Friday, January 25, 2013

PRIVATE PARTS (1972)

Paul Bartel established a lot of cult/exploitation/indie/whatever traction as an actor with jaw-dropping turns in affairs like PIRANHA and CHOPPING MALL, but sometimes gets overlooked as a director, even though he made DEATH RACE 2000, this, and EATING RAOUL!  Come on, people, I'm seriously, folks!  Even people who hate slashers/thrillers, like me, will find enjoyment in PRIVATE PARTS's seventies scuzz and admirers of knife movies will be in proto-heaven.


Runaway Cheryl (pronounced with the "ch" like "CHUD" for some reason) gets booted out of her house for creepily listening to her roommate get penetrated.  Said roommate derides Cheryl as "just a kid", which along with her nosy behavior, sets up one of the film's main themes.  A desperate Cheryl ends up getting a room at her creepy Aunt Martha's hotel, the King Edward, which is full of gay priests, old ladies, and other wantons!  Plenty of mysteries for a girl detective to solve here!  Bartel assembles some fine actors to fill these colorful roles, my favorites being Lucille Benson as Aunt Martha and Laurie Main as Reverend Doctor Moon.  Main's hyper-homoerotic creeper comedy seems to anticipate Bartel's own role as the campy counselor in PIRANHA.


This is a horror movie, so the hotel has a history of people disappearing, in particular this girl named Alice who had spent some time with a shady photographer named George.  Cheryl bonds with George, since he's the only one who treats her like a woman instead of a little girl.  I mean, she tries to flirt with this hunk who shows up to repair stuff, but he just calls her a "kid" and makes her move furniture.  Plus her aunt is visibly insane in the membrane, going to funerals so she can take pictures of the soul leaving its earthly prison.  


Cheryl discovers that the hotel is full of holes, especially ones that allow viewing of her room and the bathroom.  She allows herself to be seduced by a sexy series of anonymous gifts and her suspicions that George is the mystery gifter.  The movie at this point is more about these gently sleazy scenes and a general grindhouse atmosphere.  It shows in the music, which is strip-joint jazz, reminiscent of 80% of the Something Weird catalog.  The soundtrack touches brilliance, especially in one scene that incorporates a few bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner."


The tone shifts because the body count picks up.  It quickly becomes clear that Cheryl's in over her head and the music alters accordingly, way less seductive and more psychotic.  At this point, PRIVATE PARTS really capitalizes on its mostly-interior locations—long unsanitary hallways and dank rooms full of strange cargo.


There's no way there's any real connection, but parts of this definitely feel very SHINING-y, especially given how similar Ayn Ruymen (Cheryl) looks to Shelley Duvall.


The tilt towards weirdness in the film's latter half is permanent, as we get a third tonal shift in the very last portion of the film, when some cops show up to rescue a Cheryl-infatuated boy.  The cops are hilarious dicks, being especially mean to a confused old lady.  So we go from sexy exploitation to horror to comedy and end up better people for the journey.


Super-fun and so well crafted, PRIVATE PARTS will make you believe in the seventies and magic again.  At no time do you have to gin up excuses for dull, draggy parts, because there really aren't any.  Bartel hired a bunch of talented people and gave them a tight story to enact and he made sure to capture it in interesting ways.  If you haven't seen this one, you are really cheating yourself! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (1990)

Fresh off his WAXWORK triumph, Anthony Hickox did this before stumbling into an abyss of shame called HELLRAISER III and he enlisted all-star assistance to do it.  David Carradine, Deborah Foreman, John Ireland, and Bruce Campbell all show up and succeed to varying degrees at distracting me from horror-comedy that does not make me laugh.


Look, guys, at how weird that looks!  It's super weird and quirky!  And if you like quirky, you're perhaps also going to like SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT.  Seems that vampires have tired of hiding on the sidelines and preying on the living, so they've set up a town called Purgatory out in the desert.  They slather on sunblock and swill this pus-like synthetic blood sub, a decade-plus before True Blood.  The machine that makes the pseudoblood has gone rogue, so its inventor is called to town to repair it.  But all vamps are not happy being domesticated sunscreened fancylads and tensions mount, then erupt.  Also, there are two other humans and also Bruce Campbell as a mysterious stranger on a quest.  This film has a lot of plot.


Despite how irritating I find most campy-on-purpose things, SUNDOWN has several applaudable elements.  I love how the vamps' fashions mostly look hideously antique, like Euro vacationers in the 1800s or pilgrims from proto-America.  The latter also leads to Carradine addressing Ireland as "pilgrim", John Wayne-style, in one of the film's most inspired bits.  The cinematography occasionally succeeds here, too—I liked the overhead shots and some of the battle scenes, which also offer fine editing.  The acting's pretty solid throughout, too, if not overly memorable WITH THE EXCEPTION of Bruce Campbell and Deborah Foreman, who just bury the rest of the cast entirely with their comic timing and presence.  I felt a little sad that the pair of them didn't have more scenes because, holy cow, the movie gets fun when they're around.


