Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dracula: A.D 1972

(1972) ****


Dracula '72 was Hammer's 2nd to last attempt at ushering the thoroughly mined vampire movie into the modern age. Though I haven't seen all of the Christopher Lee Dracula movies, I can say with confidence that you won't find a more entertaining one than this.   Hammer purists would likely disagree with me as it's not their standard period-piece sleeping pill but then… most Hammer purists are extremely old and their opinions = no longer valid.

The opening sequence is a flashback from the previous film Tasting the Blood of Dracula.  Drac and Van Helsing (obviously Peter Cushing) are in the midst of a fight to the death on a stagecoach. As we all know, these two can't stand each other. Van Helsing gets the upper hand and Drac is disposed of by a wooden spoke in the heart, never to be heard from again.  At least not for another half hour.  

For the next 15 minutes, the viewer gets to groove along with a bunch of partying hippies who haven't yet been told that the 60's ended.  While a live band gets down and funky, we're introduced to some British hipsters that deliver dialogue that I could never say with a straight face, such as "don't get your knickers in a twist, it was just a gag, man!"   We meet the lovely Jessica Van Helsing as well as Johnny Alucard, the cooler-than-cool ringleader.  Johnny is the kind of guy you'd see today at an Interpol concert - standing in the back, arms folded, looking detached. He convinces his herd to take part in an unholy ceremony with the sole intention of bringing Dracula back to life.   Why not, it'll be a gas!  With all the requirements for a successful satanic ritual in place (a castle, cloaks, candles, goblets, fog, weird powder and most importantly - bloodletting), the ceremony commences.   Johnny's black magic is a raging success and Christopher Lee awakens from the grave. When the proud Johnny Alucard proclaims "I summoned you!", Lee immediately dismisses him with "It was MY will." He then officially announces his rebirth by feeding on a fair young lass, killing her.*

Van Helsing's grandson (also played by Cushing) learns that his daughter Jessica was privy to the murder and takes it upon himself to track down Dracula... again.

Dracula '72 boasts impressive sets, funny characters and a final showdown that delivers. While the battle itself is somehwhat underwhelming, the look in Lee & Cushing's eyes when the last dance begins is more potent than anything Freddy & Jason could do to each other.

Appendix: Van Helsing solves the riddle of Johnny Alucard's true nature using this spectacular formula:



*Dracula kills his victims when he bites them. But then Johnny is "given the power" of the vampire when he's bitten so who the hell knows how this thing really works.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Memorial Day

(1999) *


It's not easy wielding a 5-star or a 1-star. Those are spectacular ratings. I don't want to feel as though I'm cheapening them by applying them to an undeserving film. I've given four films a 5 star rating. Nobody is going to have a problem with my issuing 5 stars to the Shining or Wicker Man (except, as previously discussed, my mom). The other 5 star ratings were to TCM:B and the Dawn of the Dead remake -- whether they are deserving of 5 stars apiece is debatable. The other guys gave them between 4 and 5 stars, so I felt like I was stepping out on a limb, but not very far.

I haven't given a single 1 star rating this year until now. Leprechaun 3 and My Bloody Valentine came close, but I could come up with at least a small handful of feeble excuses for why they're better than this movie. Leprechaun 3's only saving grace was that it was a Leprechaun movie and had other installments to give it some cred, but at least I chuckled once or twice watching it. For this one all I could do was roll my eyes and consider all of the things I could have better spent 1:21 of my life doing. For instance, I could have been devising a more efficient method for grating cheese, or I could have rearranged my sock drawer, or I could have, I dunno, watched a better horror movie. We're coming down to the wire here. I felt cheated to spend any time on this dreck.

This movie put itself south of the Mendoza Line in the first 30 seconds: Make out scene featuring excessive kissing and eating noises (there was fruit involved) between two not very attractive teens. My geiger counter kicked up momentarily when the girl takes her shirt off, but the goodwill in my heart wrought by her just-OK boobs was obliterated during the credit sequence which featured a really, really lame punk song.

I've already accorded this movie far more words than it deserves, so it gets nothing but phrases from here on out. Lousy music throughout; boring, unlikeable characters; overuse of the word "bra" as in, "yo, what's up bra"; terrible acting with completely misplaced emotion from every single performer; almost home-video level video quality; meandering and unpunchy dialogue; uncreative gore with 99 cent special effects...

Ironic title; nothing memorable about this movie.

Creepshow

(1982) ***1/2


Creepshow is the definitive horror anthology and it was the first movie to cross my mind when I hatched the anthology idea. It's an homage to the old EC comic line, which featured Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Twenty years after I saw Creepshow for the first time, I still get a kick out of the comic book format (on a side note, when the film was adapted to comic book, Bernie Wrightson did the art. Wrightson also did the art for Swamp Thing which contains some of the richest scares in all of comics). And for those who apply the Thon measuring system specifically towards whether or not a movie is "scary," there are a number of good jolts and revolting moments here.

Father's Day

Father's Day years ago, a cranky old man with a horrific sweet tooth was brained with an ashtray by his daughter who'd had quite enough abuse. She visits his grave year after year on Father's Day to drink whiskey and curse her father's memory. Father comes back this year, moldy and shambling, and with a wicked hunger for cake. You know how when you want cake so bad, you forget all about your rotting face and tattered clothes and you just go on a rampage? Textbook case of that here.

The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill

Much as with the first chapter, this one demonstrates that you don't have to be deserving to have something awful happen to you. A meteor lands in the fields of an overall clad, shit-for-brains farmer, played completely off the wall by Stephen King, himself (who also wrote the entire screenplay. Plus, his son is featured in the bookend chapters as the child of a semi-abusive dad). Anyway, the meteor contains a radioactive juice that sprouts thick moss whenever it's combined with water.

This is still my favorite chapter in the movie. I found it even more chilling this time around when it occurred to me that the grass is less vegetation and more virus, dividing and spreading and unstoppable. Also, my apocalypse fears stoked by Dawn of the Dead, it dawned on me that one good rainstorm would send this grass-virus careening across the countryside and into heavily populated areas, and then to the ocean. This is about more than dim-witted Stephen King; this is a worldwide invasion just about to unfold.

Something to Tide You Over

Leslie Nielsen is truly chilling (I swear he is) as a murderous husband. He snookers Ted Danson into burying himself in the path of a rising tide after discovering that Danson has been boning his wife. The wife, a victim of the same fate, and Danson come back from the dead, waterlogged and draped in seaweed, and with sweet revenge on their hermit crab addled minds.

