Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE (1961) - when dolls come alive, they are always up to no good...can't they just smile and do a little dance?

The curse of a voodoo doll is creepy in the sense that it is invisible and can strike while you’re going about your daily routine. Say you go to the mall to buy a retirement present for your Uncle Stumpy, who spent the last 57 years working for a beef jerky plant. You pick up a titty mug at Spencer’s Gifts and get it gift wrapped, and then head back to your car, feeling proud of yourself for accomplishing your good deed for the day. Unbeknownst to you, a witch doctor hundreds of miles away has a grudge against you for giving him negative feedback on eBay after he sold you a Lex Luthor action figure who was missing a shoe. At that very moment, he sticks a pin in the crotch of a voodoo doll with your likeness, and you fall to your knees in pain, and the last sound you hear is the titty mug smashing on the parking lot concrete. My point is, it is pretty scary that you can die all of a sudden for no apparent reason, just like in real life. So, I guess a voodoo doll is just as scary as a sudden fatal heart attack. That’s hardly a point that needs to be overexplained with absurd examples. Oh well.

"Myron the Living Doll" was a reoccurring strip in Evan Dorkin's "Dork" comic. Yes, it's the shit.

However, voodoo dolls are also just creepy in the physical sense. Sure, some low rent witch doctors cut corners and just throw a soul patch on a stick figure and consider that a likeness of someone. But I’m talking about those dolls that actually look like real people. Say you stumble upon a witch doctor’s lair, and he has a little porcelain doll version of you, complete with your hipster glasses and buzzcut and big goofy nose. That would send chills down your spine in the normal sense that your life may be threatened, but also because it’s a little version of you, but instead with a frozen porcelain visage, with dead eyes eternally staring forward. Some goth chicks would find that awesome and take the doll home with them, but most people would find that frightening.

Curse of the Doll People wonderfully takes advantage of this. Once the first victim is claimed by a vengeful witch doctor, a four foot doll version of that character appears, using a long needle to kill the next victim. Basically, this is a cool variation on the regular voodoo doll. Why stick a needle in a doll when you could just have the doll stick the needle in for you? These dolls are the centerpiece of the film, and are among the creepiest killer dolls in movie history, if not number one. Imagine trying to sleep when a 4 foot version of your dead husband creeps into your room with dead eyes and a porcelain face. Chuckie might be more violent and gregarious, but silence and stillness tends to be more cinematically chilling as far as I’m concerned.

Well, let me backtrack. It’s swinging Mexico in the early 60’s, and a playboy doctor with a thin stache is enjoying some swank time with his caliente tribal archaeologist girlfriend (karina) before they get down to some science. He even salutes his whiskey and soda to a portrait of her deceased father, as if to say “thanks dude, for making a hot daughter”. That’s class folks. They head to a scientific meeting at an older doctor’s house, which is more like a South American version of "Playboy After Dark". The older doctor tells a story about him and his colleagues stealing an ornate idol from an ancient tribe somewhere for the ideal of “scientific research”, although he mainly seems to wanna show it off in the pad as décor. Of course, he also throws in a little tidbit about how while they were stealing the precious statue, the high priest of the tribe kept cursing his group to death, which may or may not be important. Unlike those annoyingly vague soothsayers, this high priest gives an exact time and date for the first death to take place…midnight tonight. The doctor smugly points to his watch and notes that it is five minutes to midnight, but nothing has happened, I guess because voodoo is a bunch of bullshit and science kicks ass. Suddenly, the power goes out, and the doctor is soon found dead due to mysterious causes. Way to ruin a perfectly good scotch on the rocks.

Of course, they should’ve just listened to Karina, who specializes in the field. She keeps explaining that there are things beyond the realms of science, but not in a crazy soothsayer kinda way. She has studied and written fancypants jargon papers on the subject, and is also very useful to the plot as she breathlessly explains everything to move the movie along. Really, after the first five minutes or so, Curse of the Doll People is all about horror atmospherics, beautifully shot in black and white, with the witch doctor picking off members of the scientific teams from afar, even threatening their loved ones. However, this is not a simple case of some killer dolls running around. The whole movie has a strange and surreal quality. There are ominous warning signs in the form of a braid of a doll’s hair that keeps mysteriously popping up out of nowhere. As I was saying, the dolls take on the faces of previous victims, and also show up in strange ways. For example, the maid tells one of the doctors that his daughter just received a new present in the mail from a relative. A new doll, perhaps? Sure enough, we cut to the girl sleeping in bed, and next to her is a doll with the face of the previous victim. Transporting these guys around town in coffin-esque gift boxes is a zombie in a black hat under control of the witch doctor. The zombie will also stand outside of the victim’s house and summons the dolls by playing a flute, the sound of which adds further eeriness to the proceedings. There are other odd touches like dead victims still clutching at the air in terror after they are already supposed to be dead. You know, freaky shit and whatever.

People may not take dubbed Mexi-horrors seriously, what with those Santo movies where he might piledrive the Wolfman and then get in a sports car to chase down Dracula speeding away on a moped (which are all awesome, by the way). However, there are many serious black and white mexi-horror movies of the period that are wonderful and chilling variations on the atmospheric Universal horror films, just like Spain and Italy were doing at the time (like with Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, for example). Curse of the Doll People belongs in the pantheon with the likes of The Witch’s Mirror and El Vampiro, and also stands on it’s own as a unique horror film that plays off of the stereotypical voodoo doll to create a collection of threats that are wholly original and strange. After all, what is not more horrific than that which we don’t understand? So, don’t be put off by the dubbing. If Americans at the time wouldn’t have minded reading subtitles, it would’ve been subtitled. Also, it’s not legitimate to make fun of the movie on the grounds that it is silly how everyone dresses up to just sit around and listen to Eurotrash jazz and drink an array of the finest whiskies and scotches and occasionally smooch. That’s how life was lived in Mexico City and much of Europe at the time…assuming you weren’t poor, of course.

