Saturday, April 27, 2013

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969)

Nothing can beat IMDB's summary of this movie:

"An obese, embittered nurse doesn't mind if her toupee-wearing boyfriend romances and fleeces other women, as long as he takes her along on his con jobs."

A Criterion Collection film!



Originally set to be directed by Martin Scorsese(!!!), HONEYMOON KILLERS begins when Alabama's most embittered nurse, Martha, gets enrolled in the OKCupid of the 1960s, Aunt Carrie's Friendship Club.


Aunt Carrie hooks her up with the not-yet-toupeed Ray Fernandez, a Spaniard who specializes in bilking lonely women out of their fortunes.  Martha falls hard for him and joins him in his schemes, mostly appearing as his not-European sister.  They mostly target old crones with awful hats.


Ray, who had previously had no problems with his career, starts running into all kinds of issues now that Martha is along for the ride.  Her unprofessional jealousy and lack of social skills wreck the operation on several occasions.  It all ends as it usually does, with crime not paying (after it has paid, pretty well, for a good long while).


Lots have already pointed to HONEYMOON KILLERS as a film that must have inspired John Waters and, certainly, at least the first portion of it is very campy in a Waters way.  Martha snarls at a Jewish doctor, "I'm not so sure Hitler wasn't right about you people!"  And "Not only are you pregnant, you're disgusting!" definitely deserves a place in the Movie Quote Hall of Fame.  But the very cool thing about HONEYMOON KILLERS is its slow shift in tone.  It's all fun and games and silly rich old ladies at the outset, but by the time this ends, you are going to be jarred at how grim and violent things have gotten.  Martha & Ray feed on each other's weaknesses and the evil just escalates and spirals out of control.  Like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, the sudden metamorphosis from comedy into horror works in the film's favor.


Credit for the film's force should go to lead actors Shirley (FRANKENHOOKER) Stoler and Tony (GOD TOLD ME TO) Lo Bianco.  What could have been just fun matinee trash gets elevated by their energetic performances.  Given that KILLERS is super-sparse, with practically no shots that weren't shot in the corner of a room, there weren't going to be any beautiful outdoor Cinemascope shots to save it.  It was going to succeed or fail on the basis on the acting and Stoler & Lo Bianco triumph hard.  Give a medal to director Leonard Kastle, too.  He utilizes the constraints of low-budget filmmaking and turns them into strengths—almost all of this is shot very close and tight, until the very end, when we get a widescreen zoom that means much more at that point.  


This would have been a far different film if Scorsese had made it.  Not bad, necessarily, just probably more showy and full of Technique.  Kastle lets the story, consistent style, and crisp editing do its work and we as a species are better for it.  It's too bad that this was his only film, but, then again, when you get it this right, maybe it's better to stop (cf. John Carpenter).  


Hilarious, trashy, seedy, transgressive, great!!  Don't let the Criterion label fool you, this is our kind of film.  If you need proof, check the aghast IMDB reviews—"all the characters are unpleasant; people scream rather than talk to each other", "Comparisons to 'Psycho' and 'In Cold Blood' have been alluded to by reviewers here, but this has none of the artfulness of those superb canvases".  I like to imagine that old bags in hideous hats have written those reviews and helpfully died from exposure to HONEYMOON KILLERS soon after.  Get off the Internet and watch this, now!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

END OF THE WICKED (1999)

Three years later, we're finally going back to Nigeria, where zero-budget outlandish filmmaking has been salvaged from first-world scrap heaps.


Having now seen two Nigerian horror movies, I can say with confidence that all of them are rooted in the deep, weird, sad Christian roots of the country.  666: BEWARE mostly flashed revival-tent fundamentals in its epic tale of a demonic child.  END OF THE WICKED, with its coven of forest witches who meet outside because there are no office buildings in Nigeria, is a little less eager to run to scripture every ten seconds, but it's still basically drawing all of its tricks out of a big Christian hat.  That's Beelzebub up there, the Rob Halford/Uncle Fester/marinara mouth guy.  His look is also a reminder that albinos also aren't winning popularity contests in Africa.  Killing child "witches", hating albinos for being born...in conclusion, fuck Africa.


Okay, back on track.  The witch coven all look like black versions of the oatmeal zombies from NIGHTMARE CITY.  They plot misdeeds straight out of Sunday school scare stories: sneaking into bedrooms at night to cause back pain, transmitting bad dreams, that kinda stuff.  One of them is mother to Chris, who is decidedly non-demonic and pretty much just wants to run his business and sit in fancy chairs.  Mom testifies against him to Beelzebub, citing how he clothes, feeds, and shelters her.  I think this is supposed to ironically demonstrate guilt, although END OF THE WICKED is naturally incompetent about relaying this to viewers.


So, like, anyway, Beelzebub gives her a ridiculously big fake cock to use on Chris's wife.


