Sunday, October 31, 2010

666: BEWARE THE END IS AT HAND (2007)

I ask you, imaginary reader of these words, is there a better way to wind up Pumpkin Month than this way, with this zero-budget CGI-fest Nigerian Christian apocalypse THING?

666 commits a grievous movie sin by opening with its most powerful scene: a rendering of hell as sort of a sparsely-decorated cable access show with CGI flames and lots of cackling. I may complain about many trends, but I would never complain about hot African women with horns and 666 inked on their heads who cackle. Nor would I complain about their bearded, weird-eyebrowed leader, Lucifer, holding forth glorious orations in maddeningly indecipherable African accents. I worked with Africans (from The Gambia, not Nigeria, but) even I could not parse some of this babble.

So, basically, the cackling goes down, then we cut to our presumed protagonist, a preacher who bloviates of the coming of Jesus to empty streets and cafes full of people on dates. The Christians spend LOTS of time talking about church finances and budgets (this is the bad movie portion of this bad movie) while Satan and his harem cackle and assorted mortals fall into terrible sin. Want to see a hooker lick a guy's seeping leg wound? Look above. I could not and would not cap the hyperaggressive lesbians nor the gay dude/male demon coupling, but the aftermath is just below. Warning: this is what gays during mating season really look like.

Okay, so Satan is pissed because the end is at hand, like the title says, so he sends one of his assistant-manager demons to incarnate on Earth and turn the tide of battle. So this becomes a Nigerian THE OMEN. Thankfully, the movie fast-forwards us to the kid at eight or so and we skip all the gurgling and lying around that babies in other action movies have already portrayed.

Meanwhile, the preacher appears not one day older! And repeatedly draws from a swank all-leather Bible the words of wisdom, including comparing Christ to a "thief in the night" on a bunch of different occasions. And, yes, I know it's from Thes. (growing up Baptist has its advantages), but it's still a rad centerpiece around which to construct a film.
So the demon is this pudgy, kind of goofy kid who talks in a hilarious fake-low death metal voice and hits portly women with branches. But when he tries to SHARE RICE with two other kids, the preacher will have none of it and there is a perhaps three-minute exchange of Commodore 64-level CGI firepower, then the end really is at hand. At least until the sequel, which is really a thing that exists! This is alternately fascinatingly psychotic and dull and draggy, but it was nice to watch a genuine bad movie delivered with deadly earnestness for a good cause. Good on accident. Oh, and they found a brass-blast orchestra sample that gets used in all the wrong places, like EVERY sex scene.
#31 of 31, NIGHT THIEF JESUS BE PRAISED!

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010)

Some years ago, a movie emerged that utilized a fairly inventive camcorder POV technique and creepily deliberate pacing to deliver solid shocks and draw record crowds to what was essentially an old-school spookshow horror film. And its name was THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Later, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY happened also.

And now it's a sequel! Sort of! Actually, most of PA2 is a PREQUEL, which worried me when I realized what was happening. Since sequels (or prequels) tend to jettison what worked in the preceding entry in favor of explaining the day away. And that usually sucks, especially in this kind of movie. No one needs to know that the demon is upset because his mom was a stripper or have a movie read the legal statutes incumbent in a curse. Although PA2 does explain a bit more about the PA mythos, it's presented in a way that makes sense AND that can be disregarded if you disagree. Because a maid and the Internet are not authoritative sources.

PA2 is necessarily and unnecessarily less effective than PA1. For one thing, this movie relies upon the structure and tropes set into place by the first film, so since you're expecting loud noises and cabinets banging and shit, you're not as susceptible to them by this point. There's one way effective jump scene in this one and one that comes off like a Rob Zombie remake of the better scene in the first movie.

As far as unnecessary uneffectivity, PA1 wasn't exactly a bonanza of character development, but Katie Featherston's character at least drew audience sympathy. And guess what? She's STILL the most sympathetic character in PA2, even though she's in it for perhaps ten whole minutes tops (unfortunately not tank tops, which are sorely missed [but there is a pool scene, so don't cry!]). This entry centers around Katie's family, who are mostly annoying Californians, the dog and possibly the baby excepted. All is well and good by the second half, when the movie kicks into loud banging and flying cookware overdrive, but...