P.S. This was written in conjunction with "The Shortening", a celebration of shorties in horror all throughout the month of February over at Deadly Doll Emily's blog "Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense". Check it out!

Friday, February 24, 2012

GOOD FOR NOTHING (2011) - in the old west, shooting and raping is how men expressed their feelings

A naïve young Englishwoman named Isabella (the lovely and effective Inge Rademeyer, albeit with a wavering accent) heads to the American west to live with her uncle on his ranch after the death of her father. Two men escort her by horse carriage, and they stop at a saloon along the way. Sure enough, the serene desert landscape was merely a ruse, and a mysterious man enters the saloon, initiating a spaghetti western stare down that ends in him shooting and killing Isabella’s escorts. “The Man”, as he is credited (Cohen Holloway, doing a really solid Clint Eastwood impersonation) steals any immediate valuables, Isabella included, all while never uttering a single word. He ties her up and rides away, later stopping to rape her, tearing patches of her dress off in the process.

Up until this point, you’d never know that Good for Nothing isn’t completely serious; maybe an austere but brutal revisionist western influenced by spaghetti westerns. A Kiwi High Plains Drifter, if you like, with an anti-hero that rapes a woman in the 1st act and goes on to be the cog that drives death and destruction in a small western town. However, The Man doesn’t go though with the rape. Instead, he ties Isabella to a tree, rides into town, and tells a doctor “my dick’s broke…and I need you to fix it”. I hate it when that happens. Anyway, Isabella escapes and alerts the sheriff, but he just assumes that she’s a whore (what with her lascivious ripped dress) and tries to rape her too. It’s just not her day, I guess. The Man shows up and blows away the sheriff, as she is still his "property". The rest of the movie consists of the kidnapper dragging Isabella along as he tries to find a cure for his sad little member so he can finally "give her a poke", as he puts it. Meanwhile, they are both hunted by a gang hired by the brother of the dead sheriff, as they assume her to be his “whore” accomplice.

Like I was saying, most of Good for Nothing would pass for a “normal” western, beautifully shot and scored for a film with an apparently low budget. However, little askew scenes and bits of dialogue change the entire context of the movie, and it ends up being a covert comedy with numerous ironic twists on the genre. “The Man” should be the villain of the piece, but his impotency prevents him from carrying out his evil deed. Instead, he becomes an anti-hero of sorts, placed in the position of protecting Isabella from the bandits through no valor of his own. This subversion of western myths unfolds quietly, allowing the viewer to question these ideas on their own, rather than being beaten over the head with a simple message.

While this may seem rapey and misogynistic at first glance, Good for Nothing ultimately presents this male dominated world as a moral wasteland governed only by penile whims. I’ll let the reader insert their own connection here between gun and penis. Isabella may be a passive heroine, but it’s not through any fault of her own. She’s constantly struggling to get away, but when you’re tied up and held hostage by a deadly gunfighter, there’s only so much you can do. Even so, this leads to the film’s funniest sight gag (which I won’t give away) when she convinces two workers to try and help her escape while The Man is busy trying to obtain an “ancient Chinese secret” to help with his “problem”. Some friendly advice for the reader: those “ancient Chinese secret” cures that people shill don’t work. If it was really such a secret, would they be blathering about it for an hour during some late night infomercial? I rest my case.

P.S. Good for Nothing currently has a 1.8/10 rating on IMDB. Even if I try to look up the most incompetent movie I can think of, it’ll have a higher score than 1.8. Not that I put much stock into things like that; I just thought it was strange.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

BLUBBERELLA (2011) - finally, a Nazi movie that's tubs of fun! Sorry.

Folks, I like a good Holocaust joke as much as the next guy. Take, for example, the “comedian’s comedian” Andy Kindler. He used to do a bit about being a neurotic Jew. He's about to board a Greyhound bus that says “Baltimore” and thinks to himself “yeah…Baltimore Stuttgart!” Maybe that doesn’t kill on the page, but in the hands of a comedian that makes other comedians guffaw in the back of the room, it’s a winner and then some. Take, as another example, Blubberella, who spends an afternoon with Hitler (played by director Uwe Boll, of course) playing Risk and getting to know one another. In a moment of honesty, Blubberella says to Hitler “bro to bro, you should probably lay off the ethnic cleansing thing. People will start to think you’re an asshole.” Maybe not the product of a trenchant wit, but nevertheless, I’m all for knocking Hitler down yet another peg.

My point is, that when faced with unremitting human suffering, sometimes our only way of coping is to laugh. Thankfully, we have the likes of Uwe Boll and Lindsay Hollister in the title role (and co-writer too) to create a much needed humorous slant not only on the horrors of the holocaust, but also on the horrors of stupid vampire movies; namely, the entire Bloodrayne series. More specifically, Blubberella is a spoof of Bloodrayne III, and both were (at least partially) filmed concurrently. Filming a vampire movie and a spoof of that very movie at the same time in order to save money is exactly the kind of exploitation movie absurdity that makes me love Uwe Boll. If that wasn't enough, Uwe apparently filmed a serious treatise on the horrors of Auschwitz at the same time as well. I can't wait.

Anyway, the character of Blubberella is half-vampire, half-human, and “mostly dough”, and she joins an underground resistance group to fight Nazis and prevent a mad scientist plot to turn Hitler into an immortal (again, the same as in Bloodrayne III). She spends her down time in the “Jew-y” part of Germany, surfing “” on her Apple laptop. She begins her day with a hearty cotton candy breakfast, using her own carnival cotton candy machine that sits next to a walk-in freezer. She later pulls a baguette out of her leather trenchcoat to a Benny Hill sound effect. So she’s big on food, apparently. When the movie flashes back to her troubled childhood, it becomes a parody of Precious, with Blubberella cooking breakfast while her mom, a white guy in drag and blackface, hurls insults at her and hits her on the head with a frying pan. Folks, I expected the humor to be shameless, but frankly, I’m in awe.