Despite the grandiose penises, most of this movie is dolefully boring.  For every amazing highlight, like when Beelzebub orders his flock to "do the sexiest dance ever, the dance of seduction" and they mostly just pivot like Chuck E. Cheese robots, there are ten scenes of talking in undecorated rooms or unlit forest nooks.  The acting is what you'd expect and, although some of the dialogue has African charm (Beelzebub asks, "What are his particulars?" instead of "What is his name?"), the script is limp and repetitive and repeats itself.  Some of the effects are surprisingly okay on a haunted-house scale...


But why waste our time fishing for compliments for this thing?  It satisfies every preconception of how a cheap horror film from an undeveloped place is going to be.  Plus I admittedly might be letting my distaste for child murder to color my reaction here, but I'm not loving the whole child-witch angle.  It's in this movie, so of course it's executed abysmally, but Nigerian witch-hunters are apparently dumb enough to be set off by anything.  I could probably overlook it to some extent if the film were adequate, but it's not, so stick with 666 for your Nigerian fix and maybe ask the child witches you know to cast some filmmaking improvement spells Africa's way.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

THE FP (2011)

When the history of "bad movies" is written, our time will be marked as a turning point, like the Battle of Agincourt or Cher's "Believe".  There have always been a select few of us who have the ability to look beyond mistakes and missteps and see the dizzy beauty of SHOWGIRLS, the storm-swept heart of GIGLI, even generate passion for Douglas Sirk.  And there have always been normal people who genuinely loved incredibly awful things: Adam Sandler is still making movies and Fleetwood Mac have not yet had to resort to crack-whoredom to pay the bills.  But, suddenly, the stars have aligned and big swathes of the population are "ironically" repping fatally-flawed or poorly-conceived films and music.  It feelsbadman.jpg.


But it means that movies of this type are now being deliberately courted for release to this sort of nu-midnight movie crowd.  I really don't think that the people who made THE ROOM, TROLL 2, ROBOT MONSTER, or any canonical accidentally-great work really set out to do what they eventually did.  Lots of people are intentionally trying to match their results, though, and most of them are going to fail.  As most of you have figured out, the worst kind of genuinely bad movie is a bad comedy and we're probably about to be hit with a lot of them.  THE FP sits somewhere between that nadir of hipstery bullshit and the great traditions of outlandish miscalculated cinema.



Set in an alternate version of the 90s, maybe, the "FP" of the title is Frazier Park, a town full of trashy kids who live to compete in an off-brand Dance Dance Revolution game called Beat Beat Revelation.  They also use and talk a lot about pagers.  In a transparent BLOODSPORT nod, we open with a tragic game-related death,  followed by vengeance.  THE FP doesn't do a lot to differentiate itself from the other action movies on the conveyor belt of plot.  If you've seen KARATE KID, BLOODSPORT, etc., a lot of this will be familiar to you.  


What is different is the kind of weird potpourri of cultures that The FP has.  Dress and decor in this town are like you flipped the channel from BET to CMT to MTV and then somehow smushed them all together.  Gold teeth AND coonskin caps AND moon boots AND confederate battle flags. The dialogue is choice as well, once you get past the early barrage of "I hope you ready for this shit, cranberry juice!" and "After Btro got 187ed, the FP lost its shit!"-type nonstop noise.  Lines like "We can't take out L Dubba E and his bullshit-ass shit alone!" and "Stop it, Dad!  He's been pulling out, I swear!" work better than you'd think from a first glance, so stop judgin'.  Some of the comedy works, too, especially the absurder stuff like "Goddamn drunks goin' straight edge right on the street!"  And the electrified tennis racket.  And the girl in the background whose clothes keep falling off!


This started off as a short and it should have maybe stayed truer to its short roots, cause there's a little too much of it.  If I give you the premise—messed-up wigga/rednecks use pagers and pay phones to set up dance contests to the death—you'd be happy.  If I took 90 minutes to give you the premise, maybe not so much.  Brilliant design and costuming aside, there isn't a lot beyond the basics here.  It's not as manic as it could have been.  A lot of the jokes fall flat or get repeated to death, so you feel a little winded by the time the movie eventually winds down.


I enjoyed a lot of this, but probably wouldn't watch it again.  Worth a spin for the concept and set design, but not in the league of something like MANBORG as far as recent examples of this "genre" go.  Keep an eye on the film's makers, though, they've clearly got an aptitude for this kind of thing.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A TALKING CAT!?! (2013)

This film tragically never reached the theaters and we were all denied a chance to say, "One for...A TALKING CAT!?!, young man."  If only I could have said that to someone in a beige vest, I would have been entertained enough to ignore any flaws that the movie itself contained.  


is the story of a talking cat!?! named Duffy, who shows up in a rich California neighborhood in order to play Cupid for a dad and his son and a catering mom and an unrelated teenage girl.  "But that's the plot of Emma and The Brady Bunch!?!" you say, and you're right.  Cat aside, A TALKING CAT!?! doesn't really inaugurate a new golden era of movie plotting, although it brings the super-repressed homoeroticism of Brady Bunch up to barely-repressed levels.  The gayest film about father-son romance ever?  


