Saturday, March 30, 2013

MANBORG (2011)

Here's the deal: the Earth faced its gravest threat when war erupted with Hell.  We can argue about whose fault it was and how much Bush knew, but the fact of the matter is that Hell's superior technology (iPhone 6 [I'm not going for the cheap 666 joke]) ensured Earth's easy defeat.  Now, our modest planet is ruled by legions of demons and only a ragtag squad of videogame character-type people can save us.  And MANBORG.


Cozily exulting in eighties big-box action VHS shenanigrams, MANBORG was filmed for the price of 1/6 of a Honda Fit in a Canadian garage.  The effects look like they were plucked from the 1993 version of Mortal Kombat or Doom, running on a Sega Genesis with a smoking motor.  The script is meta-ridiculous, the dialogue winningly inane.  A Japanese character named #1 Man refuses to wear a shirt and has Kung Fu Theater-style overdubbed lines like, "To the death, please!"  An Australian character named Justice can't read and can't dance, but gives both a college try.  


So, yeah, it's a blast.  MANBORG arrived at HorrorHound with lots of surrounding hype and, to be honest guys, I was frightened by the initial stages that this was another CABIN IN THE WOODS situation in which my hopes would soar & die like Icarus.  But then the Baron of Hell didn't know how to talk to a cute girl and the claymation monster showed up and "SUPER GREAT" was uttered!  And the world was suddenly super okay!  Given how seldom bad-on-purpose works out in practice, we should probably celebrate every instance of triumph and MANBORG triumphs hard.  

I like girls, SORRY

I go back and forth about whether I loved this or MANIAC more, but I did not power-walk through an entire convention of portly WALKING DEAD moms to try to find the MANIAC table, so what does that tell you?  (PS: I didn't find the MANBORG table, either, where the hell was it???)  If you love trash, you should certainly buy this on April 30 and, if you don't love trash, then you should go find a new place on the Internet to be.  Like evenmoregrumpycatpicturesyet.com.  Grumpy Cat or Manborg, you must choose and choose wisely.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

MANIAC (2012)

No screenshots, obviously.  They announced beforehand that even people who whipped out cell phones would be ejected.  It was rather disconcerting to have our thus-far empty and comfy screening room (because all the moms and aunts were across the street getting Norman Reedus hugs) suddenly fill to capacity.  But this thing has lots of hype.  And lives up to it.

Elijah Wood inherits Joe Spinell's role as the titular maniac Frank, stripping the scalps from women and stapling them to assorted mannequins because his mom was a whore.  Although somewhat updated (Frank finds prey via online dating in this iteration), 2012 MANIAC sticks pretty closely to the plot and feel of the 1980 original.  Frank falls for a photographer named Anna and pursues her in his stunted, maniac way, while simultaneously dealing out death to cyberdates and assorted unfortunate ladies.  This isn't really a plot-heavy film—much like the original, its sustenance is jarring violence and an atmosphere of sleaze—but I'd argue that it's a far more thoughtful and well-executed film than the original "classic".

This MANIAC is perhaps more successful than any post-eighties film at capturing the seediness of the old grindhouse flicks.  It doesn't look cheap, but the night world of MANIAC is admirably filthy and filled with hobo tent cities and clearly deranged homeless (one in particular makes a nice contrast to Frank's more controlled psychosis).  The whole film flirts with a night and day dichotomy, slamming brightly-lit duck pond scenes into party girls stumbling down midnight streets and into Frank's clutches.  Scenarios and dialogue recur—the aforementioned cuckoo bum reincarnating as the deranged Frank, two separate attempts to coerce someone into a bar, and so on.  

One of the original's strongest strengths was Tom Savini's groundbreaking effects work and nu-MANIAC is definitely no slouch in that department.  The juice is loose in plenty of scenes and, if most of this is CGI (not sure!), it's the most seamless and well-integrated CGI I have ever seen in a horror movie.  Some of the kills were so well done that they got gasps followed by waves of applause.  

Wood's probably hoping that his performance will push him away from Hobbiton and maybe it will, but I wouldn't say it's a career-changing performance on the level of Christian Bale in AMERICAN PSYCHO or Sid Haig in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (which mostly sucks, but did give Haig a new lease on life).  Wood and Frenchwoman Nora Arnezeder are fine here, but MANIAC just isn't much of a character movie.  While you could argue that the movie has subtext about identity, human contact vs. solitariness, etc., it's mostly about slashing and such, and it's probably best to award the MVP to director Franck Khalfoun, who drives what could have been a cookie-cutter story into a compelling and disturbing clinic in how modern horror should be done.  MANIAC is shot well, uses a Goblin-style electronic soundtrack to maximum effect, and sets a gore standard that it's going to be difficult to top.  