Hollister is actually funny delivering the various one-liners during her scenes. However, too much of the movie is simply retakes of Bloodrayne III but with “funny” dialogue instead. Michael Pare and Clint Howard reprise their roles as the commandant and doctor, respectively, apparently attempting to parody themselves. However, it just goes to show that Michael Pare has no business doing comedy, and Clint Howard already IS comedy. Remember in my Bloodrayne III review when I said that Pare’s career had really hit the skids? Here he plays a parody of a ridiculous Nazi character that is twice thwarted by Blubberella, who first smothers him with her breasts so thoroughly he drowns in milk, and later sits on his face and rips a fart until he dies. Surely I can now confidently assert that Pare’s career cannot ebb any lower. Unless "Eddie and the Cruisers III" comes out, and Pare is playing bass for Nickelback and running a child pornography ring until he slips on a dildo and dies 15 minutes into the movie. You know, I would actually watch that movie.

Having said that, there are also a couple of nice action parody moments, like when Blubberella shoots one bullet at a group of Nazis and they all fall down, or the music score turning to a facsimile of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” when Blubberella is about to kick some ass. Like pretty much every Uwe Boll film, there are a few inexplicable touches, most notably when the resistance fighters are marching to their hideout, and marching along with them is a guy wearing a fish costume. He falls over and dies, presumably because he cannot breath, and everyone ignores him. Maybe we’re supposed to assume that a real giant fish wants to help out in the fight against the Nazis, but can’t cut it on land. Or, the resistance has a fish dude mascot that suddenly keeled over and died in the line of duty. Or, just maybe, Boll is parodying the idea that the group has a guy who’s a “fish out of water” by literally replacing him with a fish out of water. Either way, I appreciate these kind of nonsensical and absurd touches in a world of “logically sound” cookie-cutter comedies.

It would be easy to say that the film presents offensive stereotypes, whether the chubby girl who obsesses about food, or the dumb Nazi that is always up to no good. However, the movie is so divorced from reality that even the dumbest viewer (which I would assume would be a big chunk of the audience) could not possibly mistake these characters for real people. They’re not going to watch this movie and later bump into a German tourist at Abercrombie and Fitch and snap his collarbone with an elbow smash. People just aren’t THAT stupid. Perhaps I’m being optimistic. Either way, I tend to only be offended by that which harms others, and I can’t quite see how any harm could come out of Blubberella. Sure, there’s the extremely slim possibility that it could lead to permanent brain damage, but you could say that about almost any activity that’s actually fun.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH (2010) - where would humanity be without hot vampire chicks that like to wear leather and beat up bad guys in that order?

Nazis. I’m tired of these fucks. Look, if you’re gonna be an asshole and hate an entire culture, at least have a reason. Even then, you can just stay away from these people. I hate douchebags, and for good reason, but you don’t see me using copies of Maxim magazine to lure them into a cattle car. I just stay away from trendy dance clubs (not that they woud let me in). Our heroine feels much the same way I do, and the movie begins with her explaining in voice over who the Nazis are and why they are bad. After all, not everybody is a history major. She ends the lesson with the phrase “…fucking Nazis”. It’s good to know we’re on the same wavelength.

Basically, Bloodrayne (Natassia Malthe) is a hot chick in leather with red streaks in her hair (a nice touch, by the way). She’s also a half-vampire that runs around with two swords and hacks up vampires. She hacked up vampires in 18th century Transylvania in the first movie, she hacked up some more vampires in the American west in the second movie, and now it’s World War II and she’s hacking up...Nazis? I guess they had superseded vampires in the evil department by that point, especially since Bloodrayne had no doubt wiped a lot of those bloodsuckers out in the intervening years. Specifically, she is assisting a Jewish resistance group led by Nathaniel (Brendan Fletcher) on an attack on these Nazis, headed by Commandant Michael Pare (Michael Pare). Rayne has no problem taking care of a bunch of uzi-toting Nazis with her swords at point blank range, and she quickly dispatches Commandant Pare by impaling him with a pole. If you were once an up-and-coming star (Eddie and the Cruisers) and you currently find yourself playing a Nazi in the third entry of a series directed by Uwe Boll and you die ninety seconds into the movie, perhaps your career isn’t on the right track. Just perhaps.

Oh wait…Pare becomes a Nazi vampire through absurd coincidence, and Bloodrayne is to blame. You try to help a nice Jewish boy end the Holocaust, and you end up creating Nazi vampires instead. You just can’t win folks. Anyway, Pare lives on and teams up with Nazi doctor Clint Howard (Clint Howard), who just happens to be currently experimenting on a vampire, employing rigid mad scientist protocol (he pokes at the vampire with a scalpel until he is covered in blood from head to toe). After a game of chess (Pare loses to Howard and awesomely crushes a glass in his hand in frustration), they put their minds together and come up with a master mad scientist plan. They will create a race of Nazi vampires and eventually turn Master Adolf (Adolf Hitler) into a vampire himself, so the Third Reich can live on forever. In order to do so, they need to capture Rayne and use her blood. If this is whole setup seems a tad ridiculous, just keep in mind that the important thing is that it sets up a showdown between the Nazis and the half-vampire chick that chops people’s arms off whilst showing off her rack.

Before things get that far, Bloodrayne has an important side quest, going undercover to infiltrate a brothel in order to…well, I’m not quite sure. I guess her goal is to initiate a brothel scene. In order to maintain her cover, she is forced to receive a nude oil massage, but she quickly ditches her cover when she happens upon a Nazi soldier in tighty whities beating up a prostitute. After dispatching this guy, she is rewarded with free lesbian sex by a topless prostitute. It’s these kinds of moronic scenes in exploitation movies that make life worthwhile folks.

