Friday, November 30, 2012

THE BOGGY CREEK SERIES [Series 31]

THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972)


SYNOPSIS: In the exceedingly tiny Arkansas town of Fouke, people start to have encounters with a huge hairy man-beast who travels the waterways of Boggy Creek.  This pseudodocumentary accomplished a couple of different things.  A) It made Charles B. Pierce a ton of money, B) it made the real people in Fouke very mad, C) it inspired many rip-offs and traumatized many youngsters into becoming cryptozoologists.

WHAT WORKED:
Most of this is filmed in the kind of documentary/newscast style that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and BLAIR WITCH would exploit so lucratively.  The conceit really works well here, too, especially in the film's early goings, since we have an essentially disconnected series of vignettes which only thread together because of the Fouke Monster (mostly—I mean, I don't know why the guy who's spent 20 years living in the swamp is in the film, but he says that he doesn't believe in the Monster at the end of his portion).  So LEGEND basically becomes the Decameron or Canterbury Tales of southern sasquatch films.  Even with the shaky-camera thing which we've all grown to love, though, you can tell that this was made carefully and artfully.  The framing of people walking behind trees, the quick editing of spat tobacco, even some crane shots or something.  

Depiction of the creature is super-solid.  He's generally shot at a distance, through bushes or fog, and this adds a ton of atmosphere to the encounters, giving them an arcane, almost supernatural feel.


The narration was a necessary and brilliant touch, for multiple reasons.  Obviously, it allows LEGEND to hop from eyewitness to eyewitness and avoid the character-building that ordinary narratives must do.  Additionally, it centers the viewers' sympathy.  I grew up in a town like Fouke and have seen outlander reactions to people who only know how to discuss hunting and fishing or a guy who "accidentally shot part of his foot away in a boating accident".  If LEGEND lacked a narrator, the cast of eyewitnesses would seem as alien and bizarre to non-Deep Southern viewers as the monster itself.  It also adds blue-state class to what might have otherwise turned out southern skeezy, much as the high Gothic font of the credits does.

   
The music, mostly.  I like the parts that others seem to loathe, like the haunting song done from Creature POV that talks about his loneliness or the blithesome "Hey, Travis Crabtree".  


WHAT DIDN'T:
The climax is the attack on the Ford house.  This portion of the film occupies the final third and includes no narration and is focused totally on these characters, who we never get to know in any great detail.  Suffice it to say that LEGEND loses it ways during this long long stretch of scenes.  I much prefer the skitzo jumpin'-around of the first hour.  Even the music is better, as the "attack" scenes are scored with bleating honks and other jazz/symphonic mistakes.  

HOUSE RECOMMENDATION:
The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster by Lyle Blackburn is worthwhile, whether you're a believer or not.  It delves a bit into the animosity that followed LEGEND's success, with many Fouke residents (who appeared in reenactments in the film) feeling that they'd been duped by Pierce.  Buy it!  Use the money that you'll save by not buying LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK and watching it for free right here:


RATING: 6

RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK (1977)


SYNOPSIS: LEGEND was a massive hit, netting $20 million on a $100K budget.  So it's quite puzzling that this sequel jettisoned almost everything that worked about the original in favor of a dull, saccharine Disney-style friendly-bigfoot approach.  There's no Fouke Monster in this incarnation, as the resident sasquatch is named Big Bay Ty.  A city slicker in a sweater vest catches sight of it and enlists the aid of local French-like jerk Bruno to capture it.  There's a storm brewing, though, and kid-fishermen Evie Jo, T-Fish, and Jean Paul boat out to spy/help.  Meanwhile, their mom, grandpa, and his Cajun best friend worry.

WHAT WORKED:
One thing that is thankfully ported over from LEGEND are the monster shots.  It's generally kept hidden or shot from the back or through a patina of thick fog.  RETURN doesn't give us a lot of monster time, as it was more important to show the full ten minutes of a kid conversation about hand signals, but what's here at least looks good.


Some unintentional comedy, some that you admittedly have to practically build yourself. Por ejemplo, there's a weird recurring motif of baddie Bruno just wanting to kill things and the movie's clearly looking down on such brutality.  But the kids spend all of their time fishing!  Which entails killing fish, right?  There's even a scene of bait-making in which someone says, "We're trying to catch fish, not kill them!"  Which made me yearn for scenes of this vegan family catching live catfish and gar for some fucked-up pet shops or something.  Plus we're allegedly in Arkansas, yet there are Cajuns(!) and a hurricane comes through(!!).  

WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Boring boredom.  This is a children's movie, but it must have been aimed only at the dullest-witted, most paste-eating children.  Empires fall and mountains crumble and yet nothing happens in RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK.  Children's interactions and boat-oaring consume no less than half the film.  This evil movie even uses one of LEGEND's key strengths, song, only here it's twisted into this cyclical, Lortab-groaned country thing.  "Danger lives there...and men have died...that old creek...has a...secret to hide."

Unlike LEGEND, RETURN actually attempts actual characterization and the results are basically what you'd expect.  This thing is kid-driven, which is almost always a problem, but the adult characters aren't that great themselves.  Dawn Wells steps out of her Gilligan cage as a concerned mom and is fine, given that there's no content there to enliven.  The others are pro but bland, not even entertaining on an accidental level unless you count Bruno yawningly threatening, "One day I'll beat you kids at fishin'!"  Plus, and this has little to do with RETURN itself, Dana Plato is in this as a kid and it's depressing to watch it in light of how things ended up for her.  I don't like kid actors mostly because I don't like kids, but also because kids should be out chasing monsters, not making movies about them.  It's not good for anybody.  Plus, also, if you don't prefer the 9th-grade swamp dropouts of LEGEND to the below, you are not my friend.

Be sure to wear a sweater vest and expensive watch when you go monster-hunting and bring a $500 dog
This coincides with the complaint about boredom, but the film's main threat is a moderately heavy storm.  I realize that this is a kids' film, but please realize that it also takes thirty minutes for this summer shower to be resolved, when (spoiler) the friendly monster tows the boat to safety.  Even as a kid, I think I would have scoffed at this and demanded my parents' money back.


Fuck you.

RATING: 2

BOGGY CREEK II: AND THE LEGEND CONTINUES (1985)


SYNOPSIS: Yes, I watched the MST3K version, what of it, sirrah?  Charles B. Pierce returns to his famous series, this time composing, directing, and playing an Arkansas anthropology professor who gets wind of creature sightings near Texarkana.  He enlists the aid of a top ample-breasted student, another shirtless boy-student, and a random girl-friend.  He spins tales of the creature, some involving poop humour, before the quartet discover the truth behind the creature's agitated, attacky state.

WHAT WORKED:
It seriously blows my fucking mind, you guys, that this is on the IMDB Bottom 100 and RETURN isn't.  This isn't a good movie by any violation of the phrase, but it's far more faithful to the BOGGY mythos than that Disneyized POS.  Matter of factly, the hilariously-named II recycles a bunch of stuff from LEGEND.  It's not on the same level, but we've got an attempt at the same episodic storytelling, even including literal toilet scenes.  I suspect that MST3K nerds are responsible, as usual.

I like Charles B. Pierce as the professor, although there's no reason for you to do so.  My enjoyment mostly stems from admiration for the antique eighties southern fashion.  My dad and all his friends looked exactly like this—the cap, the beard, the works.  Praise be to God, I never saw short-shorts, though.


More southern aesthetics.  Cuties in Daisy Dukes, well before the 69 Boyz hit, plus dat LEVIS shirt.  The hotness of Sears or Roses, minimum thirty-minute drive away, I guarantee.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
II is way more conventional in terms of construction.  Like RETURN, we're trying to establish a cast of characters rather than go from vignette to vignette.  Like RETURN, the characters aren't that convincing.  The girls are GLOW-level shallow and the boy exists just to not wear a shirt.  

As with RETURN, the denoument is pretty unconvincing.  A fat redneck mutant in overalls is indisputably a bigger threat than a storm, but still, eh.  


Too much monster.  This is the first (and last!) in the series that gets a bit too familiar with the creature, too often.  It loses its mystery and becomes just another guy-in-a-suit flick.  


Nothing to be proud of, but a big step up from the abysmal RETURN.

RATING: 4

SERIES AVERAGE: 4


Friday, November 23, 2012

HOMEBODIES (1974)

I'm taking a sabbatical from the series thing.  When you reach the point of saying, "But I can't go out and drink, I have to watch all three BOGGY CREEK movies this weekend!", it's time to admit your problem and make some serious lifestyle changes.  Never fear, I'll be resuming it on and off, but until then, it's time to talk about this fun antique from the swingin' seventies.


The elderly residents of a Cincinnati tenement are being evicted so that their building can be demolished to make room for a fancy new-fangled high-rise thing.  Given that they are grizzled old people with sight issues and agoraphobia, they don't much cotton to the idea.  And, in the grand traditions of horror and black comedy, things escalate, including the body count.  


