dark and lonely swim in her underwear. Her poor decision making skills result in a slit throat. Also, a nerd convinces some girl to make out with him in the open air, despite there being a killer on the loose. They too are stalked, but the killer backs off, apparently impressed with the nerd’s ballsy pick-up move to the point of letting him live.

Our heroic couple decides to investigate the cemetery after being tipped off by a local shopkeeper. Some creepy guy scares them (although anybody who wanders around the cemetery all alone at night is probably creepy by default), but, more importantly, they find Rosemary’s grave dug up; her body replaced with the body of the girl from the pool. They call the motel the sheriff is staying at in order to alert him, but the fat fuck behind the counter decides to lie, telling them he’s not available. Understandably, he doesn’t want to get up and move around, as we all know how taxing it is to sit in a chair and play cards.

(HEAVY SPOILERS)

They head back to Tierney's house and find Rosemary’s body stuffed up the chimney. Boy, Santa’s going to be pissed when he ass flops on a forty-year-old corpse. Anyway, the killer chases the pair with a pitchfork, but, thankfully, the simpleton store owner shows up and blows the killer away. His death is short lived, as he gets up and awesomely splatters the shop owner’s brains everywhere (thank you Mr. Savini). Our tenacious heroine is forced to take matters into her own hands, and wrestles the killer for the gun. He is unmasked during the struggle, and we clearly identify the face as belonging to Farley Granger (star of Strangers on a Train and Senso), right before it is obliterated with a shotgun blast. The special effect is uncomfortably convincing, and without the benefit of a cutaway. That Savini guy is either really good or just kills off the actors for real. You know, I don’t ever recall seeing Farley in anything after this movie. Jesus Christ.


The next morning, our heroine decides to check out the sorority bathroom, and the dude that got bayoneted through the skull grabs her; a menacing sight with his all-white eyes. Alas, it’s all just a dream, but questions remain. Namely, if Farley was the soldier that killed his girlfriend in the forties, wouldn’t he high tail it out of town rather than eventually become sheriff? Not to mention, becoming sheriff of a small town whose only criminal blemish is the very murder he committed many years prior? Also, why start killing again? I get he was set off by the graduation dance 40 years later, but there were 39 other graduation dances in the intervening years to go bonkers over. Not to mention, he must have planned the whole thing in advance, what with him setting up a fake fishing vacation as an alibi.

I guess the idea was that he wanted to murder everyone back at the circa-WWII graduation dance, not just his ex-girlfriend and her new boy toy. I guess while he was “serving his country”, his peers were free to do what they pleased (i.e. dance the charleston), and this was punishable by death. He could only manage the two biggest offenders at the time, but as Farley is obviously goal orientated, he decided to build up a 40 year façade. His position as a respected sheriff left no doubt in the townspeople’s minds that he was there to protect them, as he had done most of his adult life. He would be considered the last person capable of impaling teenies with pitchforks. Not to mention, everyone would have forgotten by then that he used to pork that Rosemary chick that was killed way back when. So, he builds up those vacation hours, sets up his air tight alibi (“I’ll be alone, fishing in the boonies”), and then stalks the teens one by one. His life long master plan just might have been crazy enough to work had it not been for that middling heroine and her pesky Scooby Doo tactics. God damn kids these days, sticking their noses in where they don’t belong.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983) - slasher aesthetic explained to the masses through the power of Geddy Lee and the boys



Sometimes the party band is emblematic of an entire film. The Prowler (1981) features a band that shamelessly rips off Fly By Night-era Rush, and, appropriately, is stylishly constructed, but rooted in grit and elbow grease. The House on Sorority Row, on the other hand, features a band that rips off Signals-era Rush, and, unsurprisingly, the film is slick and meticulous, separating itself from the low grade pulp of its contemporaries. Each respective group of Rush pilferers perfectly suits the tones of their respective films.





On the surface, to the aesthetically unsophisticated, these two bands are exactly the same, and the movies themselves are interchangeable. However, just as a Rush connoisseur would consider Signals and Fly by Night different musical genres altogether, we can make tonal distinctions between those two films. As they are generally similar big picture wise, they are defined by their details, and therefore. are completely unique. It’s like the difference between two snowflakes and two snowmen (chew on that for awhile).