I’m a Uwe Boll fan (stop chuckling), and the third Bloodrayne delivers his patented blend of absurd exploitation scenes, camp performances delivered in awkward accents, and nihilistic black humor (like when a Nazi nonchalantly shoots a Jewish woman in the head while continuing to hold a conversation). These Bloodrayne movies remind me in a way of the original Charlie’s Angels series, where hot chick heroes were inexplicably dropped into different genres, whether a "Ten Little Indians" plot or a redneck racing plot, in order to look good and take care of business. Anyway, I have an idea for the next Bloodrayne movie. Rayne inexplicably finds herself boarding United 93 on the morning of 9/11, only to find that vampires masquerading as Al-Qaeda hijackers plan to take over the plane. Make it happen Uwe.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

HONEYMOON HORROR (1982) - true love is snuffed out like a candle while a worthless cop eats cheeseburgers and shrugs his shoulders

Some couple owns one of those honeymoon hideaway businesses, where young newlyweds pay good money to boink in a cabin. Husband Frank finds his wife Elaine doing the deed with someone not named Frank (ruh-roh). A manly tussle ensues, and Frank stumbles into some fire, becoming a jilted husband flambé. Elaine remarries the guy she actually wants to have sex with (besides, Frank is now a crispy freak that is presumed dead) and takes over the the family biz for the time being (with the aid of “Crazy Joe” and a fake cockney maid). However, she is trying to sell the business in order to distance herself from her previous life. Some women are resigned to suffering through loveless marriages while serving annoying customers, but it looks like lady luck has come to Elaine's rescue.

Three girls show up (wearing super ultra short shorts) in order to scarily dress up the room of a freshly married sorority sister. To think there was a time when regular shorts had only a sliver more material than the booty shorts of today. Anyway, this "practical joke" setup impressively involves streamers and cardboard skeletons, not to mention a fake cockney maid corpse that falls out of a closet (the corpse is real; it's her accent that's fake). An unseen assailant shows up and ruins their surprise party, taking an axe to the supple sorority sisters. I guess this asshole doesn't want to be upstaged in the "jump scare" department.

The next morning, the sheriff gets a report about three girls missing, but just dismisses it by scratching his ass. We are then introduced to three couples, and Elaine explains that Crazy Joe will fetch whatever they want, but to keep in mind that "he is retarded and can't speak". I quote that without judging, mind you. We all have our problems. God knows I have mine. Either way, I guess Crazy Joe will have to pick up the slack, now that there is no longer a fake Cockney maid on staff, ready to throw together some imposter crumpets on a moment’s notice.

One hubby has an argument with his wife, so he decides to pump iron outside while she takes a shower. Some crispy schmuck manages to sneak by him, giving his new wife a pretty sweet shower axing. He then sets fire to the docks, and the fat ass sheriff is rudely interrupted about this development (while smoking a cigar and eating a cheeseburger, no less). He reluctantly has to deploy some men to actually do their fucking jobs, amounting to possibly checking out the situation over the next few days if they get around to it or whatever. The aggravation of having to get up off of his greasy posterior drives captain porky to hit the bottle, washing down his failure in the process (not to mention the cheeseburger).


Of course, the group starts to think that Crazy Joe may be the killer, not realizing that a mad slasher is not built on mere retardation alone. The killer is indeed Frank, the jilted toasty freak that was the obvious perp from the beginning. Frank lays the hammer down (quite literally) during an awesome final showdown, where the remaining group is holed up together in the main house, trying to keep this sly, resourceful hack machine from ruining an already shitty collective honeymoon.

The next morning, our courageous sheriff carts his heroic ass to the honeymoon island, constantly bitching the whole time. After a pseudo twist ending, another couple shows up, asking the sheriff for directions to the cabin resort. Like the useless slab of bacon he is, he yells at them, chews on his cigar, and fires some warning shots. Even the basics of human interaction elude him, preferring to fall back on his six shooter as his only form of communication with a shackled populace. Punk muthafucka with a badge and a gun, indeed.

P.S. Consider this review a celebration of sorts for Valentine's Day. Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

TWILIGHT (2008) - twi-hard a little harder next time

Since I’m neither a thirteen-year-old girl nor a purveyor of mass popular culture, it would seem like Twilight would naturally fall outside of my wheelhouse. However, the “Twilight phenomenon” intrigues me in an anthropological sense, like a wayward straggler peaking underneath a circus tent out of curiosity, rather than as something to be accepted as a fan or rejected with a sneer.

In order to rightfully judge Twilight, I’ll probably have to read the book rather than simply watch the movies. So, it’s off to the mall! Walking through on my way to Hot Topic, I couldn’t help but think of that Louis C.K. joke about how every shopping mall should have four lions randomly placed throughout in order to speed up human evolution. Anyway, I enter Hot Topic and wander around for a bit, as if I’m not looking for anything in particular, when I finally “happen” upon the Twilight display. Scanning across Twilight lunchboxes, Twilight hair dryers, Twilight action figures, Twilight motivational tapes, and the Twilight super deluxe Library of Congress sparkle edition, I finally notice a cheap looking paperback edition of the first novel and…$7.99? Full list price? I know that doesn’t sound like much, but I’m a cheap bastard and, more importantly, I refuse to pay full list for an older book that they are probably overstocked with and should be happy to get rid of at this point. I mean, who is in the market for the first Twilight book at this stage of the game? Besides me, of course.