King wrote a short story called The Boogeyman, and he refers to the voice of the villain as "marshy" -- the voices of the sea monsters have that quality. Wet and squishy. As a child I heard that voice in my nightmares.

The Crate

The longest chapter in the film. A janitor at a New England college discovers a crate from an 1837 expedition under a basement stairwell. With the help of Professor Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver -- Marathon Man, Black Sunday), he opens it. Inside is a vicious, toothy beast which eats the janitor and then, later, one of the grad students. Driven beyond the bounds of sanity, Professor Stanley seeks the help of his friend Henry Northrup (the awesome Hal Holbrook). Henry sees this as a golden opportunity to rid himself of his obnoxious wife (Adrienne Barbeau).

They're Creeping Up On You

A cruel tycoon (EG Marshall) bullies his executives and everyone else in the vicinity from his sterilized, vacuum sealed New York apartment. He spots a cockroach skittering across his desk and sprays it to kingdom come. Within the hour though, that one cockroach turns into a massive infestation.

As with the Leslie Nielsen chapter and, to a lesser extent, the Adrienne Barbeau chapter, the villian gets his just desserts. I abhor cockroaches, even in small numbers. Seeing an entire room crawling with them, an army of tens of thousands, makes my stomach turn every time I see this movie.

There is talk of shooting a re-make to be released in 2008 -- It's up on IMDb, but there aren't really any details yet. Also, there's a Creepshow 3 out there somewhere. People on the IMDb message board claim to have seen it and the release date is listed as April 06, but it's also listed as "in production" and I've read elsewhere that it's slated for direct-to-dvd release sometime in 2007.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Return of the Living Dead 2

(1988) **



Years ago, a chemical company developed a biological weapon for the military known as Trioxin. Because it was so incredibly dangerous, experiments were ceased and the gas was buried. I'm not sure exactly what was in Trioxin but I suspect it's a whole lotta bullshit. A smug little boy and the two bullies harassing him stumble into a tank of the toxic gas. "I don't think you should be playing around with that!" pleads the boy who knows everything. "Shut up wimp. Finders keepers!" retorts the bully as I die a little inside. The gas is released into a graveyard, the dead crawl out of their graves and voila - you have another zombie flick. And a big old 80's zombie flick at that.

There are so many problems with ROTLD2 that I don't know where to begin. Physically, the zombies have more in common with the ghouls from Michael Jackson's Thriller video than those in any self-respecting zombie movie. Secondly, they don't really adhere to any consistent zombie laws. For example, a girl punches one zombie and his face melts. Ten minutes later a different zombie gets an axe to the head and he removes it himself, unfazed. These zombies are also capable of driving cars and talking, though their communication skills mainly consist of repeatedly shouting "BRAINS!!!"

The characters are all infuriating and the sense of humor is painfully outdated.

And then there's the boy. As everyone (save those in ROTLD2) knows, children have no place in zombie movies. This particular kid is of the condescending smartass ilk that all of the adults treat as an equal. What really kills me is how confident he is every step of the way. It's as if he knows he's a kid in a zombie movie who is sure make it out unscathed. Little punk... By my calculations, I reckon he's about 28 years old now, certainly old enough to be slapped hard in the face and glared at. Then I would point at him as if to say "you know why you're being slapped."

Despite all this, I paused the movie when using the facilities. After all, any swarm of zombies is better than no swarm of zombies.

Slither

(2006) **1/2


A meteorite lands in the woods of a small southern town. Here's the setup as brief as I can make it: Hot teacher in a classroom teaching students about Darwin -> teacher denies husband sex in bed -> husband runs around woods with girl he meets at a bar -> gets injected in stomach with bug from meteorite.

Bear with me - this movie is all over the board, making it difficult to summarize. The bug crawls to his brain and controls him. He then buys an awful lot of meat at the supermarket. Slimy worms shoot out of his stomach and enter the stomach of the girl from the bar. She becomes a giant blob that consumes the mass quantities of meat. As a blob, she mass produces slimy tongue-like offspring that crawl into other humans and become their hosts.

Still reading? Wow, thanks! The humans that are being controlled stumble around like zombies and continue to spread the species into every human they encounter. At this point, the original host has now evolved into a giant slug-man who controls the minds of all the offspring. It's up to the teacher, the mayor, and a cop to get to the bottom of everything before the aliens take over all of mankind...

Actually, that's not what they have to do at all. All they really need to do is get the hell out of town and call the National Guard. Surely one of them would have enough common sense to get the military involved, right? Ohhhhh, I see what's going on here, this movie isn't very good...

Slither sure is gross but when you combine gross with three parts stupid, you walk away feeling a little used. It also lacks focus. Are you zombies? Worms? Aliens? Jabba the Hutt? Pick something and stick to it.

Saw III

(2006) ****


Bedridden and knocking on death's door, thanks to an inoperable brain tumor, Jigsaw can't help but engage in his favorite hobby; teaching people lessons by forcing them to make treacherous decisions in dire predicaments. Apparently picking up where part II ended (I haven’t seen part 2 yet, I know, I know, shut up), SAW III begins nastily. A woman is dangling from a ceiling with a bear trap-like device wired to both sides of her ribcage. Time is limited and if she doesn’t free herself quickly the trap will be sprung and her ribcage will be separated like an oyster being opened by an obese man with the munchies. There is a key to her salvation, however, and it’s dangling right in front of her. The catch? It’s sitting at the bottom of a large jar of acid. All she has to do is reach in and grab it. What will she do? What will she do? And so begins another shocking and gripping installment of the brutal Saw franchise. This time Jeff, a father who has been unable to move past his son’s death by a drunk driver, is placed in a twisted, Jigsaw maze which requires Jeff to pass a series of increasingly gruesome tasks in order to be given his ultimate wish, access to the man who killed his son. Meanwhile Jigsaw is being kept alive by a brilliant, but troubled doctor he arranged to have kidnapped. Why is she willing to help him? Her motivation is easily explained. As a life insurance policy for Jigsaw, she is wearing a bullet-laden color around her neck which will fire off if he flatlines.