The best horror film I've seen in 2013 and now I'm even more excited to see if/how EVIL DEAD will measure up.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

GYMKATA (1985)

I once showed my friend the Italian slavery sleazefest GOODBYE UNCLE TOM and he walked around for the next few days in a stupor, eventually leaving a voicemail that was something like, "I just can't—I just don't understand how such a thing could be made in this world..."  THAT is how I feel about GYMKATA!  Because it is the story of Parmistan, a country in the Hindu Kush which ordains a celebration called "The Game", in which competitors run across Parmistan, climbing ropes and trying to not die.  The last part is complicated by a band of ninjas who tail and kill the hapless contestants.  So far, just a HUNGER GAMES for the Babushka Bloc, but then America has to plant a satellite base in Parmistan for some reason, so they solicit the aid of a hero.


A gymnast hero!  Named JOHN CABOT.  He receives special training in order to prep him for The Game and the trip to Parmistan.

 

The best, bubbliest, and most shapely trainer is the inexplicably Asiatic daughter of Parmistan's king, who knows The Game backwards and forwards and is also a good helper when they go to the Fez Bazaar to haggle over tea sets.  


Okay, but a gymnast?  Action movies of the 80s tended to use cops and military guys as heroes, hulking bruisers and not slender and limber sleekboys.  Before you scoff the day away, you should be aware that Parmistan is festooned with vertical bars—


—and every street includes at least one pommel—


—so shut your whore mouth.  Cabot heads over and succeeds in spite of several obstacles: corrupt royal auxiliaries who break The Rules of The Game; arrows which have impeccable comedic timing; and the town where Parmistan sends all of their insane people, as well as all their scythes and machetes. 


GYMKATA is too much fun!  The fight scenes, having to be based around gymnastics, involve tons of showy backflips and tumbling, basically the complete opposite of a fistfight of gun battle.  The plot is appropriately ridiculous and, while incorporating all the generic features one would expect from an eighties actioneer, has to stretch your credulity even farther because of the conceits on display.  I can't imagine Stallone or Van Dam at the very apex of coked-outedness agreeing to a scene in which rock-climbers in bright track suits are arrowed in the back.  


Plus you get to see Rasputin and George Lucas clones die!


How could such a thing be made in this world???


Friday, March 15, 2013

WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (2012)

You are the horror consumer, so you should answer this question: does everything have to aim high to be cherished or is "good enough" a good enough reason for something to exist?  Because I can easily see WEREWOLF capturing the hearts of genre fans who just wanna have a fun time watching beasts mutilate their ways across the secondly-billed.  I can also see people who only appreciate horror when it's ROSEMARY'S BABY or CABIN IN THE WOODS or has something rly important to say about "human nature" ditching the scene and finding refuge at a nearby organic grocery.  Their loss because...


If you like horror, you have undoubtedly sifted through garbage in search of gems.  You're not necessarily going to have dashed hopes if a movie only has high-quality cinematography, an interesting plot, and frothing waves of gore, but not "something to say".  I don't think WEREWOLF has much to say in the didactic Charles Dickens kind of way, but neither does THE GODFATHER.  Actually, both movies kind of have the same thing to say: violence and evil are interesting.  Set in medieval village Europe, where werewolves are generally accepted as existing by the populace and hunters track them for reward money from afflicted towns.  But there's a different kind of wolf out there that seems to be selectively killing after thinking about it.  An itinerant band of monster-slayers arrive and begrudgingly allow the local mortician's assistant to assist them in their hunt.  Who's the werewolf, brah? 


This thing looks cool and it does cool with its characters.  Even tiny minor figures get some kind of memorable attributes.  Like the guy above who claims that his horse was attacked by a werewolf.  The monster ripped off its hind quarters (apparently horses don't turn into werewolves after attacks, fyi), so he added wheels to it, like you've seen in many crippled-puppy GIFs.  Great story and he's really just a nothing character for the most part!  WEREWOLF, despite not being a teachy/preachy film, is pretty serious about its people and its plot.  It even mines some vintage werewolf lore by incorporating gypsies, who are (of course) hated by all the non-gypsies.

Go talk about wolfsbane somewhere else
Plus this is a period piece and not in the CARRIE way, but more in the BLACK DEATH way, and we can all use more of that.  The sets and buildings here look great, especially when they are full of medieval hookers.


And the gore looks incredibly good!  When you see a cart full of body parts in this movie, you smile inside and say, "Now that's what a werewolf attack looks like!"  I also dig the way this is shot, very desaturated with lots of muted colors which creates a nice contrast when there, say, a lot of blood thrown around.