So, I hit up our good friends at Amazon and, lo and behold, hundreds of people are selling used copies FOR A FUCKING PENNY. That’s a real deal, Holyfield. As a side note, I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would list something for sale on Amazon for a penny when it costs a minimum of a dollar to sell something on the site. I’m sure Mia Farrow would be glad to take those books off your hands and give them to needy children in Africa so they can use them for firewood or maybe build a Twilight fort they can hide in to protect themselves from the wayward gunfire of rampaging freedom fighters. Or perhaps, just perhaps, they could use the books to make a suit of Twilight armor to help keep the malaria out. Just a thought.

Anyway, I finally receive the book and start reading and HOLY SHIT THE WRITING IS BAD. There was a time when people judged popular fiction on the actual prose and not simply on the broad strokes of the story. You know, I once read a review of a Stephen King novel where the reviewer described the experience of reading the book being akin to eating an entire tub of cool whip in one sitting. That ran through my mind as I quaffed 500 pages of a 200 page young adult romance, courtesy of our long winded friend Stephenie Meyer. Not as long winded as myself, mind you, but long winded nevertheless.

In case you have been living under a rock, the place which I call home, Bella Swan (metaphorically hinting that she may be a “beautiful swan”) is a clumsy and awkward seventeen-year-old girl that moves from Phoenix to someplace called “Forks” in Washington State to live with her father. We know she’s clumsy and awkward because she literally “stumbles off the plane”, and we also figure out that she isn’t exactly close with her dad since she keeps calling him “Charlie” when referring to him in first person narration. I can’t say I really blame her for not being close to her dad since his biggest fatherly attribute is that he happens to be wearing a mustache.

Anyway, Forks is one of those sad bastard towns where it’s always raining and nobody is happy, at least according to Bella. You know, I am reminded of a Rob Zombie interview where he complained about generic 90’s grunge bands (not that he should be talking necessarily) that might release an album with a fork on the cover and call the album “Fork”, thereby intentionally sidestepping any potential meaningful interpretation of their music. Whatever that band is, they’re the coolest band in Forks.

Bella is an awkward plain Jane that has never had a boyfriend, yet she immediately becomes the object of desire of numerous boys, especially Edward, the most perfect of them all. We know he is perfect because Meyer describes him as such roughly 700 times, as if repeating this vague value judgment over and over again adds detail. In and of itself, “perfection” as a description is meaningless if we don’t even know what constitutes Bella’s idea of perfection. Either way, Edward comes across as a cipher in the book, and I guess the young female reader is supposed to insert their own idea of “perfection”, that dreamy boy they sit next to in chemistry class. Fair enough, but there is one crucial problem with that; hundreds of pages of a story about a cipher is fucking boring.

Now, there are several other boys in school who like Bella, but they are human and realistic and therefore are of no use to her. She is only attracted to the bullshit romantic fantasy Edward represents. He is completely standoff-ish at first, but one day, he suddenly shows a great interest in Bella, endlessly asking her questions about herself rather than engaging in any meaningful exchange.

Now folks, I’ve read “How to Pick Up High School Girls” (I read it in high school, you sickos), and the book makes it very clear that establishing a sense of mystery is tantamount into tricking a girl into thinking she is in love with you. I still try to employ these lessons on first dates, introducing myself by saying “well, yes I have hobbies. I’m actually a secret agent under the…I MEAN I LIKE TO WRITE ABOUT MOVIES ON THE INTERNET! Yes, that’s what I said. What did you think I said?” I haven’t hit pay dirt with that one yet, but I’m still working on it.

The point is, you can’t just go up to a girl and say “HI MY NAME IS BOB AND I LIKE TO READ SCIENCE FICTION AND I AM LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO LOVE SO I FEEL LESS LONELY AND BESIDES MY MOM IS FORCING ME TO GET A GIRLFRIEND SO I CAN EVENTUALLY GET MARRIED AND MOVE OUT OF THE BASEMENT”. You’re supposed to brood and pretend that you don’t care one iota about going out with anyone. She becomes tantalized by your aloof brooding and eventually walks up to you and asks you to the prom, at which point say “whatever” and walk away. Eventually, you’re supposed to succumb to her charms, as if to say “I cannot love, but since you are truly special, I will make an exception”. At this point you ask her an endless parade of questions. You see, women love to be asked questions. Every marriage counselor in the world will suggest to the husband “why don’t you ask your wife about her day when you come home from work?” Edward isn’t some suave guy that read the same handbook I did but manages to actually apply those lessons with some level of competence. He IS the handbook.

I know I’m overanalyzing things, but why would Edward be enraptured by Bella to begin with? As he puts it, “you fascinate me…you always take me by surprise.” Bullshit. He’s a 100 year-old vampire, and he’s suddenly fascinated by the most boring girl in school? Bella, whose only attributes are that she keeps falling over and occasionally complains about having to take a trigonometry test? In order for the likes of Edward to be fascinated and constantly surprised by a human female, I’d imagine she’d have to be a painter who moonlights as a motorcycle daredevil, which is actually a cover for her secret life as an assassin for the KGB. I thought immortals were supposed to be world weary.

Not only that, but what the fuck is a vampire doing attending high school? What’s the point of being an immortal creature of the night who can fly around if you have to spend all day in the most boring place on earth? Also, he doesn’t bite people on the neck or live in a castle or go up in flames when exposed to sunlight or holy water. Why bother making him a vampire when he doesn’t follow ANY of the friggin' rules of being a vampire? He glitters and sometimes plays baseball. Big freakin’ deal. Edward’s “vampirism” is more like a stylistic affectation, just a slight variation on the guy who decides to go goth with a Hot Topic spending spree using his dad’s credit card.