HOMEBODIES has a lot going for it!  The cast is uniformly solid and delivers on the potential of the deft script.  This is a movie that thrives on characters and the hovel full of zany oldsters is a palace for the character-conscious viewer.  Mr. Loomis, who is so dedicated to his position as building superintendent that he even paints the boarded-up windows!  Mr. Sandy, condensing a room full of papers into a book of memoirs!  Miss Emily (named after the Faulkner story?), locked inside her retiree's room, never seeing the sun!  These are our horde of killers, eventually!


Don't lick your gore chops about the killing, this is strictly lite fare done with William Castle-style wry humor.  I have inveighed against humor in horror before, but the generally-black comedy here really works.  The old lady driving scene is utterly hilarious and the ridiculousness of the situation as the film progresses keeps you engaged and entertained.  I will praise HOMEBODIES for the swiftness of the death scenes that are here.  This film really has a fetish for rapidly falling bodies and those scenes are among its most pleasant.


Perhaps it's a little too long-winded and takes it time getting going, but these grapes are only slightly sour.  Overall, HOMEBODIES delivers solid entertainment that no one will mistake for serious and meaningful (boring) art.  It's a shame that it's restricted to the grey market (as far as I know).  Even a bare-bones DVD release would be worthwhile, as I could see this getting some cult prominence strictly through word of mouth.  If nothing else, check it out for the interplay between angry old people and bitchy seventies Vannah White-type person Linda Marsh.


Friday, November 16, 2012

THE [REC] SERIES [Series 31]

[REC] (2007)


SYNOPSIS: A TV reporter and her cameraman are set to follow a group of firefighters over the course of one night.  They end up at an apartment building and swiftly learn that a saliva-transmitted virus is active inside, causing its victims to become hyper-aggressive.  The government quarantines the building, sealing them inside with the enraged infected.  Then they discover a more arcane explanation for the epidemic.

WHAT WORKED:
Found footage is, even while still relatively novel, too often a crutch for lazy filmmaking.  [REC] exploits it in the best possible way.  The conceit of having a pro cameraman gives us constantly stable shots in the beginning, which then deteriorate into frenzied shaky-cam stuff in tandem with the worsening situation in the apartment building.  The camera is essential here, not an accessory or cheat as in other f.f. films—the damaged mic and night vision at the end especially ramp up the tension and add to the feeling of dread and chaos.  I was impressed by how well the effects were handled, too.  I'm sure that there was some sneaky editing going on, but the scenes look seamless and the blood looks great.


The setting.  Horror frequently works best in small spaces (NOTLD house, TCM house, EXORCIST room) and [REC] utilizes its building setting as not just a spooky place for people to die, but an additional adversary to overcome.  So much running, up stairs and into rooms!  So many windows to break and doors to bolt!  Plus, the building goes from a place where people are rescued to a place where everyone is trapped when the authority figures lock them in.  This sealing will be duplicated in the last ten minutes of the film, with unfortunate results that suggest that the extra-building sealing will also fail.  We'll see in [REC] 2, I guess!


Manuela Velasco as Angela is really likable, which is lucky for the film since she's by far the most important character.  [REC] does a good job at letting you see how goofy and charismatic she is before they get to the building and the inevitable maelstrom of death.  Plus she tops PARANORMAL ACTIVITY by appearing in both a tank top and pigtails.  Your move, Featherston.


I am so pleased that we eventually get a supernatural explanation for these happenings!  I watch horror movies to ESCAPE from reality, which is a big reason that I don't dig slashers.  Serial killers exist, so a movie that dwells on them doesn't really give me enough of a disconnect from the world to refresh me.  But a movie about skinny apartment demons, I am all in!  Plus I love that the European version of the story opts for a fairy-tale religious explanation while its remake, QUARANTINE, made in the land that voted for Bush, discards all that for more science-y plotting.  Who are the dumb rednecks now, senor?

Dio Disciples!


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It's not a super-serious issue with all the mayhem, but the non-Angela characters are pretty flat and dull.  There are a few quirky moments with homosexual or dandy Cesar, who poses ridiculously for the camera in the midst of a general massacre, then gets racist about Chinamen. But mostly these are standard-issue characters like Old Couple, Concerned Mom, etc.  If this movie were more of a character thing and less concerned with relentless action, this would be a bigger flaw.  As it stands, not that bad.


Again, nothing disastrous, but parts of this do feel like a video game at times.  We have to get a key, then we have to fight a monster, then we get into the room with the big boss monster!  Reel-to-reel tape achievement unlocked!  But at least it's an interesting and fun video game that moves at a frantic pace.  It's not a subtle horror film, but it is a very good one.  I dig [REC].