Wow, these SAW films are something else! Released exactly one year after SAW II, I am happy to report, despite my skepticism over such a quickly produced production, the SAW franchise is alive and doing quite well. I remember being disappointed in the original because there were not enough “puzzles” given the intriguing premise. SAW III more than makes up for that by having 2 predicament storylines occurring concurrently. With recent films such as The Hills Have Eyes remake, Hostel, Wolf Creek, and Texas Chainsaw: The Beginning, I continue to be amazed by what filmmakers are getting away with. The gore content is all of the films mentioned is quite high, and SAW III is no exception. Even my buddy Whirlygirl, who had thus far impressed me with her ironclad stomach, looked away while gratuitous brain surgery was being performed on Jigsaw (I must admit, it was pretty appalling). Another nifty aspect to these SAW films is the “twist” endings. SAW III not only makes you rethink the events of the first 2 films, but it also ends on a dire note, setting the stage for a SAW IV, if someone can get out of the corner that director Darren Lynn Bousman painted the franchise into.

Habit

(1997) ***


Sam's having a rough month. Just before Halloween, he receives word that his father has died. Then he and his live-in girlfriend break up, somewhat acrimoniously. He's boozing heavily and every day, his shoulders are hunching just a bit more than yesterday.

It's on the downswing of his pendulum that he meets Anna at a friend's Halloween party in the Village. He's smashed when he meets her, but sober enough to feel her electrifying stare reach out for him, down into a place he hasn't been reached in a very long time.

She keeps him on the edge of his seat, always appearing from out of nowhere. She indulges a gritty erotic side to him he may have forgotten he ever had. She'll tug on his zipper in public places, like a park at night or, most naughtily, in the meds room at a hospital. Eerily, the reason they were at the hospital to begin with was to drop off an 8 year old boy they'd carried there in a taxi after he'd been hit by a car. Sam can't even get it up until after she bites him on the forearm and begins sensually sucking at the wound.

This isn't an isolated (or first-time) incident. Every time Anna seduces Sam, she bites him, drawing blood. Sam's only mildly alarmed by this at first. The sensation, coupled with the best sex of his life, is so potent, he goes along for what seems, at first, just a markedly wild ride.

Gradually though, his discomfort begins to rise. He begins to suffer from spells of nausea. He's got more of a hunger for meat. A friend of his who also has a new girl in his life he's excited about begins to show up at work seeming more and more out of it, before he disappears completely one day.

Growing desperate, he summons his closest friend, Nick, who earnestly explains to him that his problem goes no farther than that he just had a bad break up and his dad just died. This soothes Sam, mildly, but the comfort lasts for only moments after Nick leaves, when Sam notices the body of his cat lying in the other room, its stomach ripped out and some of its entrails ground into the floor.

I wound up watching the first half of this movie twice. This turned out to be pretty fortunate. The first time I watched it, I was distracted by the lead male's resemblance to Dana Carvey with one of his front teeth knocked out, and by the lead female's resemblance to Ralph Macchio. Actually, she's got a little bit of Jami Gertz to her too, making her, essentially, the love child of the two kids from Crossroads.

The second time I watched it, I was feeling a bit more fair. These aren't glamorous people, after all. Sam's an erstwhile artist whose only job now is as the manager of a dingy pub. His life has been a series of disappointments and depressions. Against that, Ralph Macchio and her lust are a tonic.

As a person he's pitiful, and he's played with substance by Larry Fessenden -- also the director. Anna, despite her dismal aesthetics, is played with believable radiance by Meredith Snaider -- her only role so far. Her smile is warm and excited and her gaze is direct and sincere. Sam melts when he's with her and if you're not distracted by her schnozz, you can't miss why.

It's not a scary film. Actually, it's a pretty quiet film. Very little soundtrack, except for when there's blood on the floor. If it weren't for all the vampirism, it'd play exactly like an indie film about a break-up. Not a Jarmusch, by any means, but certainly watchable and engaging.

Of course, it'd have been way better without all those flannel-philosophical discussions about the media vacuum and bankrupt social morality --- (yawn) Get a job.

Also notable as the first horror film I've seen this year that spans two holidays -- Halloween and Thanksgiving. There's some surplus holiday afoot here. So whatever reservations I had about according Holiday Horror status to Boogeyman have been nullified. Yessss!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tormented

(1960) ***


Poor Tom Stewart, he’s not such a bad guy, really. All he wants to do is marry a twenty-something chippy and live happily ever after. While preparing for his upcoming nuptials in a Martha’s Vineyard-type island community Tom’s future is jeopardized when an ex-girlfriend, Vi, shows up demanding that he call off his wedding plans and get back together with her. Although unclear, Vi seems to have the goods on Tom and threatens to expose some secret about him if he doesn’t take her back, which would destroy his professional jazz piano career. While arguing at the top of a lighthouse, Vi slips and finds herself dangling. In a moment of poor judgment, Tom sees the solution to his problem and allows Vi to plummet to her death (I would’ve done the same thing, she was annoying). The next day Tom finds her body floating in the ocean. After bringing her to shore he watches in horror as her corpse transforms into a pile of seaweed (??!). Tom gets over this strange anomaly quickly and resumes his wedding planning. However Vi is not done with poor Tom. In true Samara-like fashion, Vi’s vengeful ghost starts causing problems for him. Her dismembered hand crawls around his floor, her babbling head taunts him as it floats around his room, and her visage appears in photographs that are taken of him. All the while she says ghostly things like, “I’ll neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever let you get marrrrrrrrrrrrrrrried, Tom” Adding to Tom’s problems the local ferryman figures out that Tom has something to do with Vi’s disappearance and sees this as an opportunity to make some fast scratch. Luckily for Tom a quick blow to the head with a pipe takes care of this little problem. Unfortunately his fiance’s 8-year old sister witnessed this murder. Will Tom ice her? Will Tom be able to marry his fiancée and live happily ever after or will Vi’s haunting drive him to madness?

All Tom wants to do is marry his twenty-something girlfriend, is he really such a bad guy?


Vi harasses Tom, ghost style…

…and starts ruining photographs by inserting her big, ghostly head.


This jerk starts blackmailing our (hero?)

I really liked this stupid movie. Rather than being scary, the vengeful ghost was just a colossal pain in the ass. Imagine breaking up with someone and then having her nagging head floating around your home. Ultimately she doesn’t really do anything “vengeful”, unless you consider being annoying vengeful. This movie made my $20-for-50-movies worth the price. Yum.

Martin


(1976) ***

This odd little George Romero offering has fun never fully answering the question of whether the title character's a vampire or not. We first see our whisper-thin protagonist on a train, where he sneaks into a woman's compartment and shoots her up with sedatives. While her panic slowly turns to unconsciousness, Martin barely manages to control her struggles and earnestly tells her it's okay, she's just going to fall asleep. Once she does, he gets both of them naked and poses her arms around him for a bit, then cuts a much-longer-than-it-needs-to-be slash down her forearm and starts drinking.