Now, it’s not a total stretch for a 17-year-old’s life to entirely revolve around a brand new crush, pushing aside any potential hobbies or future plans in the process, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It also makes for an incredibly boring protagonist, considering her entire character arc is to occasionally find herself in peril so she can be rescued by Edward. I guess this can all be considered part of the fantasy; a knight on a white horse saving your ass over and over again. However, Bella happens to be one of the most popular “heroines” of recent times, yet she’s completely passive and entirely dependent on a male, both physically and emotionally. While a female viewer can enjoy the story as a complete fantasy that in no way relates to real human relationships, these kind of stories (particularly those that are extremely popular) help feed this notion that women should be passive and let men take care of everything and make all the decisions. Trust me, you don’t want men making all the decisions. Remember the atomic bomb? Some dude made that. I rest my case.

Edward also has a certain “bad boy” appeal, in the sense that he has to repress his violent urge to bite Bella on the neck, just as a female might find a violent bad boy romantic, what with him repressing his desire to punch people in the face to be with her. However, the problem with dating someone who is repressing his desire to punch someone in the face is that he will invariably get angry and punch you in the face. It should be noted that there never seems to be any real danger emanating from Edward’s vampirism. There’s just a romantic idea that he would change his very essence for her. This could also be a bad example for young woman, romanticizing the process of “reforming” a bad boy, rather than celebrating the nice boy. Remember the saying “nice guys finish last?” Bullshit like this is one of the reasons.

Edward’s vampirism also provides an excuse for them not to be able to have sex, and somehow this abstinence equates to true love. Or, as Bella puts it, “I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.” Why? Because you keep glancing at the hottest boy in school and eventually kiss him and that’s as deep as it goes? I could see a 13-year-old girl naively coming to that conclusion, but Meyer is not critiquing this notion or presenting it “warts and all”, but rather exalting it as the one true idea of love; junior high school puppy love without the pre-marital sex. What’s the fun of a shallow love affair if you can’t roll around in the hay a little? It’s like an erotic fantasy minus the erotic part. Well, in fairness, my idea of “erotic” is probably a bit different than that of a 13-year-old girl. I’d rather not get into it though. Oh all involves a lady plumber and a watermelon. That’s as far as I’ll go.

Of course, there is also Jacob, a different kind of cipher that also takes a shining to Bella. I haven’t read past the first book, where he doesn’t yet develop a real relationship with Bella, but the movies present him as a rural counterpoint to well-dressed society boy Edward. He is also younger (15 vs. 100) and more innocent than Edward, and is also a wolf man, of course. Again, similar to Edward, Jacob is the least wolfy wolf man I've ever seen. His “werewolfisms” usually consist of something along the lines of the scene where he growls a little after walking out of a movie he didn’t quite care for. Well hell, I do that all the time, except I actually have chest hair. I’m more of a werewolf than this fucking guy.

Anyway, Jacob is a Native American boy who never wears a shirt because he exists only to encapsulate a harlequin romance fantasy, and not because it is illegal in his religion to wear a shirt (although that was my first guess). He likes to work on his motorcycle while Bella watches on, which checks off another one of the rules in the “How to Pick up High School Girls” handbook; women like to see a man do manly things with their manly hands. Bella throws on the jeans and the sad bastard flannel and watches a man do all the work, momentarily sampling the rustic lifestyle. In pure soap opera fashion, the central conflict is whether Bella wants to go high society with super hottie Edward or go low society with super hottie Jacob. I guess this is Bella’s one important decision to make as a woman.

On the surface, Twilight the book seems like ripe material to be improved upon in its transition to screen, and for while, it does. The vague and leaden prose of Meyer is replaced with a somber realism (well, sort of), and the ciphers are replaced with flesh and blood human beings (kinda). You know, if Kristen Stewart starred in a show like this called “Sad Flannel”, sort of a really dumb version of My So-Called Life, I would actually watch it. However, once Edward swoops in to save the day by magically stopping a van with one hand before it crushes Bella, all semblance of high school reality is thrown out the window. In the book, you could sorta imagine that Edward was still a human being that heroically put himself on the line to save Bella, but the movie presents it as a CGI superhero feat straight out of a shitty Superman sequel (the last one, I guess). Yet, Bella doesn’t truly believe that something is amiss with the guy until she googles the word “vampire” about an hour in to the movie. Even more ridiculous is that his cover is never blown despite performing this feat in front of half the student body. It also completely undermines Bella’s character; she comes across as aware and intelligent, but suddenly has to become an oblivious moron to serve the plot.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…Kristen Stewart as Bella? Aware and intelligent? Folks, let me come clean…I LOVE KRISTEN STEWART. Remember the Oscars, where she slumped in her seat the entire time as if she was attending a lecture on quantum mechanics? I thought that was hot. Let me put this way: Hollywood is a town of big tits and confidence, and K-Stew is oblivious to big tits and confidence, and this, combined with a lithe-tomboy-next-door look, is exactly the kind of woman that gets my quarks spinning.

Having said all that, I will try to come to this with a more analytical, less crotch-oriented perspective. Kristen has her own style of acting, maybe a fumbling method, and she excels at it. Bella is the every-girl who is supposed to be clumsy and awkward and uncool (in theory), and Stewart manages to ground and breathe life into a character that was barely a character to begin with. She processes dialogue from others, stammering her way to an answer like someone fumbling in the dark, rather than as someone who spews dialogue confidently right when the other actor is finished, unleashing their acting technique drilled into them by a failed actor. If real life is a serious of awkward moments, Kristen refuses to admit otherwise. Some may call it a shtick, but I prefer to call it an honest process that is admittedly limited to certain kinds of roles.

Anyway, the film further drops the ball with the reveal of Edward’s other special powers. Not only is his ability to run fast and jump high and sparkle rendered with laughable CGI, but the reality of the film is sabotaged in the process. If you’re gonna plant the story in mundane reality, sudden flights of fancy prove incongruous, especially if these flights are computer generated and completely stupid. I can imagine an otherwise similar story that replaces the super powers with psychological horror. A girl becomes attached to a strange boy, but becomes alarmed that he may be a vampire, and the movie plays with “he can’t be, but maybe he is” dynamic (like George Romero’s Martin). Her simple crush becomes an erotic push and pull, and the danger is palpable. Of course, that would no longer be Twilight. My point is, I am not fundamentally opposed to a cheesy Lifetime Channel high school vampire romance. In fact, I was ready to welcome it with fairly low expectations. Just be either boring or stupid, but not both. You're not allowed to be both.