A hazy blue prologue informs us of a birth gone awry, which is teenie hack speak for “a mongoloid killer hath been birthed”. The credits roll over a montage showing the sorority girls doing stuff on the last day of school. Immediately, we are taken aback by the romantic lushiness of the score, and by the pastel color palette. It is indeed quite interesting that a slasher from 1983 shot entirely in pastel colors seems to scream out look at me! I’m full of class!

The director hammers home this parade of flourish, what with the unbroken takes, steadicam shots, crosscutting, etc. Unsurprisingly, we learn that, before becoming Hilary Duff's pet auteur, director Mark Rosman was an assistant to Brian De Palma, and is squarely of the De Palma school (minus the occasional Mario Bava rip-off). He also rips off some plot machinations from the French film Diabolique, thereby earning the film a modicum of street cred along the Champs Elysses.



Conversely, The Prowler is aesthetically gritty, hazy, dark, grainy and foggy, and the murders are brutal instead of stylish. Director Joseph Zito was also responsible for Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter, which employed a similar aesthetic, albeit to a lesser degree. I might peg Friday the 13th – Final Chapter and The Prowler as the best meat-and-potatoes American slashers of the 80’s, due to a combination of the gritty atmosphere coupled with Zito’s ability to inject and maintain suspense-filled dread. It’s not hard to equate a “meat and potatoes” slasher aesthetic with “meat and potatoes” rock n’ roll, like Fly By Night, for example (sort of); the guitar distortion, the reckless thrill, the punch in the gut (well, for a trio of Canadian nerds). Signals is clearly an album by the same band, yet it most definitely cannot be called a rock n’ roll record (I guess it’s more synth prog or something). Not that it isn’t awesome, of course, but it’s not the kind of album that you can throw on the old 8 track player in your Camaro and hope to get laid. God knows I’ve tried.



Well, enough about Rush. These sorority girls despise their house mother Slater, she of the loathsome hag routine. The last straw comes when trouble maker Vicki gets busy on a waterbed, and Slater finds this slutily uncouth, and slashes the bed with her cane. They decide to get revenge by pretending to shoot her, but accidentally shoot her for real, which causes the ancient bitch to keel over. They brilliantly hide the body in a swimming pool so dirty you can’t even see dead white ladies floating in it.

The final girl Katie wants to call the police, as she believes that killing people, no matter how old and stodgy they may be, is not becoming of a sorority sister. However, a sorority is a democracy in microcosm, and the other girls don’t give a shit about such moralizing hokum. None of this helps a 30-year-old college drunk, who wanders off and gets a spear through the neck, or the girl that wanders off to check the fuse box and gets her shadow impaled (which looks really cool BTW, and is similarly used in Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter).

Things start to get a bit nerve wracking when a naked fat guy jumps in the pool, yelling out “I am a sea pig!”. Someone turns the pool light on, not only to inspect the area for an imminent flood event, but to check whether or not he is, indeed, a pig of the sea. Luckily for the girls, the body is no longer there, although there now appears to be a crusty old zombie lady running around, possibly in cahoots with her freakish son.

Well, later on, her lifeless body does show up at a different location. I guess Slater started her zombie white lady rampage and got sleepy and took a nap. The girls stuff her body in a dumpster, which leads to a nice suspense scene, what with the girls hauling the dumpster across campus, only to crash it into a police car. Luckily, they’re only campus police, who are really just mall cops assigned to fraternities.

So, the killer stalks and kills the sorority girls, with the best bit being the bathroom decapitation, where the killer cunningly turns on all the showers before hand, creating a mass of steam (sort of a rudimentary fog machine). After an expertly constructed culmination, our final girl ends up battling wits with the son, who wears a clown suit, all the while battling for her sanity. You’d think she’d be able to protect herself considering she is carrying a gun, but for some reason she repeatedly misses at point blank range. So either…

1. She’s the worst shot of all time.

2. Clown boy is invincible.
3. The gun is filled with blanks, which would be oh so convenient. When you need blanks, you accidentally fill someone with lead, and when you think you’re using real bullets to protect yourself, they’re really blanks. Oh well.