Clearly, from this, we're dealing with some lonely nut who has to drug women senseless before engaging in any kind of sexual contact, and he also has delusions that he's a vampire. Or so you think.

When Martin exits the train he's greeted by an East European version of Colonel Sanders who's named Tata Cuda. Almost wordlessly, he guides Martin to his home, in which he suddenly turns with a baleful glare and utters "Nosferatuuuu." If Martin's crazy, then so is his extended family, for as cousin Cuda tells us, Martin is simply a relative afflicted by the family curse.

Shrink: Your father's been thinking he's a chicken for ten years? Why didn't you come to me sooner?

Son: We needed the eggs.

The bulk of this movie is a character sketch of Martin as he settles into his new life in a crappy Pittsburgh suburb. This take on the vamire legend is the opposite of most that you've seen, since it turns out being an immortal bloodsucker doesn't necessarily result in an accumulation of power and money. Instead Martin lives a drifter's life, passed around between distant family members and growing ever more cut off from the world around him.

In terms of abject horror this movie scores pretty low. The most chilling scene unfolds when one of Martin's victims turns out to have an unexpected man in the house; he's a much bigger guy, and considering Martin's slightness you might expect him to forget the whole thing. Instead we see how his years of experience enable him to calmly improvise a deft solution to the problem.

Beyond that, there's just something bleak and appealing about this movie. Martin's combination of childlike honesty, quiet intensity and general spaciness make up a pretty layered performance, and the end result is quite charming. All this in a context of 70's guerilla flimmaking that has its own special vintage -- look, it's a young, moustache-free Tom Savini! Need I say more?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dawn of the Dead

(2004) *****


I was so completely unenthused about the remake of Night of the Living Dead that when this one came out, I entered the theater expecting to be completely underwhelmed and more anxiously anticipating whatever else I was going to do that night than I was the movie.

10 minutes in, I was riveted.

It bears only passing resemblance to the movie on which it is based, mostly due to its identical setting. The tone is completely different and once you accept that and let the new Dawn be what it is without comparing it to the standard of the original it will, in fact, rock your face off. Look at me. Look at my face. It's gone. I have no face. This movie fucking rocked it off.

Octo and I shared the sentiment recently that the worst terror is terror in the daylight. I saw the blue sky and the high sheet of clouds peering over the Hewitt murders in TCM:B and marveled how out of place such suffering seemed on such a gorgeous day.

Minutes after we first get dropped in the middle of the storm, there's a wide aerial shot of the city, the air pulsing with the sound of a thousand car alarms, explosions billowing every 20 blocks or so. And all I could think of was a thousand gravitational centers of calamity --- a thousand spots where the violence flared up so heavily, it had become a beacon, drawing in even more violence from the fringes. To paraphrase Alan Moore, "everything bad within 1 mile suddenly found itself heading towards that colossal explosion without knowing why."

Living Dead Girl

(1982) zero stars


Two grave robbers get the surprise of their lifetime when, while robbing the grave of “beautiful” (debatable) Catherine, an earthquake (or something) causes a chemical spill, which fills Catherine’s coffin with toxic ooze and brings her back to life. She immediately kills the robbers and we see copious amounts of blood Sam Peckinpah style. Despite being part of the living dead, Catherine manages to call her best buddy, Helene, who is still mourning Catherine’s death. Unfazed by Catherine’s new living dead status, Helene is immediately on board and has no problem providing her with victims (fresh blood) to keep Catherine alive (would my friends do this for me? hell no. jerks). Yep, that’s about it.

Helene being a pal.

No I’m not a pervert, these stills pretty much capture the essence of this terrible movie. Catherine is pretty much naked the entire time and any other female in the movie pretty much gets naked too. I read a bunch of reviews about this film before ever acquiring it and boy were they all misleading. Film descriptions make it sound like this is some lost Picasso. Here’s an example from a DVD review,

“Encore Films continues to show the oft forgotten director much love with their exceptionally well put together release of (what can only be described as) the director's most accessible work, Living Dead Girl. Ultra gory, but still as respectable and lyrical as his other efforts, Living Dead Girl is a great starting point for an introduction to Rollin's wealth or work.”

Make no mistake, Living Dead Girl is a story that could be told in 5 minutes but is padded for 90 (it felt like 600). There are many long, lingering scenes where nothing much happens at all (e.g., 5 minutes of Catherine just walking). “But she’s naked, with full frontal nudity!” you all cry. Let me tell you, the nude novelty wears off mighty fast. After a few minutes I found myself yelling at Catherine to, “Put some goddamn clothes on!” Terrible acting, poor production values, a glacially paced story, and bad music make this a complete and utter waste of celluloid.

The Bringers of Wonder

(1976) ****

Okay, here we go with another HORRORTHON entry: "The Bringers of Wonder", a two part episode of Space: 1999. Not suitable for Horrothon, you say? Nonsense! This is two hours of pure fear! Take it from me. (If it were merely an ordinary single episode of Space: 1999, of course, I wouldn't dream of besmirching Horrorthon with such feeble, sub-par material. It's the story's deserved expansion to a full two hours of syndicated British television that makes all the difference, "doubling" the fear if you will).

By the way I am going to LOSE Horrorthon; let there be no doubt about that. If the four of you are The Partridge Family, I'm Reuben. We all knew this already; no need dwelling on my "irrelevant court jester" status. I accept my lot in life.

On Moonbase Alpha, two unrelated events herald the TWO HOURS OF PURE FEAR I mentioned above. The first is that Commander John Koenig goes nuts and crashes his Eagle spacecraft near the nuclear waste dumps. If the preceding sentence doesn't make any sense to you, suffice it to say that "The Bringers of Wonder" is a story set within the fictional context of "Space: 1999," or rather, within the single most absurd set of premises ever foisted upon the television viewing public in the history of the medium, and that includes My Favorite Martian, CopRock and The West Wing. All you need to know is that it's essentially Lost in Space except instead of a spacecraft they're using the entire mass of the Earth's moon to travel around, and instead of loveable kids there's an angry Australian and an angry Italian and a woman who can turn into a dizzying array of stunt men in rubber monster suits (more on this below). Koenig's daylight madness causes him to barely miss the domes of the nuclear waste dump (where, two harrowing hours later, the story will end) and crash into the unforgiving lunar terrain, whereupon the spacecraft erupts into flames. (I just realized that the beginning of "The Bringers of Wonder" must have been the source for a plot point that I stole much later on, for a story of my own.) Koenig's mysterious "crazy flying" behavior in the opening is never explained (which, somehow, succeeds in making the entire story that much more eerie; at least, that's my opinion).