You know, a wise man may have once said that most things that become super popular are just the same old bullshit repackaged with a slight twist. With that in mind, there’s a scene that is a perfect encapsulation of the series. In Twilight: New Moon, Edward calls Bella’s house and Jacob answers, so he hangs up and crushes a cheap breakaway phone in his hand. The “realistic” version of the scene in a teen love triangle soap is the same, except that Edward breaks the phone by throwing it against the wall. His power to crush the phone is just cheesy genre window dressing, and the monster powers that create the conflict between them are just as forced as you’ll see in some terrible romantic comedy. Sure, there is all the backstory with the conflict between the vampire clan and the werewolf clan, but that feels like stock footage from another movie, specifically a Syfy network rip-off of Underworld.

So, whether we like it or not, Twilight is a trashy escapist fantasy elevated to the status of literary epic, and not to mention the defining love story of a big chunk of a generation. I guess it goes to show that the majority considers base escapism to be the pinnacle of art, at the expense of everything else. Why bother thinking when it feels good to just perpetually glance across the cafeteria at a perfect mystery boy?

Having said that, if Kristen gets naked in the next movie, I take everything back.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

THE WICKER TREE (2010) - don't let the low hanging fruit of religious zealotry hit you in the head

It seems the people of Scotland have lost their way. Not only have they turned away from Jesus, many of them have even stopped believing in angels! How do they get through the day? What if you’re walking through Home Depot and Satan shows up and hurls a fireball at your crotch, but you don’t have an Angel to block it with a forcefield? All I’m saying is, it’s important to be prepared.

Thankfully, America comes to the rescue yet again, sending two born again missionaries to the small Scottish town of Tressock; Beth (Brittania Nicol), a sweet cheeked country singer, and Steve (Henry Garrett, with a wavering southern accent), her cowboy boyfriend. Contrary to what one might expect, Beth doesn’t play a “shitkicker Jesus gonna stick his boot in your ass” brand of country music, but something more beautiful and hymnal-based (to where I wouldn’t mind having a soundtrack album). Where as Steve seems like a herded follower, Beth is a true believer whose deep seeded love of Jesus radiates outward, and her music reflects this. It would have been easy to make her a caricature, a dumb American blindly threatening hellfire, but she resolutely and honestly believes with the best of intentions. This seems like a key to the movie; it might be poking fun at religion, but never at the character of Beth.

The pair are escorted through Tressock by the sexy and savagely dry Lady Delia (Jacqueline Leonard) and the Baron Sir Lachlan (Graham McTavish), a cynical messiah quite literally inspired by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) from the original The Wicker Man. Ominous signs abound, most playfully with a stuttering prophet quoting “The Raven” whilst threatening the Americans with the titular bird. Several locals break into song, with lyrics both ominous and humorously erotic, but the Americans only recognize them as spiritual cousins to the country hymns they are already familiar with. That is, songs of surface spiritual beauty instead of portenders of doom.

Jacqueline Leonard back when perms were legally mandatory

The American couple hands out Jesus pamphlets door to door and try to impress the Scots by saying things like “Jesus was braver than Rob Roy!” Yeah, that’ll work. So impressed are the locals that they honor the pair by crowning them the “May Queen and Laddie” of the Mayday festival. Maybe this is the heathen’s way of accepting the couple into the fold and possibly accepting Christianity in the process…but probably not. I guess as an atheist, I can’t help but be a cynic.

The Wicker Tree is basically a black comic variation on the original (one of my very favorite British movies of all time). Not a spoof, mind you, but a dry and ironic take that plays off of the original. If you doubt this is a comedy, look at the respective scenes where Steve and Beth are faced with blasphemous temptation. Steve happens upon a randy hussy (I think that’s the technical term) bathing nude in a pond, and he is quickly and easily seduced despite his proclamation to chastity. However, Beth merely plays one of the trashy and suggestive songs she recorded before she was saved (“Trailer Trash Love”), and she starts to sway her hips to the rhythm, but quickly catches herself before she succumbs to immorality. The movie isn’t necessarily pointing and laughing at Beth, but presenting a character based dig at religion and sexual repression.

The movie also brings to mind director Robin Hardy’s previous film, the little seen The Fantasist, which is about a serial killer stalking an Irish woman and harassing her with dirty phone calls. That sounds like a standard stalker movie, but The Fantasist is to the stalker movie as The Wicker Tree is to The Wicker Man. That is, familiar material twisted into a dry black comedy steeped in sexual repression. Also, The Wicker Tree is usually pretty dialogue driven, but is punctuated by operatic bits of macabre horror, like a steadicam shot that roars through a corridor and happens upon a butcher hacking away, or the tactile closeups of dead animals, or the shots from the POV of the raven (reminding me of similar shots in Dario Argento’s Opera). Speaking of which, The Fantasist is also punctuated by Argento-esque stylistic flourishes although, for all I know, Hardy may have never even seen an Argento movie. The point is, the film is more of a comedy punctured with bits of grotesque horror, where as the original maintains a creepy slow burn more akin to a Roman Polanski.

The results are more fractured and strangely paced than the original, as we spend quite a bit of time with several oddball characters before most of the major plot events and twists happen in the last half hour or so, making the second act feel sluggish and much longer than the other two. However, this also keeps the movie off-kilter, since it doesn’t build in the same way as the original, and even though the impending horror is obvious, it too uses this against the viewer.