I'm not throwing down homophobia in a frat-boy way, this film is drenched in super-awkward and strained pseudo-hetero tendencies.  Directed by David DeCoteau under the nom "Mary Crawford", A TALKING CAT!?! represents a sharp turn from his rambling super-soft-boy/boy-porno efforts into light family comedy.  But DeCoteau has been unable to divest himself of his gay-sleaze ways, so this movie often feels like a porn that has been brutally edited for broadcast on ABC Family.  Limited sets, repeated shots of scenery, and rampant shirtlessness rampage through the whole thing.


Okay, and there's a talking cat and this might get long.  Because the cat is voiced by Eric Roberts, who sounds like maybe he got really drunk and fell into a chasm prior to recording his lines.  That would be a bigger issue if they had to sync up the cat's mouth movements with the lines, like Garfield, but they don't.  Because Duffy can only talk to a person one time, because that's "the rules".  And when the cat finally speaks, it looks like this:


That seriously might be the wisest line any movie has ever had.  It's never explained what "one time" entails, but we can assume it's more than one line because Duffy frequently blathers on for minutes at a time.  Maybe the rules are based around topicality, like the cat shuts up when the subject is switched?  


I'm at a loss at how to evaluate this.  It's obviously not a good movie, but it has too many draggy parts (that's not a drag queen pun, sorry, RuPaul fans) to qualify as a good-bad movie (or good-on-accident, as I prefer).  It is hyper-weird, though, with its 50s-style sexuality conflicts and its incredible fixation on the preparation and arrangement of cheese puffs.  And its talking cat that only talks for 5% of the film and uses a hungover pedo-voice.  Worth watching once and probably DeCoteau's best film to date, but don't expect a ROOM or TROLL II sort of miracle.


 PS the cat on the cover is clearly NOT the cat in the film!  That's exploitation!!!

Friday, April 5, 2013

EVIL DEAD (2013)


Real talk: "SLIGHTLY ABOVE AVERAGE", "IT'S OKAY!", and "IF YOU LIKE HORROR, YOU WILL ALSO LIKE THIS MOVIE, PROBABLY" don't look so impressive on posters.  And horror websites don't get precious traffic by rating "event" films with restraint and exacting criticism, since 2 1/2 chainsaw or whatever ratings for most theatrical horror isn't nearly as exciting or stimulating as ZOMG NEAR PERFECT EXPERIENCE and REDBAND TRAILERZ.  Horror reviewers have become part of the team of carnies that inflate expectations to the hilt before hyped projects and remakes hit the scene, working hand in hand with original cast and crew on hand for authenticity's sake and studio social media marketing departments.  You (and I) should take their many raves with a grain, nay, SILO of salt. 

Real talk: EVIL DEAD 2013 is not a perfect film.  It's not really a straight remake either, since it steers the plot and tone in different directions.  And that's where the frustration lies.

Drug addict Mia meets up with three friends and her estranged brother at a cabin in the woods.  There, she'll try to go cold turkey and kick her habit, but this well-prepared plan is undone by the discovery of a basement full of hanging grue and a book stitched out of flesh.  Next, possession happens, signaled by contact lenses and methy twitching.  Bodies get unbuilt, blood's flushed in rivers and raindrops.

For EVIL DEAD, gore is serious business.  De-facing, un-limbing, and plenty of sharp piercings and chainsaw mutilation are effected with considerable care, all rendered (as you have surely heard) with practical plastic FX instead of CGI.  It all looks great and the obligatory lecherous tree scene here is maybe better than its ancestor scenes in the original I & II.  Within the woods where demons roam, vaginal attacks are only the first of your ordeals.

So the violence is unimpeachable, but the same can't be said about the script.  EVIL DEAD meshes so well with drug addiction conceptually!  The demons in the original trilogy act totally like manipulative junkies, claiming to be "all right now" and lying about it and then preying on their victim's nostalgia and emotions and regrets.  So it's pretty disappointing that what could have been a major strength for this film kind of just withers away.  The script fails to take advantage, since it's more concerned with gettin' to the gore (fine, but not what near perfect horror movies are made of).  There are also a few feeble attempts made at a reunion/redemption theme, but we're talking five minutes out of the movie.  The dialogue is standard-fare at best and excruciating at worst ("I released something from that book...something evil!" and pretty much ALL the demon dialogue made me cringe).  The dialogue in the original EVIL DEADs might not have been timeless poetry, but it was also part of movies that had innovative plotting and surreal atmosphere.  This EVIL DEAD has none of that and basically feels like a well-made EVIL DEAD rip-off.

I don't want to come off like I abhorred this thing, because it's leagues better than a real catastrophe like TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.  It's just that it's not anything that special, so it's very difficult to see why it garnered such fulsome praise from the critics that we trust to protect us.  If gore count was the only thing necessary for a horror film to be "great", MORDUM and SLAUGHTERED VOMIT DOLLS would be considered all-time classics (spoiler: they aren't).  Worth a matinee watch or a Netflix stream, but I don't get the teen-like squeeing over it.  Please note that the Internet seems to disagree with me on this issue, though.  Between this and the Harlem Shakes, perhaps I am finally getting too old to relate to the youth culture.  Old man yells at Internet cloud!