Friday, October 9, 2015

The Hunger (1983)

The Excel spreadsheet is a more reliable prognosticator than yarrow sticks and Magic 8-Balls.  Connections are recurring this month, as vampires and dead directors claim more and more real estate.  Tony Scott directed The Hunger before making stuff like Top Gun and Crimson Tide—weird that his most acclaimed work would be action movies, because The Hunger is a long, overstylized yawn.

An expensive yawn, too.  Check out the sumptuous sets and lighting whose cost could buy scores of African village buffets.  And look at David Bowie in the lead with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.  And the makeup and effects!  So much promise, all squandered on a dry slough.

I don't know why other films that opt for style over substance seem to click where this one doesn't.  The Hunger probably isn't a much worse story than Suspiria (or whatever), but it really lags behind as a viewing experience.  Here's the plot: Deneuve is a vampire who turns humans into vampire companions until they hit a particular age (or something) and then rapidly ossify.  There's some science stuff with baboons, but it's never really fleshed out to any important degree.  

At this point, there are probably more movies that try to modernize vampires than movies that depict the traditional old-timey Dracula stereotype.  The effort is so long-lived that stuff like The Hunger, which really tries hard to be contemporary (it has Bauhaus and Iggy Pop, too!), feels even more outdated than old Universal vampire fare.  The goth club scenes are cringey as fuck now, the 80s equivalent of someone making a film about "modern vampires" who are bronies or something.

Thanks, but no.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Zombi 3 (1988)

Lucio Fulci's sad swan song is Zombi 3, filmed in the Philippines on leftover sets from Apocalypse Now.  Hold on, it gets weirder.  Because the producers were unhappy with what the ailing Fulci delivered, the movie was completed by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, so this is sort of an all-star Italian B-horror superteam product.  Oh, and it's based on a Fragasso script, so hope springs eternal that this will be a classic of its kind.

ACTION!  Some scientists are working on a formula called DEATH ONE.  Something goes wrong in their experiment and the corpse on which they are working melts.  This is apparently too much for the lead scientist, who quits the project and makes arrangements to turn Death One over to the military.  Things go awry, as terrorists in white jumpsuits steal the suitcase full of corpse reanimator/dissolver and head for a cheap motel.  Infection quickly follows.  But who cares, look at the ID that the lead scientist gets to wear!  It's the thing that says ID.

The Zombi "series" (of which more here) is notable for having no consistency from movie to movie.  But Zombi 3 kicks it up a notch by having no consistency from scene to scene and beyond.  Take the first contamination.  It occurs over a prolonged period.  The infected terrorist has time to check into a hotel, drink lots of water, and cut off his hand before he becomes a zombie.  And then he kills a maid by pressing her face against a mirror, which causes her to immediately vomit gallons of blood somehow.

So, okay, slow infection.  But not always!  Sometimes people turn into zombies immediately after being bitten.  And zombie movements vary a whole fuck of a lot, too.  Some zombies stumble and bumble around like classic zombies.  But other ones could win gold medals for their gymnastic and running abilities.  Some zombies can use machetes, some zombies can talk and make wisecracks, some zombies can operate radio equipment, and one memorable zombie can fly!  

The absurd patchwork of the script and the relentless pacing are what makes this good.  Zombi 3 also delivers on the Fragasso front, with the bafflingly inane plot twists and dialogue that make Claudio one of my all-time favorite Italians.  The anti-greenery of Troll 2 pops up here in dialogue like "I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint every now and then, and once in a while I like to piss on a bush!" (this in response to boring Greenpeace talk).  Other key lines that are better than Jane Austen:

"When you asked us to work on Death One, you should have told us about the RISKS!"

"I'm feeling better, Patricia.  But I'm thirsty...for your BLOOD!"

"That'll fix you, you friggin' monsters!"

Splendid.  I also love how this major crisis is being handled by a whole ten people in total.  And one of the Army aides is named Cheney!  Could Zombi 3 be the prologue to the Middle East policy of the terrible 2000s?

This thing is not even in the zip code where good movies are permitted to live, but it is so furiously active and spastic that it's impossible to dislike.  

And, again, it has a flying zombie head.



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Vampyres (1974)

It is weird how fate/the gods/Obama take care of business.  Just after a disappointing experience with Malabimba, the random Excel spreadsheet offers one of the finest examples of erotic horror ever made.  We kick off with a scene so steamy that it would even jolt Ben Carson awake.

These are our vampyres, who are dispatched with a gun in this sexy snuffy prologue.  After the credits, they reappear in cloaks and boots, haunting the roadways for potential victims.  The plot is actually pretty simple, but thankfully our simple story is brought to life by underrated Spanish director Jose Ramon Larroz.  Larroz is more concerned with slow burns and atmosphere than stuffing the movie with shocks and gore, and it really works well.   

Tip your hat to Marianne Morris as the lead vamp, too.  She gives a fun arch performance and also displays pretty much her entire anatomy over the course of the film, which is very fun, too.

So let's talk about vampyres.  Unfortunately, when this was re-released on VHS in the 80s, the box had the tag line "They're lost girls!"  Which would make no sense to a non-elderly person now, since few remember The Lost Boys, aside from great-aunts and the like.  It's unfortunate that Vampyres got stuck with that comparison because A) it's a much better movie than Lost Boys and B) the vampirism here is a lot more ambiguous.  These "vampires" don't have fangs, they run around in the sunlight, and they mostly use cutting implements to draw blood.  Are they really vampires?  Are they the ghosts which the epilogue suggests?  The movie wisely doesn't explain.