I guess the general lesson to take away from The Wicker Tree is that religion can somewhat be held in check by society, but when the society is the religion, the crazy tends to spread like wildfire. Remember that “Heaven’s Gate” cult that castrated themselves, gave away their earthly possessions, and then killed themselves by drinking arsenic in order to thereby escape Earth on a U.F.O.? I know you might feel like you should try to talk some sense into people like that, but I say, stand up for religious freedom by running and hiding from the wackos.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

CHEERLEADER CAMP (1988) - high concept exploitation meets low brow inspiration

Dream sequences are usually inserted into horror films as a cheap way of getting another shock sequence shoehorned in. However, Cheerleader Camp goes the symbolic route and begins with a furious slip of Freudian intensity. Betsy Russell, the lead cheerleader and star, is running around an empty locker room, opening locker doors, looking for her lost childhood or perhaps deodorant. We can hear the field announcer repeating the phrase “we’re waiting” while the camera roams around at dutch (read: foreign) angles. She runs out onto the stadium field, empty except for her parents, and slips on some mud (there’s that Freudian slapstick I was referencing earlier). She yells and pleads to her folks, something about needing love or whatever, but they ignore her. She copes with this rejection the only way she knows how; cheerleading. Naturally, the pom poms slice the shit out of her arms.

Now, with a movie called Cheerleader Camp, you’d expect it to begin with some fat guy peeping at teenage knockers and then farting on some nerd’s face. This is obviously not the case here, as the filmmakers were much more adventurous, pushing back the parade of tubby shenanigans to the second reel. Instead, we initially explore the various psychoses haunting our main character. Presumably, it’s got something to do with her using cheerleading to cope with the lack of affection from her parents, resulting in a potentially murderous eruption of suppressed trauma. Luckily, as a devout Jungian, I’m in my element here, and I’ll just add that the audience is sure to become collectively conscious when she strips down to her underwear.

As our cheerleading troupe heads for camp in a van, we get to know them and their accomplishments:

-Leif Garrett: starred in Skateboard: The Movie, rode his heroin addiction to an appearance on VH1-Behind the Music

-Rebecca Ferratti: Playboy Playmate, star of the Gor franchise

-Teri Weigel: Playboy Playmate, porn legend

-Lucinda Dickey: starred in Breakin’, Breakin’ 2 – Electric Boogaloo, Breakin’ 3 – Eccentric Bungalow, Breakin’ 4 – Eclectic Bugaboo, and Breakin’ 5 – Epileptic Ballyhoo

-Lorie Griffin (Teen Wolf; a role in an episode of Charles in Charge)

And the previously referenced “fat party guy”, Travis McKenna, who managed a part in the brilliantly visionary Road House. Unfortunately, his career mostly consists of TV walk-ons, but at least he's getting some exercise. Of course, our head cheerleader heroine is Betsy Russell, star of the third movie in the Angel series, which is an entire slate of films dealing with the travails of a schoolgirl who goes undercover as a hooker (or a hooker that goes undercover as a schoolgirl, I can never remember which).

The fat guy is often seen filming with his camcorder when not adding much needed slapstick and overall fartiness to the proceedings. He does so with a robust absence of shame, even sticking his bare ass out of a van window at one point, bringing back memories of the time I tried to smuggle an elephant into my bedroom. “Camp Hurrah” supervisor and general miss stuffy-pants Miss Tipton (and her gosh darn poodle) saves the day by slapping the humongoloid tuckus with her clipboard. The buns celebrate their new found freedom the only way they know how; by letting loose a farty fartful of gas.

Miss Tipton does her roll call, and this becomes an opportunity for further character development, as well as just plain funny humor. She explains that a simple "present" will suffice, and Lorie, playing the dumb blonde, repeats "a simple present". Hee hee. She is already aware of the fat guy’s presence, “a fact made a-bun-dantly clear". I don’t think that’s a word, but I laughed anyway. Ho ho. Not to mention, Leif tells big boy that the reason he isn’t getting laid is because he is too shy, leading one to assume that if he ran around with his ass cheeks hanging out more often, girls may become smitten with his particular brand of fun. Maybe they’ll overlook the fact that he is a gravy covered biscuit short of being a beached whale.

Well, once in a while, somebody gets slaughtered, and Betsy has a variation on the opening dream, somehow lending gravitas and context to the stabbing of former Playboy playmates. However, following this subtext may prove difficult to some but, luckily, there is a constant stream of moronic shenanigans that will entertain people form all walks of academic life. Stuff like:

-A sex tape starring the local sheriff, which I’m sure has a clever title like "I Shot the Sheriff…With My Love Gun…Which is Code for 'Penis'".

-Dialogue like “I’ll drop dead if you’ve ever tried head”, or “she should spend less time trying to get honey on her muffin”.

-More dialogue like “she’ll make your pee pee harder than a ten pound bag of jawbreakers”, courtesy of George “Buck” Flower, who, after Berserker, goes back to his roots by playing another greasy old pervert.

-A rap musical sequence (more “Caucasian spoken word meets drum machine” admittedly).

-Gratuitous Leif Garrett album product placement-fu

-A life-size chicken breakdancing (boy that Breakin’ movie shit sure has caught on)

-Fatty chugging from a six-pack beer hat, doing the drunken robot on the dance floor (yes, he’s a freakazoid and yes, he has reported).


Of course, there’s a twist ending where everything the movie has been pointing towards with the dream sequences is a bunch of bullshit. Instead, Betsy is the victim, and the killer pulls a motive out of their ass (keeping with the running buttock motif). I guess in the end, the important thing is that Betsy feels guilt for the mass slaughter of her friends, and this festers like a bitch. As Voltaire said, “Man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do”, and that includes preventing evil fucks with no conscience from lobotomizing porn star cheerleaders with garden shears.