In all seriousness, House on Sorority Row is one of the best slashers out there. Where as many slashers aspire to art accidentally by not aspiring to anything, this one aspires to art by purposefully applying artiness unsophisticatedly. I think it’s another one of those zen fortune cookie things, like that snowman deal I mentioned earlier.




P.S. This was written as part of the Juxtaposition Blogathon over at the Pussy Goes Grrr blog. Click and read!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.8



Four Guns to the Border (1954)

Rory Calhoun plays a bank robber who tries to escape to Mexico with his gang, but things get complicated when they decide to save a pretty young girl from an Indian attack. Rory and the girl fall madly in love, leading to some very “Duel in the Sun”-style sexual imagery (including kissing in the rain and primary colors) assisted by the very sensual Colleen Miller. Despite the forced moralizing and the fact that the gang freely allows their “getaway” to be sidetracked over and over, this is a well crafted technicolor western that is visually interesting throughout.

The transfer looks great. Never released on home video.


The Gal Who Took the West (1949)

Yvonne DeCarlo stars in a very amusing camp western, where she pretends to be an opera singer in order to get hired for a performance out west that pays $10,000 (I think that's like a million dollars in today’s money, although I'm not going to bother figuring that shit out). The man who is flipping the bill for Yvonne to perform at his new opera house (where he threatens to shoot people who don’t applaud) has two feuding sons who both fall for her. This threatens to further tear the family apart, although the sons were already threatening to shoot each other before Yvonne even showed up, so I don't know how much more damage she could cause. Either way, she is such a perceived threat that the father offers to pay Yvonne the ten grand just to leave the town, without even having to sing. They must have had a pretty thriving economy to be able to pay people millions of dollars just to not sing. Anyway, there is plenty of smartass “battle of the sexes” dialogue, which Yvonne delivers with sarcastic sultry glances, almost veering into comedic noir territory. This reminds me a sillier version of Honkey Tonk (1941, with Clark Gable and Lana Turner), and it’s a must for Yvonne DeCarlo groupies (I know you’re out there).



Excellent color transfer, and never released on home video.



Apache Drums (1951)

A disgraced gambler is forced to leave town, but happens upon an Apache massacre, returning to warn them and eventually help the town against an all out Apache attack. Val Lewton’s last production, this is beautifully shot, with some of the atmosphere and impending doom of his horror movies (despite being in color), culminating in an excellent showdown that is both creepy and suspenseful. It does get bogged down with a love triangle, but this is an otherwise worthy western entry into the Val Lewton canon, making the Apaches the monsters of sorts, while still humanizing them a bit by making it clear that they are attacking the town because they were thoroughly wronged by the white man (or there abouts).

Excellent color transfer, and never released on home video.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A WOMAN'S SECRET (1949) - her secret ain't much of a secret, but she is definitely hiding something or other




If the accused are innocent until proven guilty, they are also presumed liars until they are proved to be truth tellers who are merely legally naive. The one exception to this rule are the accused that accept guilt, but not because they are backed into a corner or bargaining to a lesser charge. Take, for example, A Woman’s Secret (1949),where a maid hears a shot fired, so she rushes upstairs and enters the room from where the shot originated. She sees Marian (Maureen O’Hara) standing over Susan (Gloria Graham), who is clinging on to life because of a fresh bullet. The police show up, and Marian immediately admits to shooting Susan, dutifully volunteering the information like an honest citizen trying to alert the police to the facts so they can immediately wrap up the case and get on with their busy lives (i.e. inhaling donuts like Robert Evans inhales cocaine). Wouldn’t it be nice if your job were so simple? You show up to work, and someone runs up to you saying “here is the report that you are supposed to turn in at the end of the week…PLEASE TAKE IT NOW!”. It’s just too perfect.