Putting Maya into the wall
(note 220-volt "European" electrical outlets, requiring extra adapters for electric shavers, etc.)

The episode (*cough* *cough* sorry, "horror movie" *cough*) now abruptly slackens into an extremely slow-moving pace that will be maintained with almost 100% consistency throughout the story. First, Koenig is rescued, hospitalized, diagnosed, and treated, over the course of several days, during which he remains comatose. All of this occurs under the aegis of Moonbase Alpha's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Helena Russell, M.D., Ph.D, a character portrayed by the most dreadful actress ever to step before the cameras or audience in any medium ever including industrial training films and voice-overs for technical school television ads. That's right, Koenig has been moved to a couch to be ministered over by the one and only Barbara Bain, with her hair bleached nearly white (while Catherine Schell's naturally blond hair is dyed a nauseating red, which, along with Schell's Cruella deVille makeup, serves to appease the unfire-able Ms. Bain, then-husband to actual actor Martin Landau). I think I'd chose the monsters over that. (Later in the story, Koenig is actually bound into his medical couch with straps, while Dr. Russell continues to hover over him, serenely holding out medical apparatus in front of herself or vaguely peering at the intruments on the wall. Did I mention two hours of pure fear?)

Koening has too much "A"

Koenig's medical dillemae keep him out of action for thirty-five minutes of screen time -- which is all it takes for Moonbase Alpha to plunge into the most dangerous impending catastophe they'll ever face, in all forty-eight episodes (or, forty-seven, if you take into account that "The Bringers of Wonder" is really just a two-part story and not two separate episodes). When Koening regains consciousness, he awakens to a nightmare so severe that it has him very upset indeed; not to mention the added problem of being the only person on Moonbase Alpha who has the slightest idea that anything's wrong.

But what's the problem, exactly, you ask? In a word:

MONSTERS.

"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you"
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)

That's right. Never mind obscure waste products of nuclear fusion (see: difficulties involved in storing such safely); aliens who quickly misunderstand the humans' intentions for demonstrable reasons; delicate translation problems with life forms too strange in their essential nature for us to communicate with them; beings or entities interested in seducing the Alphans to their own way of life, which would be limiting in some way; mutinous Alphans selling out the moonbase's precious resources for their own enrichment; dangerous astronomical phenomenae; erosion of the moonbase infrastructure; social or technical problems within the base itself. In fact, never mind any of the countless interesting and/or dangerous things that could happen to a 20th century human moonbase propelled through the distant reaches of our galaxy.

The monsters have a meeting

No, this is just monsters, straight up. They're...well...monsters. They sort of stand there. Then they shuffle around. They never make any noise or move quickly or change the direction in which they're facing, and they don't really have any limbs with which to menace a potential victim. What makes them so dangerous? MIND CONTROL.

A monster influences Tony's mind so that he sees and hears Frankie Valli

These monsters posssess the amazing ability to cut the actual film of the episode itself, so that the story's action keeps moving over to an altogether different sequence with the same actors miming the same actions. In other words, the Alphans think they're doing something else, and we get to see that, as well as what they're actually doing (or, being fooled into doing), intercut together with devilish irony. The whole thing, as I keep saying, is really very unsettling; I mentioned something about TWO HOURS OF PURE FEAR above, and the aliens' disquieting power to subject their victims to frantic cross-cutting is certainly the driving force behind that fear.

The monsters' plan is to make the Alphans blow up the nuclear waste dump on the far side of the moon, to feed off its energy. (There are a great many things wrong with this plan, starting from the concept that the explosion would tend to vaporize the monsters themselves, and ending with the minor matter of the nuclear waste dumps already having been blown up in the Series Premiere; this inconsistency is not addressed.)

Koenig is powerless to stop the monsters from shuffling towards him

The monsters shamble around and, physically, are in no way threatening. The cast works very hard to convince the viewer that they are somehow repulsive, terrifying, etc. but I actually think they're kind of cute. ("Elmo" cute, not "Cameron Diaz" cute, obviously.) As has been pointed out by many, these are sort of like "Sid and Marty Kroft" monsters. I could do without the fluids pumping through all those plastic tubes, but I imagine that one gets used to that. I also can't imagine how the monsters sleep since they can't close their eye and can't really lie down. No, it's the monsters' terrifying mind power that puts the tension across; I suppose the contrasts have a certain Ambrose Bierce irony to them, if you will; that is, Koenig himself appears as the monster in Alan Carter's perfervid, alien-planted fantasy of driving around -- they can't see who he really is, but they're as repulsed by Koenig as Koenig himself, earlier, was repulsed by the actual monsters.

Koenig tries to warn Alan Carter, but Carter erroneously "sees" him as a character from one of Octopunk's movies

Is it good sci-fi? I don't actually know the answer to that question. I am too blinded by my own ridiculous childhood memories of how this thing was, somehow, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dracula and The Wizard of Oz combined. Such is the mind of a nine-year-old with a black-and-white TV.

In Kubrickville, the monsters are reduced to the fabric of dreams themselves

Is it horror? Gentlemen, I submit to you that it is, in fact, nothing less than the ultimate horror. The absolute nihilism of the slimy monsters chills me to the very bone; as I think Hannah Arendt remarked in her treatise The Banality of Evil, "to expect recognizable purpose from evil is to misundertand its nature" or some such. (Actually, okay: I made that quote up, you caught me. But I didn't make up the title! That's real Arendt, damn it!) Staggering towards Kubrickville, those walking intestines with sawed-apart whiffle-ball eyes are relentless even when their power is gone -- the base simplicity of their dark crusade has one reeling at the cold, inhuman disregard of all other life in the face of such unslakable thirst for "power." Such uncaring, murderous brutality from those whose abilities are so wondrous! They have the sophistication to synthesize convincing total illusions of unyielding persuaive power; of creating and flying vast starships across vast interstellar distances; all to stagger around amid their lemming-like prey; the sustenance of the nuclear explosions cannot silence the voices of the damned (in this case, the victims, as the Alphans came perilously close to becoming themselves!) Gentlemen, I give you "The Bringers of Wonder (Parts 1 & 2)" -- A nuclear nightmare indeed. Can we really know where we're going as we harness the power of the atom—with no regard for the dire consequences that await? What about OUR "illusions?"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My Bloody Valentine

(1981) *1/2

Gosh, what an excellent title for such a superfluous movie. Utterly lacking in suspense, good scriptwork, professional-level acting, and good hair, My Bloody Valentine has managed to tie itself for last place on my scoresheet with Leprechaun 3. That's right folks: this movie actually has the dubious distinction of having at least three Leprechaun movies be better than it.