If academics could somehow stop producing reams of post-Derrida gibberish, they might find Vampyres to be fertile ground for exploration.  This is a 70s movie, but it totally inverts the typical horror-movie structure.  The ladies take charge completely and the dudes are mostly weakened victims here.  Lady vampires do have a storied history, but they're generally adjuncts in the Dracula household in these movies.  But these vamps don't just hiss like cats or hang out in dusty kitchens, they're strong independent vampires who blaze paths all their own.  And the one played by Marianne Morris uses her tongue so much that it should receive its own credit.  

Has there been erotic horror worth watching since 1980 or so?  Embrace of the Vampire kind of tried, but relied way too much on the novelty of topless Alyssa Milano.  And let's not even speak the forbidden name of Witchcraft 1-23.  For this kind of thing, the 70s are the richest source and this film is one of the better examples.  Very overlooked and very worth your time.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Malabimba (1979)

The opening five or so minutes of Malabimba is the greatest film anyone has ever made.  A seance is held, with the medium wearing approximately fifteen pounds of makeup.  She gets possessed and says rude things to everyone.  Then the demon invisibly unzips a guy's zipper as he exclaims, "Goodness gracious!"  Then the demon yanks a lady's top right off and calls her a whore.  Impeccable.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't stop there, and the demon keeps moving, departing the medium and detouring into a toy puppy in a scene that seems to presage Xtro.

As you'd expect, the demon eventually gets into the girl in the pic above, who is hilariously named Bimba.  Therefore, from then on, Malabimba.  This is sometimes called Malabimba: the Malicious Whore, which doesn't really make sense because (Mala)bimba isn't old enough to have chosen a profession yet.  Although there is a whore in this movie.  See if you can find her in the next few images.

Meet Nais, the movie's best character, the only one who would make a good best friend!  Her entrance is one more peak before the movie settles into its boring routine.  There are occasionally flashes of comic brilliance:

But generally it's a tired grind.  One weird thing about this one is that there's practically no violence in it.  It's essentially a porno movie that happens to star a possessed person.  And if you think I'm kidding about the "porno" part, you should watch it and enjoy the two angles of close-up penetration that they repeat over and over and over.  

You're the best whore in the world!

It feels like Tintorera's backwards cousin.  Whereas that movie started off as a sleaze flick until the makers heard how much Jaws was making and then it became a shark movie midway through...Malabimba feels like it began life as an Exorcist clone and somehow evolved into a dull XXX film.  "I thought this was a possession movie!" is the refrain in my notes.  The movie's whole reason for existence is cast aside for long stretches so we can enjoy bed scenes full of body hair and famished kissing.

Movies about possession are really fucking things up this October.  Maybe it's time to move on to other subjects.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Queen of Blood (1966)

The credits dawn in mid-acid trip and one is led to believe that this Queen of Blood will live up to its psychedelic 60s birthright.

But it is actually set in the 90s!  A future time, when science has perfected interstellar travel, even to Mars!  But everyone in this alternate 90s acts like they're from the 50s, as girls flaunt Gidget haircuts and neatly-trimmed John Saxon wears a turtleneck to the science lab.  Admittedly, this fantasy 90s is a lot better than the real thing.  Give me excited, ambitious scientists over dicks wearing expensive flannel and pretending to mope around the mall.

My well-established theory of movie titles should warn you that Queen of Blood is not going to be a bloodletting of any sort.  Actually, this is an exceedingly slow burn of a film, as we get prepped for the trip to Mars pretty much in real time.  

Effects pop up to capture our flagging interest, rad old sci-fi effects that now seem retro-cool.  

Whatever the film's flaws, you must admit that its soundstage scenes are a lot more convincing than the fakey Apollo """moon landing""".  

The scientists get to Mars, in a series of scenes that feature actual science!  They land on Phobos first because of fuel gravity or something, then hop on over to the red planet.  And they meet...


Yes, she pretty much looks like a Star Trek tart.  And Trek isn't a bad reference point for this film, as the two share similar pacing and structure.  This is especially noticeable in the film's conclusion, which made me say, "That's it?!?" loudly and then laugh.  It is perhaps the most abrupt conclusion I have ever seen.  But it comes after a decent, not-prolonged, and not-unrewarding sequence of stuff, so let's be kind with our rating here.  But, yeah, be aware that this is pretty much Planet of the Vampires's goofy kid sister and prioritize accordingly.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Dumplings (2004)

I didn't know that the Planned Parenthood videos would be this bad.  Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't think that fetuses should be included in meal plans, even if eating them can take years off of an aging actress's face.  There, now you have the plot of Dumplings, an expansion of a short originally featured in the pan-Asian Three Extremes anthology.

Gross.  But not as gross as fetus-cook Aunt Mei, who isn't like an Asian version of Spider-Man's Aunt May, as you might expect.  Going by her verdure, she's more like the Chinese version of Peg Bundy.  Bai Ling deserves applause for making this character, who is objectively pretty grotesque, into a more likable figure than the protagonista, Miriam Chin Wah Yeung's insecure Mrs. Li.

As with Romero's Jack's Wife, one wonders if Mrs. Li being "Mrs. Li" is a reflection of the film's themes—the pressure women face to keep up appearances, to fill their appointed roles.  Is the shot below a mirror of Dumplings's core selfhood?

This film is real hard to parse because it's so subtle.

Obligatory tech stuff: really well-shot.  You can tell that director Fruit Chan exhaustively thought out his shots and moreover, given how putrid the plot is, this is edited elegantly, almost like a Merchant-Ivory film (about eating fetus dumplings).  My great complaint is that the final act doesn't really deliver on the promise of the preceding scenes.  Still, this one is worth watching, both for the technical artistry and for the resonance with current events.  Equally appropriate for your aunt's birthday and your next Bernie Sanders rally.