RATING: 7

[REC] 2 (2009)


SYNOSIS: [REC] HARDER, as we pick up exactly at the end of the original film, then proceed outside, where two different groups make their way into the building.  We'll get to see both of their perspectives via camerawork and also a surprise bonus third view.  This time, the church sends in a rep with armed escorts to try to collect possessed blood in order to prep an antidote.  Mostly, this feels like an expansion/continuation of the first flick, as some new elements are introduced, but it's generally the same sort of good-times run and kill affair.

WHAT WORKED:
The multi-camera gimmick breathed new life into this entry and probably made it more entertaining than the half-rehashed plot prob warranted.  Again, the cameras in the film are important elements, from the in-frame footage of the military guys to the night-vision cam from the original [REC].  Returning directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza do a fine job at balancing all of these varying viewpoints and utilizing them to maximum effect.


Effects are once again super-effective and, since we've already learned the basics from [REC], we get far more of them (and less confused skulking around).  There are some scenes that are just really phenomenal from an effects standpoint (rocket!) and the demon makeup is generally pretty well-executed.  


The sequel boasts either a bigger budget or better understanding of lighting because there are scenes, especially during night-cam, that look fantastic.  


It's just fun!  Granted, they're going back to the well (literally) in terms of retapping elements from the original, but [REC] 2 never feels boring or turgid.  The good news is that it feels like a high-quality video game sequel!


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It feels like a high-quality video game sequel!  Overall, this is a positive thing, but there are a number of scenes which REALLY recall first-person shooters.  Thankfully, the movie isn't rife with such things, but watching these scenes is a bit less engaging than the rest, since you know monsters are going to jump out.  Because that is why you play video games.


We're mostly Angela-less in this sequel and the poor characterization of the first film is a bigger problem.  The film introduces more characters—cops, kids, a grimly determined priest—but doesn't give us a whole lot of reasons to care about them other than "it sucks to be killed by demons".  

The building setting is both a blessing and a curse in this entry.  It's not excruciating to be stuck inside once again and feels fine for this entry, but let's hope that [REC] 3 adds some different locations.  We do get a bit of exterior footage of the quarantined building and it's pretty spectacular, but most of 2 goes down inside hallways, corridors, and dim attics.  


RATING: 6

[REC] 3: GENESIS (2012)


SYNOPSIS: I wanted different and I should be more cautious about my wishing.  The dog from the first [REC] bites a guy who then ends up at a wedding.  The infection-possession spreads to the guests and the newlyweds get separated and must wage their own separate wars to reunite.  

WHAT WORKED:
As with all things [REC], the practical effects are beyond reproach.  3 is probably the bloodiest of [REC]s and the fissures of blood and floppy mutilated flesh on parade are the movie's most impressive thing.  


As I'll explain, most of this film ditches the shaky-cam stylings of its predecessors, but the multiple-camera shots that we do have are pretty effective.  I especially savored the black-and-white security cam footage, as it recalled old-timey horror of the 30s and 40s, particularly with the gingerly-paced possessed (more on that later, too).


3 does what all successful horror franchises eventually end up doing and tries to mix in some comedy to keep the horror parts from being too unrelenting or effective.  Some of it works.  I liked the idea that record companies hire people to patrol weddings for copyright violations.  The dialogue below is pretty hilar, if you don't think about it being placed right after a shocking gorefest, which in real life doesn't lend itself to comical banter.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
I don't think it's a violation of principle for a [REC] movie to ditch the shaky-camera thing, but this one does feel less special for it.  It's basically just a modern zombie movie, complete with inconsistent zombies that sometimes literally leap from the rafters like attacking gorillas and other times shuffle around like twitching beseizured grandpas. Not only do we lose the format and possessed biology of [REC]s past, but this version is far less serious about scaring you.  Like I said above, there's tons of comedy and some works, but too much doesn't.  There's a character dressed as a sponge at the wedding and he helpfully explains that he's not SpongeBob, but SpongeJohn because—


Plus that scene wherein two guys try to burst through the demons' flanks by donning suits of armor.  LOL, why aren't you laughing, viewer?  Hey, girl!  It's funny!  Bing bong!


Beginning the film with 20 minutes of wedding footage was Earth's poorest decision!  It's not even character stuff, as there's minimal interaction between minor characters, but mostly it just feels like the director really wanted to make wedding videos instead of horror films.  Dancing, cake-cutting, shots of decolletage in dresses, it all goes on forever.  [REC] 3 is a basically a movie about copyrights and wedding customs, with a peripheral subplot about demon possession.


This isn't horrible.  If you watch lots of horror, you've seen worse, but it definitely feels unnecessary and incidental to the [REC] world.  The dog thing is really the only connection to the other films and I'm assuming that any potential [REC] 4 would get back to the original plot, preferably outside the building and on a grand scale and with NO comedy.  

RATING: 5