The first half is REALLY tedious and ponderous and talky. Pacing is a big issue with this one...I really feel it could have been tightened up A LOT (and emphasis distributed to events much more competently...one character goes from die-hard nonbeliever to believer in record time).

I assume that we'll get a second sequel, given some of the questions raised (like why are these cursed women always ending with such inept men). I'll probably see it and enjoy it, if it's at least as good as this one. If you loved the first one, you'll like this.

#30 of 31 ZOMG!!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

CASTING THE RUNES (1979)

A fair-enough BBC adaptation of the famous M.R. James story (which you can hear below) suffers by comparison with the masterful 1957 rendition NIGHT OF THE DEMON. But it's still watchable, with Jan Francis as a TV-industry occultism-debunker who debunks the wrong occultist. He takes revenge by planting a cursed slip of runes and things escalate, in a very unalarmed sort of British way, from there. Definitely shows its TV origins, as some of this is filmed on cheap-looking one-room sets, but it's not even an hour, so why the big fuss? Middling but not terrible.

#29 of 31.

Friday, October 29, 2010

HAUSU (1977)

More madness from the Orient, but although VAMPIRE GIRL was wacky and off-the-wall, it at least stuck stubbornly to one genre. HAUSU is essentially not that different from MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE: a bunch of girls trip away to a haunted house and encounter all sorts of crazy goings-on. But, despite the plot similarities, HAUSU and MAS NEGRO couldn't be more different in ambition, tone, and execution. MAS was mas dull and professional; HAUSU is like someone recorded the dreams of insane people through coaxial cables in the lower brain. It jumps from horror to comedy to animation to martial arts and every single frame bubbles with garish weirdness.
So, these girls all have names which reference character traits, like in Pilgrim's Progress. Kung Fu is a martial artist, Mac derives from "Stomach" b/c she eats a lot, Melody is musically-inclined, etc. Oshare ("gorgeous") is sort of the lever that puts the plot into motion, since it's her aunt's house that they visit. Said aunt is (initially) wheelchair-bound, a spinster still pining over a love lost in WWII. There's also a beautiful fluffy white cat named Snowflake who ends up being central to the story. But what else happens?
A flying head bites a girl in the ass. A piano eats someone. A melon vendor is so offended by someone enjoying bananas that he turns into a skeleton. A girl is attacked by sheets and mattresses. A bear in clothes helps to make noodles at a restaurant. Lamps bite people.
And all of this is conveyed through rapid-fire editing, brassy colors, and wonky shifts in mood and tempo. This is probably the most crazed film ever. Yeah, you could pull a Lynch and throw a bunch of psycho BS together into a crazy quilt of incoherence, but (as far as maintaining a comprehensible storyline) you're not going to get much more outlandish than this. Highest recommendations.
#28 of 31.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL (2009)

EPIC WIN. Either I am becoming an old softy or the makers of wacky Japanese gore exercises are getting quite good at their endeavors. Whereas THE MACHINE GIRL was a dire drag, as scintillating as a simple machine like a lever or pulley, VAMPIRE GIRL is a full-on, ripping, smoke-gushing killdozer of a smile-bringing machine.
Leave it to the Japanese to adopt material that TWILIGHT left broken in a gutter, tweak the gender roles, mix in some eleventy million gallons of blood, and then crib a smidge of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and make a masterwork. Transfer student Monami gives a chocolate to longhair broody boy Jyugon, but with a surprise at the center! Turns out that Monami is a vampire. Which would be striking in itself, but it also turns out that the nebbish physics teacher is really the mad-scientist heir of Dr. Frankenstein, bent on reanimating dead bodies parts. Vampire blood makes a great lubricant of life. And we now have a movie!
The subplots are a main course in themselves. If you know something of Japanese (sub)cultures, you will have a day in the field with this one. Ganguro girls show up, sure to be mistaken as blackfaced minstrels by Western viewers, especially after the virulent racism on display (one of them carries a spear and they shout, "Yes we can!" while banging on bongos). Racism doesn't start or stop with that scene, of course, as proven by the Chinese teacher with the Fu Manchu mustache and iron lungs from breathing Chinese air pollution (he also devotes an entire class to THE GRUDGE; I have repeat-viewed this scene like ten times; "don't interrupt the lesson or you'll be cursed..."). There are also Lolitas and (cringingly, hilariously) a society of depresso-girls practicing wrist-slashing, leading up to a wrist-cutting competition between schools(!).
Amazingly, in spite of all this madness, VAMPIRE GIRL has compelling characters and is basically a love story at bottom, albeit with the traditional roles reversed (which is pretty striking, given traditional Japanese culture). To be honest, I'd started to think that vampires had been debased beyond all help, but if more depictions like this show up, we might be entering a golden age of golden vampires. TEAM MONAMI!