Well, in accordance with movie laws, if a mystery is solved completely and thoroughly ten minutes in, it can’t be what actually happened, since the movie still has to fill 80 some minutes. However, there aren’t too many other credible scenarios that explain why Susan was shot (an example of a scenario lacking in credibility might be that aliens shot her through the window because she had learned about the alien's plan to steal all of the world's pants). While remaining oblique (you remember “Remaining Oblique”, they opened up for Depeche Mode in the mid 80’s), I’ll just say that only a deus ex machina (that’s latin for “twist ending pulled out of your ass”) would save the final reveal from being obvious. This “mystery” is supplemented with detours featuring some nice smartass B-movie dialogue, especially on the part of Melvyn Douglas, taking his smooth charm and filtering it through a stubborn character, sort of a cross between his earlier romantic lead roles (Ninotchka, for example) and the crotchety old man roles he played later on in life (like in The Tenant).


While the investigation appears to be the center of the movie according to the screenwriter, the real core of the movie according to director Nicholas Ray lies in Marian’s emotional state. The expressionistically lit close-ups of Marian’s face reflect an inner turmoil that runs the proverbial gamut, whether from frustration to horror at what she has done to black hearted joy to possible lesbian attraction (possibly). She was a singer whose career was cut short by illness, a resolute failure that put all of her eggs in one basket (her singing career), only to watch a hippopotamus come out of nowhere and sit on said basket, crushing the eggs and her life’s dream in the process (boy that’s a forced metaphor). She gloms onto naive ingenue Susan, another singer, trying to mold her into the successful singer she always wanted to be. This would allow Marian to, in effect, live vicariously through Susan and adopt her success as her own (as Marian puts it, “it is my life as much as it is yours”).

Right before the shooting, Susan had finally had enough of Marian’s controlling ways. Susan tries to gain cinematic power over Marian by standing on the stairs and yelling at her, finally pushing back against her “master”. This proves a sharp contrast to a similar framing in Rebel Without a Cause, where James Dean’s mother stands on the stairs, clutching on to the railing as if desperately clutching on to the power she still has over her son. Dean wishes to turn himself in as an accessory to a game of chicken turned deadly, to do the “right thing” in his own mind, but his parents won’t have any of it. Relics of the previous age and slaves to the practical, they attempt to use their power to convince Dean not to confess his guilt to the authorities, which would leave a black mark on the family. Conversely, in A Woman’s Secret, Susan uses the stairs to finally gain power over Marian for the first time. She is shot immediately afterwards for her hubris.


Marian’s relationship with Susan reminds me of an unfortunate dynamic that sometimes exists between parent and child, where the parent tries to force the child into a career path that they themselves failed at, in order to live vicariously through them. You see this a lot in sports. Say some guy is a budding badminton star. People point and say “that guy works a shuttlecock like nobody’s business”, “that guy is one with his shuttlecock”, and “his shuttlecock is an extension of himself”. Unfortunately, his career is tragically cut short in a bizarre toaster accident involving projectile Pop Tarts and an unfortunately placed bowling ball (I told you it was bizarre), and his failed career festers within him. He has a son who he trains to be the next great badminton champion. His son works practices tirelessly, while father yells out “work that shuttlecock like nobody’s business!”, “become one with the shuttlecock!”, and “let the shuttlecock become an extension of yourself!”. Then one day, during a high school tournament match where his son is losing badly, the father bum rushes the court after he thinks the referee blew a call and punches the zebra in the head. The father’s dream of being able to pretend he’s a badminton champion by living through his son goes up in smoke, so he explodes into violence. Of course, the son will eventually grow to hate both badminton and his father, culminating in the day when the son tells the father where he can stick that shuttlecock (I’ll leave the subtle homoerotic shadings to the Freudians).



A Woman’s Secret
presents a version of this that is both female-centric and way way way way way way less douchey. Instead of some asshole father in Zubaz pants yelling at his son in public for not being a perfect stand-in for his own athletic dreams, Marian gave a dream everything she had, only to watch it smash to bits and be forced to swallow the broken shards. These dream shards festered inside like a nightmare, forcing her to find a new dream as she slips deeper into her slumber, so deep that she is unaware that this new dream is not even her own. Boy, if metaphors are my business, business is suffering due to market oversaturation.