The small mining town of Valentine's Bluff once played host to an annual Valentine's Day dance dating back over 100 years. They haven't had one in twenty years. Last time there was a Valentine's Dance, a maniac killer named Harry Warden ran amok and killed several citizens. Harry had been a worker in the mine, but was part of a closing crew that was carelessly left behind by the two safety men who wanted to get to the Dance earlier. The crew met with a horrific accident, of which Harry Warden was the only survivor. All frakakt because of the accident, he killed the two safety men with a pickaxe.

So twenty years later, the town is holding its first Valentine's Dance since the murders went down and the violence is starting back up again. A series of chocolate heart boxes are found containing freshly cut human hearts. Included with the hearts are Valentine cards containing threats of more violence if the festivities aren't halted.

There's an anxious mayor and sherriff, played lamely by two regional theater veterans, who were around for the first murders and freeze at Harry's very mention. They decide to call off the dance when the chief organizer is found dead in her own laundromat. The killer had stuffed her in one of the dryers and she came out all melted and toasty -- it was pretty sweet.

Anyway, the rambunctious young miners and their frumpy, flannel wearing girlfriends, unaware of the heart-grams being delivered, decide to throw a party anyway. And several of them get mangled -- one gets his face stuffed into a pot full of boiling hot dogs and there are all sorts of pickaxe mishaps. The actual character of Harry Warden sports a reasonably sinister look, all helmeted and gas masked.

The movie contains a surprise ending which was somewhat audacious considering how utterly underwhelming the movie that preceded had turned out to be. The very last 20 seconds or so feature the villain slinking off into the recesses of the cave howling continued vengance and other assorted insane snorfely noises, which was probably the only part of the movie I liked, mostly because it meant that the movie was over and I didn't have to watch it anymore.

But dude, what a kickass name!

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

(1962) ***


Mad scientist Dr. Bill Cortner has been hard at work developing drugs designed to prevent tissue rejection during limb transplants. His unethical methods have yielded messy results, including a growling creature heard but not seen behind a locked door in the laboratory. While speeding down winding roads with his fiancée, Jan, one day, he crashes his car. Bill is fine but Jan is decapitated. A funeral is held and everyone is sad. Just kidding. Bill takes Jan’s head back to his laboratory and in true Herbert West style keeps her alive on a tray (this is actually pretty gross for 1962 standards) with the intention of finding a hot girl to murder so he can attach Jan’s head to the body. Jan is actually opposed to this plan and spends her time being pissed at Bill while formulating an escape plan with the creature behind the door. Meanwhile Bill finds his body donor, convinces her to come back to his place, and drugs her.

Then some bad stuff happens.

Wow, what a gem of a find! The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is great, stupid fun. This is classic “mad scientist” stuff. The fx are decent and overall the film is fairly graphic. It’s obvious that elements of Re-Animator were taken from this film including Herbert West’s sour mad scientist. This is the first film from my 50-Chiller-Movies pack that was worthy of the $20 purchase. So bad it’s wonderful.

The creature behind the door is finally revealed.



Don't take my word for it, watch a clip:
The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Ringu


(1998) ***1/2

I've only seen this once before, and compared it unfavorably to the American remake when I reviewed The Ring in 2004. Maybe I should try to review this as its own movie and not compare it to the remake, but I can't. Mostly because the Ring is SO MUCH BETTER.

Okay, I'll go through the laundry list and then maybe I can give Ringu some respect.

-- The corpses Samara leaves behind in their wake are horribly decayed, while the Ringu victims look more like the Joker got them.



-- The videotape is too short. What a ripoff getting killed for watching that.

-- I spend a lot of time griping about Ringu's Sea Goblin allusions in my other review, and it wasn't quite as silly as I'd remembered. This despite the line "Frolic in brine, goblins be thine." Sadako's mother is described as obsessed with the sea, and it's conjectured that the father might not have been human. That worked okay. But Ryuji has a vision of a press conference where Sadako stopped a man's heart from across the room. "She can kill someone just by wishing it?" he says. This setup for the final scene is completely unnecessary. It's like one of those narration blocks in the corner of an X-men panel that describes Wolverine's healing power again. The mystery is demystified before it even forms.

-- The cursed people don't experience the constant visions of their encroaching doom. In the remake, Samara's ill will is burning relentlessly into your brain all week, rising to that horrible crescendo. The feeling of dread is so absent here, I wasn't sure why Reiko even believed in the tape's lethal power.

-- No feeling of dread! The Ring is just dripping spooky malaise out of every pore. Ringu is a well-acted, pretty tight story, but sometimes it feels like a drama, sometimes it feels like a mystery thriller. The first few Asian horror movies I ever saw -- Ju-on, The Eye, Pulse, even Korei (Seance) -- all pack a scarier punch than this does.

-- Not enough Sadako. We see her kill that one reporter and then her dad clocks her on the head and down the well she goes. Never do we meet those who knew her and shudder at the memory. There are no "things she shows you." Even her father's hatred is never fleshed out.

In its defense, Ringu is an excellent story told in a lean, straightforward fashion. The Japanese tendency to accept certain psychic/spiritual beliefs is worked in well (although on this side of the pond I think The Ring takes strength from lacking any sort of accepted explanation for what's going on). The signature sound of the videotape is effectively creepy music from a spectral string section -- hearing just that when the death phonecall came was pretty cool.

And tiny shorts!

Most of all, Ringu is the origin of creepy little girls with long black hair and videotapes that kill you. Arigato, Ringu.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Boogeyman


(2005) ***

Young Timmy is awake at night in the dark. Objects in his room take on momentary life and then the light comes on, revealing, for example, a hooded villain sitting on his chair to be a robe Timmy has lain out earlier in the evening. The lights go out and the room comes alive once again. Hearing commotion from Timmy's room, Timmy's dad comes into the room, with reassuring words about old wives tales and empty closets. But the room snaps into momentary shadow and in the dark Timmy's dad is yanked into the closet and is never seen again.