#27 of 31.

MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE (1975)

No one would condemn you for venerating the seventies cinema. There is so much that is good there, from roughening horror to blaxploitation to a myriad of TV movies that it's easy to view the seventies as some unfallen, golden age of cinema (which makes all of us weirdos in contrast to the many stateside folks who glorify the sixties as the apex of happenings and wonderfulness). But ten years is a long time and there are a lot of cracks into which mediocrity can settle. Hola, MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE!
A quartet of girls settle into the formerly-aunt-owned mansion which has fallen into one pair of their hands. A catch comes with it in the form of a black cat named Bequr. You can guess what comes next and, as long as you say "Cat dies + hauntings", you would not be incorrect.
This is professionally rendered on both sides of the camera, but MY GOD IT DRAGS. It's reminiscent of TV movies and the dullest of the "old dark house" films. No nudity, little bloodshed, one million yawns. It's not actively, aggressively terrible, but unless you are a die-hard fetishist for slow pans, shadows, and divorcee subplots, you are likely to regret the time you invest in this.
#26 of 31. Almost home.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

LIVE ANIMALS (2008)

I am not including screenshots. Use your magical imagination, you will be better-served. Imagine that someone had watched SAW and only SAW for years, and that SAW had been this person's only friend, aside from the urine-colored lighting that showed up once a week or so to deliver Fig Newtons and epsom salt and other essentials. Now imagine that person grown into an adult, given the opportunity to make a standout horror film, but instead delivering a film about a bunch of interchangeable people kidnapped by a Santa/Gunnar Hansen tribute artist and made to endure horsey-type breaking for some unknown end. This is torture PORN. PORN because no effort is made to establish characters (aside from "hey, she's his sister") or motivation (aside from "brothels", because there is clearly a shortage of willing women workers for brothels of the world).

Most of this is LOUD NOISE horror, insisting upon its importance with camera quivers and shrieky sounds. None of it is especially compelling. It's shot with too much sharpness to make good grindhouse and lacks any reason for me as a viewer to care about any of those people. Hey, they're getting drunk! I've been drunk before and, in fact, am schwasted right now! But it's not enough to convince me to donate my precious concern to their plight, adorned as these girls and boys are in horsey restraints. If this were a documentary, I could not care less.

#25 of 31.

MASTERS OF HORROR: CIGARETTE BURNS (2005)

It is hard not to get excited upon seeing this John Carpenter thing, following such things as VAMPIRES and GHOSTS OF MARS, as it does. CIGARETTE BURNS excites by displaying new reconnections with genre roots, as well as themes left untouched since IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. So reminiscent is this of that, that it almost functions as a companion piece, a revised volume. And it had Udo Kier, skreeeee~~!@!!
Udo Kier is a serious film enthusiast, one who not only presumably attends conventions, but lays out dollars for prints as well as props. He enlists the help of Norman Reedus (as Kirby,) a guilt-ridden, perhaps-heroin-addicted cineaste, to locate a fabled super-extreme film called LE FIN ABSOLUE DE MONDE (THE ABSOLUTE END OF THE WORLD). At its last screening, it spurred several murders and a riot, and forward motion in this film centers around its deleterious lures. Like I've said about religious horror, even if you don't take "horror as corruptive element" that seriously, it works on a primal level and should absolutely be mined as such.
This is a really visually-rich film. It's great to see Carpenter working on tight schedules with small casts again. I truly feel that it brings out the very best in him. Thematically, this rubs shoulders with the aforementioned MOUTH as well as Lieberman's SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER in terms of an aesthetic conservatism, a worry for the degrading influence of art. And why not? Any fear that may be exploited should be exploited, as far gone as horror as a genre is lately. It's a fantastic genre, so claiming the most fantastic and far-fetched of concerns should not be a super-big deal. Even Carpenter dismisses the "film as a weapon" concept on the extras here, but it has a tremendously long lineage, stretching back from MOUTH and VIDEODROME to Plato and beyond.