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P.S. This was written as part of Cinema Viewfinder's Nicholas Ray blogathon, albeit it two days late. Yes, I'm a deadbeat.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

RAZORTOOTH (2007) - a killer eel movie, since most of the other creatures of the sea have already been selected to eat people on film




While people point to Jaws as ushering in the summer blockbuster, they neglect to also mention its complicity in the creation of the Jawsploitation genre. You know, the endless parade of movies where some sort of seabound creature is terrorizing a park or resort, and a scientist, sheriff, and a shark hunter (or lobster hunter, or whatever creature it happens to be that week) join forces to blow up the monster. Meanwhile, truckloads of victims happen upon the monster’s abode right before it decides to go on a rampage, and all of these potential victims are strategically uninformed that they will soon be eaten (usually the “if we tell these people that they are going to die, they will leave and we will not get their money” gag). It should be noted that I consider the “Jawsploitation” genre a subgenre of the “nature runs amok” genre. Both have killer animals, but Jawsploitation films (like Alligator and Orca) dutifully copy the setup and form I just mentioned. Take, for example, Grizzly, which is really a landbound Jawsploitation film, being that the plot is basically the same as Jaws; you know, the scientist, the crazy bear hunter, and the sheriff team up to take out the furball while trying not to startle the park visitors and the local residents. Meanwhile, the bear is running around, ripping people’s arms off. After all, you can’t create forest fires by lighting matches if you don’t have any arms.



The “nature runs amok” genre was already firmly in place before Jaws came out (like Frogs and Squirm and many others), and proudly continues to this day, while the Jawsploitation genre continues to stumble forward while piggybacking off of Steven Spielberg (with the exception of Grizzly, the genre’s high point, and Alligator, which nails the subtly satirical route). Where as there are endless possibilities when nature decides it has had enough and wants to screw with humanity, there is only one possibility when a fish monkey (that’s a giant fish monster that wears a monkey suit, if you follow) claims a victim at the beginning of the film, and the three stooges team up to very slowly figure things out while making sure not to alert any potential victims. It’s just fucking TIRED at this point. Apparently, the filmmakers think that people love Jaws SO much, that they’ll still enjoy a tenth rate homage. Any tenth rate homage is a twentieth rate insult as far as I’m concerned, a ripoff pissing in the face of Jaws himself.



If you’re gonna copy the setup, at least do something interesting with it instead of checking off every box on the Jawsploitation checklist. Maybe have a lake resort in Minnesota that is experiencing trouble with a Loch Ness monster (Nessie got sick of Scotland and transferred lakes, I guess), and the three stooges show up to investigate. Maybe instead of ripping off Jaws point by point, you have someone get on a PA system and say “there’s a Loch Ness monster in the lake and it’s eating people! You know…eating YOU! So, everyone, listen closely…GO THE FUCK HOME! We will be dropping an atomic bomb in the lake in exactly thirty minutes, and if you’re still wading at that point…tough tooties.” If you go Nagasaki on Nessie right off the bat, your movie is not gonna be very long, but hey, that’s okay. Entertain the people with something original and/or interesting and get their asses out of the theater so they can get on with their busy lives. Who am I kidding, that movie is not going to be playing in a theater. Well, still, you entertain the people who illegally download your movie so they can get on with their internet porn festival. That’s more like it.



Of course, as Grizzly proves, its possible to make something good that is a note for note ripoff of Jaws. The key is to not be shitty. Not being shitty has saved many a movie, no matter how derivative, from being mostly unwatchable. Sadly, Razortooth fails this test. The monster is a giant CGI eel that I SWEAR was a boss I defeated in a Playstation 1 game, but I’m blanking on the title. Wasn’t there an aquatic knockoff of "Silent Hill"? I don’t remember. The initial victims are “police officers” who are chasing two escaped convicts through the Everglades, where the eel lives. While we’re on the topic, I’ll note that the Everglades make for a nice location, but that’s hardly to the credit of the filmmakers, but rather, to whomever is responsible for not allowing oil companies to buy up the Everglades and blindly drill, hoping to hit crude. Anyway, I put “police officers” in quotations because these guys are just wearing police t-shirts. Not the band, mind you (although that would be pretty fucking funny if the police uniform was a t-shirt featuring Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland). No, these are shirts with the word “police” printed on them. I know police funding has been getting cut over the past ten years or so, but this is getting ridiculous. The vast array of potential victims that show up all of a sudden include the two convicts, as well as a “canoe club” and a group of college students investigating eel overpopulation as extra credit for a biology class (that sounds more like a final project than extra credit, but whatever). After all, if an eel is hungry in the forest and no one is there to be eaten, there is no movie.