15 years later, adult Timmy has buried the memory deep in his mind and has accepted everyone's explanation that his dad ran away. He now works for a college paper and, while spending Thanksgiving with his girlfriend's family (see? it's a holiday horror film!) he receives word that his mother has just died. He goes home for the funeral and to confront some of those awful memories with a night in his old home, only to discover that the Boogeyman isn't through with him.

I'm noticing a pretty clear hierarchy to scares in horror movies. The Leprechaun is pretty much on the lowest rung -- he presents a clear threat, but until he's got you cornered and is completely mangling you, he's more irritating than he is scary. On the next rung up, we find creatures that present a clear threat and are intimidating for any number of reasons, but that remain an organic threat, something you can think around if you understand it. I can't think of a movie example, maybe one of you will, but the thing that comes to mind is a tiger. Obviously scary, but with some thought and luck, you can overcome it. Next rung up are the inorganic beings. These are characters that present a such a formidable and unstoppable threat, they cut right to your terror centers. Jason and Michael Myers belong to this category.

Above that exists characters like Freddy Krueger and the Boogeyman. Not only do they present a threat, they are in control of fear in its purest form. They come at you from all directions and the direction from which you are least prepared to deal with them is exactly the side from which they take you down. Think of Tim Curry in It, "I am every nightmare you ever had. I am your worst dream come true. I'm everything you ever were afraid of."

Is the film Boogeyman successful in capturing that feeling? Yes and no.

One of the things I liked best about the movie's approach is that it leaves little nuggets of fear pretty much everywhere you look. Characters don't so much enter certain shots as they emerge like phantoms from the backgrounds. Also, everywhere Timmy goes, people seem to be watching him. It's shot in that same moody grey as in the Ring. If we're calling the film effect in the TCM movies "squalor," I'd call this color scheme "gloom." The dread of the first hour is pretty thick.

The movie loses its momentum when it tries to step out of its dread. Eventually we get to see the boogeyman and it's a disappointment -- its look reminded me of the virtual dude in the Lawnmower man. Also the movie plays around with dimensions: doors open in one building and lead into others miles away, characters leap in and out of the sequence of time. It gets a little bewildering and in doing so, sacrifices that dread which should be the most powerful weapon in its arsenal. For what is the boogeyman but unlimited fear; the moment it assumes a face, that fear has limits, if not so much for the characters who are in the room with that dread and can feel how far it reaches, then at least for us as we can only see it and hear it, not sense it.

The movie's strongest moments are when it's exploring the fears of the people who see the Boogeyman. I particularly liked a side-story about a father who loses a daughter to the Boogeyman and then straps himself to a chair at the Boogeyman's doorway so that he'd have no choice but to confront him. He doesn't make it. The fear is too massive.

Solid effort, watchable, but it won't blow your mind.

The Hills Have Eyes


(2006) ****

Okay, this is my last mad hillbilly movie. I'm putting the rest off till next year, but I didn't want to wait for this one. Everything I'd heard about this when it came out sounded good, and Summerisle's and JPX's reviews clinched it. It did not disappoint.

Unlike those two amateurs, I actually saw the original, and the new one follows the old one's plot pretty closely. In both, the conflict happens in two rounds, with the Hill Folk overwhelmingly winning round one. And in both, round two is a story of family vs. family, and nothing gets more primal than that. And speaking of primal, these cannibals make the Hewitts look like Julia freakin' Child.

The reinvention of the Hill Folk as Radioactive Hill Folk is a fantastic choice, and it's played to the hilt. There are great places to visit, like the atomic test village full of mannequins or the bomb crater where all the cars get dumped (one character juuust misses seeing the bloody handprints on the other side of a Volvo while he's junk-shopping). And the makeup on these freaks is A-plus stuff. My favorite was the big angry rutabaga head guy, with the head brace like Myron Stackpool's.


Much like Alexandre Aja's High Tension, the violence in this story is artful while brutally matter-of-fact. And while there is plenty of pain doled out in Hills, I feel this is a notch above much of the torture-based cringing that's been on tap lately. I've also been inspired to add a new "best" to our "best of" wrap-up, and that's Best Victim Turned Badass.

Also notable: the desert setting seemed downright exotic after all those Texas fields. I loved that the good guys not only had a sacrificial dog for an offscreen death yelp, they also had a killer revenge dog. And never, ever dispatch a foe and then drop your gun on the ground and turn your back on the "corpse." C'mon, Alexandre, you sick Frenchman, you know better than that.

So remember, if you're driving on a lonely road in the middle of wide, lawless country, it's always a good idea to pack an extra car.

Silent Night, Bloody Night



(1964) **3/4

Not to be confused with Silent Night, Deadly Night, the 1984 movie about an axe-wielding Santa.

The Butler house has lain empty for years after the burning death of Wilfred Butler, the head of the household. A city lawyer shows up representing Jeffrey Butler, the sole remaining heir to the Butler estate to sell the property back to the town. The elders are eager to pay -- to a person, the four person council is pretty creeped out by the house. We learn that there is more spooking them than that a guy died there once.

The lawyer and his slinky European chippy spend the night at the Butler mansion, but are slaughtered with an axe before morning. One by one, the elders are lured to the Butler house by phone calls from a liquid, whispering voice claiming to be that of Wilfred's daughter, Marianne.

Little is known or spoken about the Butler family. Could it in fact be Marianne? Well, no, voice sounds a little too mannish. Perhaps it's Marianne's son Jeffrey, recently returned to town from California. Or maybe it's that unidentified inmate who just escaped from the local asylum. Gosh. What intrigue.

The gore is delightful in this. The axe murdering death has some nice butchery going down. There's a pretty great posse murder scene featured somewhere in there, which itself features a nasty eye gouge with a wine glass.

The problem is that everything between the gore is pretty dull. It's got elements of a mystery and a pretty good central history, but there's no sense of revelation or panic anywhere. The explanation of what's going on comes wholesale in narrations of newspaper quotes. That's not really a mystery. That's more like a riddle.

Nice performances and decent campfire story feel but, eh, you could skip it.