There's no fluff or fat. This is a spare story, delivered well by competent actors and well-planned reveals. It's just too bad to hear (from all corners of the Internet) that Carpenter's latest fails to live up to the promise of this shorter effort. No one should fault anyone for having a job (I fail to make HALLOWEENs and PRINCE OF DARKNESSs at my job every day), but people who love film (and, judging by this, Carpenter is one of them) can weep without fear at one of the format's titans going a bit astray. No one would mind if it weren't apparent that he has a LOT more to say. Here's hoping that the next project is an ASSAULT or THEY LIVE-level triumph and not a craven CURSED-esque time-filler. Until then, console yourself with this.

#24 of 31.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

So that thing I said before about expectations working in a film's favor cuts both ways. I was less than a teenager when I read a glowing review of this film in Fangoria when it briefly popped up on VHS. Like a Tiffany-stalker love letter-level glowing review. Fast forward some twenty years (and I am 100 years old, yes) and I finally get to see it! And it's...pretty good.

Charles Laughton is FAT from scenery-chewing and easily delivers the film's standout performance as Moreau. You all know the story. Scientist takes animals and makes them people, of sorts. Leading protag Richard Arlen lands on the island and takes a shine to Panther Woman Kathleen Burke (I love her look here...she's almost a physical relic of the more expressionist actresses of the silent film days, plus you guys know what a big fan of cavewomen/primitive girls I am). Laughton, Burke, and Bela Lugosi as one of Moreau's animal people are the film's leading lights. Arlen and his fiancee (Leila Hyams) are pretty drab by comparison, a prom king and queen plopped in the middle of Freakshow Island.

It's easy to see why this was shocking to audiences of the time. ISLAND doesn't really hold back from displaying human/animal hybrids in all their hairy-backed glory and it goes full throttle for shock scenes, never deigning to consider audiences of fainting ladies. It's not as transgressive as something like FREAKS nor is it as accomplished/innovative as the Whale FRANKENSTEINs, but it's definitely pretty solid. And now I'm going to bed.

#23 of 31.

13 GHOSTS (1960)

William Castle movies, man. Always entertaining, never great, but never the source of ruing time wasted. I hadn't seen this original or the allegedly dumb and dumbly-entitled THIR13EEN GHOSTS, so my expectations were a frivolous little fun thing and expectations were met. In Illusion-O.

A profligate paleontologist (yes, really) moves with his family into an inherited house formerly owned by his uncle the ghost researcher. Said uncle collected ghosts from around the world! and they appear sporadically throughout the film. I'm not sure how this plays on DVD, sans Illusion-O! but the visuals in the theater were pretty choice. The ghosts are pretty darn ghoulish for 1960 (though the ghost wardrobe is, of course, quite dated). My fave ghosts are the ghost chef with his poncy ghost mustache and the ghost magician, who reminds me of certain disproportionate GWAR stage characters.

Anywhore, this is a Castle flick, so there's a subplot about money and rakish behavior. It's all pretty inoffensive and slight, but 13 GHOSTS moves really quickly (another Castle staple) and blends frights with laughs in pretty masterful fashion. Not much more to say and I have a ton of these things to burn through (film fest, left 1/4 of the way through because it was crowded and fat horror fans smell like leeks and cigarettes, but still saw a lot). Recommended.

#22 of 31.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

THE KEEP (1983)