Alack, tonight hasn't been all rainbows and milkshakes for me.  I've ranted about comedy and horror hybrids before, so I'll spare you that.  I will say that I'm probably automatically predisposed to dislike things if I feel like my aunts or most over-50 people would enjoy them.  Sorry!  SUNDOWN is very Tim Burton-esque in a bad way.  The comedy that's here is often situational and very unsubtle and insistent upon itself.  Like the movie is constantly nudging me, demanding to know why I'm not laughing at the child actor hijinks or the vampire diner bit.  I DO WANT TO ENJOY MOVIES, OKAY, IT'S JUST NOT WORKING OUT THIS TIME.  Maybe it's me or maybe it's the script, which probably could've been tightened (and shortened—this gets close to two hours in length).  SUNDOWN sometimes feels like a sitcom pilot that got stretched out to feature length and there's not really enough there to make an impact.  It's not garishly bad, but it is pretty forgettable once you're done, which is kind of an indictment, given the talent on hand here.


If you are an aunt or a baby boomer or use "fun" and "nice" and "cute" as positive descriptors, this will probably work for you.  Good luck with it and stay off of my blog.  Everyone else, move to the next title in your vampire queue.

Friday, January 4, 2013

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)

Let me tell you how it started.  When I first heard of this project, I assumed the worst.  I envisioned some slick tripe with MTV rejects shot with expensive cameras, like an American Eagle flyer come to sort of life as a "scary movie".  There have certainly been enough of these shitty remakes that anyone with a brain should no longer be fooled into expecting anything good.  BUT not even the most hard-bitten cynic could have expected such a painful cock-up as TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.  

Starting off with scenes culled from the original was a grievous, horrible mistake, unless the filmmakers were damn sure that their material could measure up (it doesn't!).  TC3D seems to be attempting to live as a sequel to the original, but makes major changes.  I'll put a spoiler section below so people don't bitch...

SPOILER

Following Sally Hardesty's escape, the local sheriff (HOOPER< GET IT HIS NAME IS HOOPER LIKE TOBE HOOPER WTF BRAH FOREVER 21) shows up at the Sawyer house, which now contains many many more family members than appeared in the original CHAIN SAW.  There's a lady, fat people with beards, plus Leatherface is there with no apparent leg wound!  And he's been renamed Jed because it's better and marketing, ok.  Some local coonasses show up and firebomb the house and I thought this would be some weird Waco allegory, twenty years later, but no.  Oh, and those of you who are attending this because it has Bill Moseley in it should get there early because this is his only scene.  That's right, the family only appears in five minutes of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D!  And they're all killed!  Merry Christmas!!

This all happens in 1974, yeah?  So fast forward to present day and we meet Heather (Alexandra Daddario), who was the baby in the Sawyer house, then was adopted by two of the firebombers.  So 2013-1974=39, so at best this girl is pushing 40 and she looks like this:


I tried to act as lawyer for the movie and argue in my head that it was set in 2001 or whatever and was a period piece, then a policeman whipped out an iPhone with streaming video capability, so I guess not.  Also, no one in this movie can afford a whole shirt.  

She finds out her ancestry after a torturous 30 minutes of boring teen-style interactions and then we discover that Jedtherface survived the fire and has been staying in the basement of this fancy richy-rich mansion.  He gets out and starts a-killin' in the most banal generic-horror-movie way possible.  There is absolutely nothing engaging about him in this movie, you could cut and paste any killer in his place and it would make zero difference.  This Leatherface is nowhere near as lethal as the dialogue, which is possibly the worst I've ever heard, like it was written by a sixth grade class ("it looks like some kind of crazy catacomb!", "my friends are dead because of this crazy town!").  The script is atrocious, no one acts like human beings, perhaps because they are all horror movie stereotypes like Slutty Best Friend, Jock, Final Girl.  "Welcome to Texas, motherfucker!", indeed.  Sluts are notoriously badass fighters.

But it took multiple writers and like TEN producers to concoct this and I just vomited.  Because it ends with Leatherface becoming a sympathetic figure in the most cloying way possible.  And the sheriff acting like the most inhuman character out of a cast of, essentially, living mannequins.  The ending of this thing turned me on it COMPLETELY, it makes NO sense and is the most invidious betrayal since the dark days of Benedict Arnold.  If they'd TRIED to make a good movie and FAILED, that would be one thing.  But TC3D doesn't even make an effort, it just lazily lopes along, tossing out bad decisions and wrenchingly poor logic like aborted fetuses dumped out of a physician's window into a waiting garbage bin.  And our minds are the garbage bin in this allegory.

I'd wager that TCM is dead as a franchise after this.  The film's sole triumph is that it knocked THE NEXT GENERATION from its throne as the worst-ever TEXAS CHAINSAW film.  Just an utter mess.