So the movie does everything that it sets out to do well.  The acting is solid, the story clips along, medieval hookers, horse wheelchairs.  How about flaws?  The first thing that leaps out at me, like a Jack in the Box made of pixels from 1994, is the werewolf itself.  It looks fine when it's in shadows or hidden behind fire (as does Renee Zellwegger), but clear shots are way too revealing and damaging.  CGI wolves just almost never work and using CGI in a medieval setting is seriously risky because it can not only look dumb, but ruin the atmosphere.  I understand why you wouldn't wanna blow your budget on a suit and a makeup guy/gal, but if this were a weaker movie otherwise, the wolf could've sunk it. 


I liked this much more than I'd expected.  It's running at 5 stars on IMDB, which undersells it a bit, I think.  If WEREWOLF doesn't cross the line into 6, it at least comes close.  It's not going to end up on anyone's Top 25 Horror Films list, but you can't really expect to grow as a person if you're just watching CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI over and over your entire life.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

MANDINGO (1975)

I only update this to ruin your day, guys.  We left off with girls who carve themselves, and this time we'll head back in time and to the South, where whites drink and get racey in bed in bare houses and blacks die in myriad unpleasant ways.  MANDINGO has accrued, somehow, a rep as a "bad movie" over the years and it's hard to deny that there are moments here that could be kin to SHOWGIRLS or GIGLI.  The thing about this movie, though, is that it's stuffed with stuff, so you could really say almost anything about it and not be wrong—there are certainly worthwhile elements and memorable moments enough to merit a watch.


Falconhurst is a crumbling mansion in the pre-Civil War South, home to the Maxwells and their slaves.  Crippled son Hammond Maxwell (Perry King) weds incest veteran Blanche (Susan George), but finds more comfort in the arms of slave Ellen (Brenda Sykes).  Meanwhile, male slave Mede (Ken Norton) displays fighting skill in a whole loitering episode and gets pushed into awful to-the-death proto-MMA.  MANDINGO has a fairly busy plot with lots of thematic action bubbling under the surface.  Philosophically, I suppose the question to be asked is how much responsibility can individuals have for evils that are perpetuated in/by their society?  The slaves astutely point out that their masters must be aware of their essential humanity, since they take steps to keep them away from books, religion, and other emboldening things.  So Hammond's obviously at fault for buying into the system (and he does—check out the reaction once the issue of manumission is raised).  How 'bout Mede battering & killing people in his fights, though?  Heady stuff, well-executed.


Oh, the acting in this!  Character actor appreciators are going to die of happiness at the efforts of Richard (THE JERK) Ward, Susan (STRAW DOGS) George, and Paul (THE JEFFERSONS) Benedict.  The most interesting actors don't get the most screen time, unfortunately, but what's there is splendid.  I've heard tales of woe about George here and at times she gets a little too manic, but her early presence and post-baby malaise are most fine.


So some of the George stuff and some of the dialogue earns the "camp" tag ("To get a son, you have to be a whole lot better at pleasurin'!") and, okay, some of the scenes are a little too overwrought and ridiculous—


—but other scenes really do bring the horrors of slavery home, especially the way that blacks were co-opted into a system that tortured other blacks—


—including a resurgence of the gladiatorial fighting that marked the fall of Rome.


MANDINGO is regarded in some circles as a big-budget exploitation film, partially owing to the copious bloodletting and eye-gouging.  But it also doesn't skimp on the sex and has a special fascination for intercourse between ethnic groups.  The "relationship" between Hammond and Ellen was so deftly constructed (at first) that I kind of wanted the movie to ditch the other elements and just made this a period romance, like a plantation Romeo and Juliet.


Tellingly, the scenes that are most carefully composed and shot are the sex scenes—



—although the mutilation and punch-ups are well-constructed, too.


Content aside, I think a lot of the reason this gets pegged as exploitation is because it looks like a cheapo b-flick.  BUT, listen, the setting is key here, it demonstrates that this family has fallen from whatever Dixie/feudal glory they possessed.  The walls are bare, the floors are bald, it looks like a sexploitation film shot in a series of darkened corners.


When George's character degenerates into alcoholic desperation, they show it by showing how she's given up on cleanliness and order, BUT THERE ARE ONLY LIKE FOUR THINGS SITTING ON THE FLOOR.  MANDINGO's landscape is practically post-apocalyptic.  


People mostly don't talk about MANDINGO, except to say that they heard it was bad, but you obviously shouldn't take a critic's word for it.  Listen to me instead, I'm the opposite of a critic and I am advising you to give it a spin.  And I am also apologizing for how Debbie Downer the past few posts have been!  I have been under black clouds for a bit, but then I won an award and got over listening to Filth Pig all day long, so future posts should mark a return to the trashy/fun status quo.  Get ready for pleasurin'.