Diminished expectations can be a great blessing. Once upon a time, I heard about THE KEEP, namely that it was far inferior to the F. Paul Wilson book that spawned it, that it had a very inappropriate bleeping and blooping Tangerine Dream soundtrack, and its monster looked too dumb to live. Then I promptly forgot about it, since I had Shannon Tweed business to attend to! Thankfully, a post on io9 and the friend who read it and emailed me reminded me. And I also remembered that I had a copy, presumably sourced from the Japanese laserdisc. This is like the NOTEBOOK of Nilbog Milk posts!
Directed by Michael Mann way before MIAMI VICE, but it bears all his best scars. Stylish like that GLEE GQ, THE KEEP is replete with beautiful Romanian landscapes, gorgeous lighting, stellar photography, and solid acting (courtesy of name talent like Jurgen Prochnow, Gabriel Byrne, and a barely-recognizable Ian McKellen). But is it a good movie? Um, sort of.
A bunch of Nazis invade and occupy a keep (castle-esque ancient structure) in Romania. Unfortunately, they start getting picked off almost immediately and must enlist the aid of a Jewish Romanian history scholar. Oh, happenstance! Lest you think this is a wacky buddy comedy, it soon unfolds that there is something ancient and supernatural in the keep. And that's most of the comprehensible plot. The last half or so of this thing is a master's thesis in disorientation. Another supernatural guy shows up, ostensibly to cockblock the monster in the keep. He also beds the scholar's daughter. Then neon lasers are exchanged. This is an eighties movie about the forties and also about a vampire, sort of.
I don't know how to proceed. Oh, let's address the complaints. A) The monster looks dumb. Well, perhaps. He obviously could have been better-designed, but it wasn't RAWHEAD REX-level distracting. He sort of looked like Darkseid in leather armor and coal dust. Plus the movie showed him sparingly, but I've screenshot him in his full glory below should you wish to judge. B) The music is inappropriate. It's Tangerine Dream and it's all electronic ambient stuff, but it sometimes works. In a movie about fantastic things like ancient evil creatures, it amps up the surrealistic atmosphere to see WWII costumes and hear keyboard squonks. But it does kind of work to the movie's detriment by the end, when the two rivals are panging pink and NEON GREEN lasers at one another. Then the mood evades the viewer and this starts to feel like an SCA version of TRON or something. C) This is far worse than the book. It's been a while since I read The Keep, but I do remember being disappointed by the end, although I think the film disappointed me in other ways. For one thing, it feels REALLY rushed. The first half builds slowly and with a great creeping sense of menace, but the second half feels like they threw everything into it at a slapdash pace and got the F outta Romania. Worth seeing and very surprising that it hasn't been released domestically, since there are far, FAR worse things out on DVD here. It's probably a failure, all told, but an interesting one.
#21 of 31.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (2009)

The remake society and its enemies have been addressed in an earlier entry, but I found the remake blowback for this one more entertaining than average. Because NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) is certainly a fun movie, but hardly merits the sort of shock and outrage that went around certain circles. Turns out you guys could've saved your breath and bile, since this remake better captures the spirit of the original film to a much higher degree than usual. Opening with a TOTALLY bitchin' sepia-toned intro (an homage to THE BEYOND, given its NOLA setting?), the film quickly shifts into the sort of rapid-fire party-horror that Earth 1 NIGHT OF THE DEMONS captured so well.
It's New Orleans and Halloween, and you know what that means: dancing! And wine, drugs, and boobs! All are on display at Angela Feld's H-ween house party, attended by Maddy (Monica Keena) and her two well-chested friends. But, uh oh, the NOLA police show up and you know this is a far-fetched movie when they don't billyclub the participants or take their drugs (also none of the cops are either morbidly portly or angry jocks). So everybody except the name actors leaves and the name actors explore the house until they find snapping skeletons. From here on out, demon possession is a sexually-transmitted disease.
NIGHT moves along at a ferocious clip, its merriment bolstered by some good b-movie writing ("What kind of demons get kicked out of hell?" "THESE ONES!"). There are a few drawbacks: the demon makeup gets progressively shoddier as the film progresses (especially Angela, jesus christ, your star player shouldn't look like something out of the Morningview Baptist Hell House); also, Edward Furlong looks terrible and is terribly miscast as Keena's love interest.; and the last third or so gets repetitious But, like, who cares? People who are trashing this movie as some egregious sin should eat a bowl of fuck. The movie itself proclaims that things "don't make sense", so what's your problem? I am repetitious, but I will never defame a horror movie for not explaining everything under the sun.
It moves quickly, has a killer soundtrack (Type O and Concrete Blonde, ooh la la), Linnea and her ass (assuming it is not a stunt ass), and most of the players deliver performances appropriate to this sort of film. Throw in the comedy and the gore and you've got prime fright fest shindig goods. Even morons who love SAW will enjoy one particular scene. People who are anti-remake zealots or didn't get the original won't dig it, but I will stand up for flawed but fun with my words and dollars.
#20 of 31. Are you getting excited/relieved?