There’s also a local fat redneck who looks like the poor man’s Larry the Cable Guy (maybe Larry the Spackle Assistant), and he carries around a bucket of chicken and a beer at all times. He enters an outhouse to go about his business, and you can figure out what happens next if you’ve ever seen a shitty monster movie (pun not intended in any way). That’s another thing…this “eel” can pop up anywhere to attack people, whether hiding underneath a house waiting for a victim to saunter by, or breaking through tile (?) to get to the requisite girl taking a shower. It also seems to change shape at will. Jaws successfully played on primal fears by featuring a menace hidden in the water, as primitive man was horrified of the sea, and that carries through to this day due to the magic of evolution (and Jaws certainly helped out). The eel never achieves anything akin to this because it follows no realistic rules, and just shows up anywhere to bite people.

Also, a cheapo CGI monster doesn’t inspire fear, and doesn’t even integrate into the movie. Say what you want about the paper mache Loch Ness monster witnessed in the above trailer, at least it’s a physical representation of something. Imagine a play where a monster is represented by two dudes wearing a fancy piece of cardboard. The actor treats the cardboard monster as real, and you go along with it within the reality of the play. A crappy CGI eel seems to come in from another medium entirely (old video games), running through the film without actually interacting with the actors. How about you show some balls and have four actors wearing a paper mache eel costume. When the eel is chasing a victim and one of the dudes trips and falls out of the costume and scurries back inside, just leave it in. Nobody give’s a shit. Your movie couldn’t possibly be any more laughable, and maybe you’ll actually entertain some people that way. Of course, what do I know. Maybe I just don’t like eels. That might be it.



P.S. This was written as part of "Project Terrible", a festival of foolishness hosted by Mondo Bizarro. This particular movie was selected for me to review by Michelle over at The Girl Who Loves Horror. Check out both blogs you big dummy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

LET KERMODE DO THE WORK FOR YOU: Antichrist (2009)



Here's my capsule from my top 10 of the year list:

"Lars certainly knows how to kick things off with a bang, beginning with a sex scene (complete with penetration shot) that is intertwined with a kid falling off a balcony and going splat. The freshly deceased munchkin creates some grief related issues for the couple. Dafoe, as a therapist, approaches the grief intellectually, while Gainsbourg takes a more emotional approach (she is the chick in the relationship after all). They explore the woods together, trying to connect with nature and failing, while this grief manifests itself in physical form (including some wonderful surprises). Lars never loses track of the emotional core, while showing again why he has the biggest stones in moviemaking today."

So...is this movie torture porn? Of course not, dummy. What we have is basically a two-person drama that gets into horror metaphor territory in the third act. This includes some horror atmosphere, what with the couple spending time together in a cabin surrounded by some creepy woods (for the record, the trees aren't the assholes here, but rather, what lies behind these trees), as well as the metaphoric violence (meaning that it's an extension of the interior drama).

It initially didn't occur to me, but Mark Kermode quite astutely compares the film to Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, which uses horror metaphor to deal with a disintegrating marriage (albeit disintegrating for different reasons). However, Possession is much more manic in its approach, where as Antichrist proceeds ominously towards inevitable tragedy.



Here is Mark Kermode's interview with Willem Dafoe. If it wasn't already obvious, Dafoe is very smart and very awesome...and he's Jesus! That's a winner folks.



Here are Kermode's astute remarks. He points out that he doesn't trust Von Trier because he's a prankster asshole, but this is one of the reasons why I like Von Trier. Cinema needs more liars and thieves and fewer choir boys (and girls) that do things "professionally".