Monday, October 18, 2010

HOLY VIRGIN VS. THE EVIL DEAD (1991)

Genre-bending madness from pre-China takeover Hong Kong! HOLY VIRGIN couldn't possibly live up to its rad title and it doesn't, but it offers a fun, if baffling, blend of horror, martial arts, gunplay, and comedy. And complete insanity.Let me try to translate the plot into Earth language. A professor is out on a camping adventure with his students when they're attacked and somewhat killed by a flying longhair. Turns out that this is all due to some ancient cult and our group of protagonists end up in Cambodia, where they enlist the help of the princess of some local tribe. They soon learn that the monster is Moon Monster, affiliated with a goddess with a mustache, and that he must have sex with one specific lady in order to regain his power. Needless to say, this whole movie makes approximately zero fucking sense whatsoever, but makes up for it (somewhat) with rapidly-edited fight scenes and ridiculous elements. The lady cop who dreams of beating suspects and abruptly leaves the film to be a movie star is maybe my fave.
This is a spectacle film and such weirdness needs to get in and begone quickly. Unfortunately, HOLY VIRGIN overstays its welcome a bit and tends to lag. It's still fun and probably a nice reminder that Asian genre stuff isn't all kids crawling out of televisions and underlit corridors. Just don't expect miracles or the "all time losers" speech from GOLDEN QUEENS COMMANDO.
#19 of 31.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)

It's easy to get cynical these days. About banks, and also celebrity couples and especially remakes (thanks, Rob Zombie and Sherri Moon Zombie!). But how many times has Shakespeare been performed? If they'd stopped after the classic Olivia Hussey ROMEO AND JULIET, we would have been robbed of the Clair Danes version. We all wish that remakers would focus on material that is promising, yet flawed in its original incarnation. But. Sometimes, even a great work works well with a little remodeling. This is a review of NOSFERATU.
Not the silent version, which I haven't seen in forever and a day, so keep your comparison expectations limited. This is the '79 Werner Herzog version with Klaus Kinski. It's tough to imagine that a modern remake could surpass a German expressionist film in arcane atmosphere. But this IS a Herzog film and it IS a pressurized bag of weird. You all know the Dracula story, I should hope, so there won't be too many surprises. But certain choices that are made do give the viewer pause. NOSFERATU never hides the fact that Count Dracula is a monster, for one thing. Even upon Jonathan Harker's arrival, Kinski's Count is the very vision of a pasty rat-thing, although the rather dull Harker hardly seems to note it. The Lucy here is far feistier than previous lady protags, as well, and offers some very defiant, almost Nietzschean dialog for a movie in which crucifixes repel evil ("nothing in this world, not even God" can change her love for Jonathan).
Herzog is notoriously good at composing visuals, panning over gigantic landscapes and honing in with gorgeous close-ups. NOSFERATU doesn't buck the trend and there are some stunning images here. One interesting thing among many is the way in which this film, though a talkie, is reminiscent of silent movies. Not only in the somewhat elaborate acting and in the direct homages to some famous Murnau NOSFERATU scenes (especially the end), but in the placement of dialog and action. Actors say obvious, title-card things like, "Lucy is in danger! I must save her!", then start walking out of the frame to save her.
Acting is solid, with Kinski turning in a typically great performance and Isabelle Adjani delivering perhaps the definitive Lucy Harker. Also memorable is Roland Topor as a Renfield who seems possessed by a giggly, laughing-gassed Peter Lorre. There's a lot to love in NOSFERATU. NOSFERATU fever—catch it!
#18 of 31.

CASE 39 (2010)



Fancy-nancy former mainstream success Renée Zellweger comes crawling back to horror in this, her first genre outing since the just smashing RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE! This is one of those killer-kid movies that appeared to be all the rage two or so years ago, so it's a bit late to glom onto the trend, but perhaps killer-kid nostalgia will flare up anytime soon and CASE 39 can catch that bus to stardom.

Renée Zellweger, her icky dismissal of horrordom notwithstanding, is really not a great actress. Here, she sort of plays a social worker who becomes attached to a presumably-abused little girl named LILITH (sorry, we used up all the subtlety in cases 1-38). The first half of this film is excruciatingly unenjoyable, thanks mostly to Zellweger's attempts to will some sort of human emotion across her rictused face. The role of the social worker could have been played by a robot or the same little girl who plays the little girl in a dual role and I would have been more satisfied.

Which brings up another issue with this movie—the pacing. The whole boring first half of the film is devoted to the "happy family" scenes that will set up the eventual brimstone turn, but they go on FOREVER. Then, when Lilith starts to demonstrate malevolent leanings, the turn comes out of NOWHERE! Some portion of this movie might have been excised, but it sure feels like the makers suddenly remembered, "Oh, shit! Lilith is supposed to be evil!" And it doesn't take any time at all for some of the major characters to go from "aww, cute" to "DEMON! BURN IT!" I've always thought it would be funny to put some child-hater into one of these films who IMMEDIATELY accepts that the kid is evil and must be destroyed. "Demon, you say? Sounds great! You hold her down, I'll get the axe!" But I really don't think that was the intention with CASE 39.

I am leveling lots of critiques at this thing, but there are upsides. It's shot well and has some really fab, trippy scenes once hell breaks loose. Little girl Jodelle Ferland exudes some menace as Lilith and her seedy, crackers mom and dad (Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O'Malley) really excel in meaty roles. But, given the similar competition (ORPHAN, THE CHILDREN, and HOME MOVIE all squash this handily), CASE 39 comes off as a little unnecessary.

#17 of 31.

Friday, October 15, 2010

SOLE SURVIVOR (1983)

Often cited as a precursor to the FINAL DESTINATION films (even by its own video box cover—"no one thinks I'm special!!"), SOLE SURVIVOR is a modestly rewarding slow-burner. The film's pacing recalls the post-crash that opens our tale, with lots of confused stumbling around and things being uncovered so lackadaisically that you'd have to speed up to stop. Despite the image below (admittedly pretty radical), this is not your movie if you are in a gore mood.
Aging actress Karla Davis (Caren Larkey) has a premonition of a plane crash in which TV producer-esque person Denise Watson (Anita Skinner) is the only survivor. And so it happens! Denise becomes romantically entangled with a handsome doctor (Kurt Johnson), then becomes postmortally entangled with dead people, who show up everywhere—in the road, at her house, on a loading dock. Seems Death didn't take too kindly to her sole surviving ways and has sent his/her emissaries to collect her.
I won't lie to you, Internet friends, parts of this film are quite bad. Some of the acting would be a disappointment in your average sixth grade Christmas play, much less in a serious film. And the tempo is just brain-killingly slow at times. But there are bright spots. Anita Skinner is one of the brightest and it's sort of weird that she apparently only did this film and 1978's GIRLFRIENDS. She handles the light comedic moments of this movie with appropriate zest (kinda reminds me of a less bony Shelley Long, actually) and does well at scream-queening, too. She's LOTS of fun to watch. SOLE SURVIVOR's humor is obviously less abrasive and punk rawk than FINAL DEST, but I really enjoyed the weirdo moments like the scene below.
In a way, this movie is a hybrid of two other films—FINAL D, of course, and CARNIVAL OF SOULS—and both of them accomplish their goals far better than SOLE SURVIVOR. It's competent, but outclassed and overshadowed by its antecedent and descendant. The John Tyler of post-disaster movies.
#16 of 31.

HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1973)

Our journey around the world of cult horror continues as we depart Brazil and head to Spain, land of Castilian werewolves and emo hunchbacks. And, despite Paul Naschy being most famous for his wolfman films, I've decided to acquaint myself with his work through this film, which is sort of the TWILIGHT of its day. Naschy IS the hunchback of the morgue, née Gotho, and lives the sort of life hunchbacks typically live. EVERYONE in town bullies and berates him, from stone-throwing children to medical professionals who call him a "hellish abortion". Only the lovely Ilse (Maria Elena Arpon, who got eaten by the BLIND DEAD) treats him with civility...

So, naturally, she dies! And Gotho is grief-strickened. But he meets doctor Orla, who promises to restore her to life in exchange for the hunchback's help with his mad-science experiments. Ilse sticks around for a bit as a corpse suffused with rats (Spanish JUMPING RATS, presumably the rat equivalent of running zombies). Orla also seeks help from fellow doctor Peter Tauchman, whose honey Frieda is none too pleased with the Frankensteinean goings-on.

This is not a spectacular film. Aside from Naschy's memorably emotional acting and the beauty of eventual love interest Rosanna Yanni, HUNCHBACK doesn't boast too much that isn't done better elsewhere. There's some splatter and the flow of scenes is sort of exciting and unpredictable (Gotho moping is followed by Gotho killing or kidnapping), but overall this is not a new Eurojewel in hiding. It's fine enough and professional enough and I didn't curse fate for making me watch it, but I doubt I'd ever sit through it again.

I will, however, check out additional Naschy work, since he obviously has interesting attributes as an actor. And I will also seek out additional Rosanna Yanni material, since I'm a big fan of hotness. One other thing about this disc...the subtitling is "immperfect," perhaps comparable to a fansub created by drunks ("If there are no news about Marlene when I'll be back, we call the police!"). And sometimes oddly Southern, with dropped-g endins and everythin'.
#15 of 31. I am so very tired.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1963)

And so begins the saga of Zé do Caixão, known stateside as Coffin Joe. AT MIDNIGHT presents a Zé who is less a horror-movie monster and more like the bully in one million billion Westerns, only this time there really isn't a white-hatted hero to stymie his antisocial behaviors.

Zé is the town undertaker and, though I'd guess that lack of etiquette is a recurring problem in the corpse business, he takes it to a new extreme. When he's not mutilating bystanders or forcing them to eat meat on Catholic vegan holidays (I grew up Baptist, I don't know anything about such business), he's trying to plant meat in assorted townswomen in hopes of creating a son to carry on his bloodline. That's pretty much the WHOLE movie until the conclusion, which taps churchy traditions.

This is a sixties film and looks like one, one with a low budget, too. But it was created in Brazil at a time when few were rolling around in puddles filled with doubloons and it makes up for it with gobs of atmosphere and some fleeting and prescient gore. I'd be interested to learn how its Brazilian origins affected the film's plotting, since it's accepted that Zé is a jerk, but the real moments of audience outrage are timed in tandem with his blasphemies and bloviations of disbelief. Modern-day audiences might be inclined to agree in some instances with the Nietzschean beardo, although many would consider his single-minded pursuit of a son to be hopelessly outdated, like Corey Feldman in a denim jacket.

In some ways (the aforementioned religious undertone), way different from other genre stuff of the sixties, but quite often a solid product of the era, when horror was transitioning from cobwebs and castles into the gruesome modern and its concern with individual vs. society at large. It has psychic gypsies and ghosts and all, but also marks its horror as the challenge of the nonbeliever and the skeptic.

It was a fun watch and I'd not hesitate to delve further into the world of Coffin Joe.


Where, indeed?!?

#14 of 31

Monday, October 11, 2010

VAULT OF HORROR (1973)

This film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, following the 1972 release of the not-adored-by-me TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Whereas that film had pacing problems and story-selection challenges, VAULT challenges the ennui bubbling up in my mid-October by delivering a solid set of tales that feel true to their EC roots.

First tale, "Midnight Mess", stars Daniel Massey as a guy whose sister stands to split a portion of their inheritance. Said sister lives in a town whose citizens fear to venture out after dark. It's a fun little story and Massey is one of the silver screen's greatest murderers. It's a joy to watch how exuberantly he kills and makes one wish that he could kill people in every movie, since he obviously takes such pride in his job. I am talking entirely too much about music lately, but the score is especially effective in this portion of the film...strings simmering menacingly just in earshot...

And next is "The Neat Job", which is a just fine little macabre piece. It's well-acted and well-shot and really demonstrates what a good handle Baker had on this film. There's no extraneousness nor any feeling of rushing, such as I observed in TALES. This is really the point at which VAULT started to win my heart...
And then came "This Trick'll Kill You" and I was ready to elope with this thing to whatever bastion of liberty would allow us to wed. This was probably my second-fave story in the EC comics and the film adaptation is just about perfect. A magician and his wife travel to India to solicit new tricks for their old and busted act. They encounter a woman who can summon a rope to rise out of a basket, snakelike. It's just the sweetest, most compact little story and the effects in this are pretty admirable, too.

The final two stories are understandably less impressive, following the epic winning of the first three as they do. One is a buried-alive tale and the other riffs off Wilde (but features Tom Baker of DR. WHO acclaim, only with a KRAZY BEARD!!!). Even in this, VAULT is true to the comics, which normally featured one amazing story, one-to-two pretty good ones, and a few unfortunate also-rans.

But, overall, this is a really impressive and fun collection of short horrors! And it's SO well-executed that I am even more saddened by Roy Ward Baker's recent passing. And I fully intend to scope out his other work, based on how enjoyable VAULT was.

#13 of 31