The Creeping Flesh

(1973) **1/2



There are two mostly separate stories going on here, both of which inch along at a snail's pace due to Hammer Film's typically long-winded storytelling methods.   Peter Cushing plays an archaeologist who returns from New Guinea with a rare skeleton.  His research leads him to the (ridiculous) theory that 'evil' is a disease and it has been passed on from his dead wife to his wacky daughter. He concludes that the skeleton he recovered is a pure form of this evil but could be used to inoculate his daughter before she goes off the deep end.  And then what happens is -1:14:33 followed shortly thereafter by -1:11:44.   And who could forget -1:07:25?  Ahem, sorry. I've developed a bad Horrorthon habit of staring at the time-remaining-display on my DVD player when watching movies I'm not that into.  

Luckily Christopher Lee is his half brother who runs an insane asylum.  When Lee discovers the bit about the pure evil, he has no choice but to get his hands on that skeleton for his own twisted agenda - experimenting on the nutters that he's supposed to be caring for. But what of the professional ethics involved in stealing?  "Oh indeed, indeed" he says reassuringly, "that is why I shall have to employ someone for whom ethics have no significance!"   Is there anything better than Christopher Lee being a bastard?  And can't he and Cushing ever get along?  Most of Cushing's life on earth was spent defending the world against Lee's diabolical schemes. 

The first hour drags on like an insurance seminar.   But if you can make it to the last half hour, your reward is a classic spooker with appallingly bad effects, even for its time. The skeleton grows flesh when it comes into contact with water and eventually grows into this totally scary monster:  



And if you're a fan of stage coach chases, you will not be disappointed with this one. "Hee-yaah!"   

The Hole

(2001) ***1/2


Four spoiled, entitled, prep school kids decide to throw the party of the millennium in an old, sealed World War II bunker hidden on school grounds. As is usually the case with such plans, especially if the plans are made in the context of a horror movie, things go horribly awry and as the film opens we see Thora Birch, sporting a forehead large enough to play racquetball on, stumbling down the corridors of her school bloody and battered.

After given much-needed medical attention, Birch meets with the school shrink and begins to spin a tale of innocent high jinx (e.g., playing flashlight tag), giving way to abject terror. Birch’s account of what happened, told in flashbacks, suggests that her best friend, Martin, who aided in the engineering of the event, locked the quartet in the bunker because he was jealous over Birch’s crush on one of the jocks at the party. Eventually Martin came to his senses and let them all out. Wait, what? As the shrink tells one of her colleagues in a phone call, Birch is clearly delusional/traumatized and is repressing the true events of the tragedy, which ended in death for her 3 friends. As the truth about what really occurred in the bunker emerges, again told in flashbacks, we question everything we learned about Birch during the first half of the movie. Is she as innocent as we initially believe or is there some sociopathy fueling her motives?

I picked this film up at a collectible show a few years ago and was instantly riveted (apparently The Hole was shelved and never released theatrically although it finally went direct-to-video recently). I love films that tell the same story from 2 different perspectives (e.g., Audrey Tautou’s “À la folie... pas du tout (2002)”) and this one delivers. All performances are terrific, especially Birch’s, whose role required some fairly complicated psychological nuances. Director Nick Hamm achieves an eerie claustrophobic feel to the bunker by slowly turning down the lights over the course of the film as things go from fun to terrifying. The true events of what happened in the bunker are greatly disturbing and surprising.

The Hole is notable for one other reason. Keira Knightley of Pirates of the Caribbean fame briefly goes topless. Don’t believe me?


Why not watch the trailer?
the hole

Silent Hill


(2006) ****

Rose's adopted daughter Sharon is a problem sleepwalker (skirting cliffs and such) and suffers nightmares in which she calls out the name Silent Hill. So Rose takes her to the real Silent Hill, a West Virginia ghost town deserted for thirty years after a still-burning coal mine fire poisoned the air. Chased by a suspicious biker cop down a dark highway, Rose avoids a little girl in the road and wipes out. When she wakes up, she's in a grey twilight world, with a constant rain of ash, and her daughter is nowhere to be seen.

This movie is a masterpiece of mood and setting. The main character, really, is Silent Hill itself, and its nightmarish details are laid out with exquisite attention. Rose and Cybil, the cop, find themselves trapped in the ash world, and together they seek out Sharon and the truth. The landscape is stylishly decayed, but not the same squalor I've been describing in other movies; this is like squalor without the moisture, its own unique thing. Periodically the ash world is overcome by a darker evil, heralded by the judgement-horn tones of the air raid sirens. When that happens the dried paint and ash peel upwards, the hellish landscape worsening with a sharper coating of rust. When the Darkness comes, the truly lethal monsters stalk Silent Hill.

It's a wonderful realization of this scary, fictional world, and the feeling of being somewhere entirely else is complete. It's a creative hell, not quite riding the Christian framework, which reminded me of comic book writer Grant Morrison's vision of a closer-to-home, modern theology. And I'm a sucker for the move where a signal goes off and suddenly the whole world transforms into something worse. The only other example I can think of is the Tales from the Dark Side episode called The Last Car, depicting a train car you can never leave in which spectral things happen when traversing tunnels.

This is a notable high mark for movies based on video games, and a high point in the quest for scary CG monsters. The creatures of Silent Hill are mostly actors with computer assistance, but it's really the first time I've seen anything with an obvious CG styling that I'd call scary at all.

However, the two big problems I had with this when I first saw it still bug me. Up until 90 minutes in you're looking at a perfect five-star movie, with these compelling characters navigating this amazing, horrible place. Then comes the reveal, the video-game moment when you find out just what the hick is going on, and it leaves a couple of questions in its place. It's nitpicky, but the relationship between the worldly events and the supernatural ones is a little too murky for my taste. This probably wouldn't even rate as an issue if it weren't for big problem number two: I hate the denoument of this story. The climax unfolds just fine, but three feet from the exit door the plot goes inexplicably sideways. I'm not the kind of guy who needs happy endings or anything; well-wrought dark endings are the truly bold tales in this genre. But there's no reason for this big chunk of disappointment; it's just dropped anonymously in your lap. I'm also open to story elements that leave some of the interpretation to us, but there's a point where it's clever and there's a point where it's sloppy. Silent Hill gets a star knocked off for that sloppy.

Still, this comes highly recommended. It's a beautiful nightmare.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Leprechaun 4: In Space


(1997) **1/2

I'mnotMarc was contemplating the grim task of checking this one out last Friday and I felt bad and called shotgun. I think I got off easy, as this one was kind of fun. Stupid, oh yes -- stupid like stupid's bigger, stupider brother. But fun.

Budget-wise, this was only a few steps above Head of the Family. Here, check out this spaceship:


And they couldn't afford one extra for the cast. There's three scientists, a gaggle of soldiers and nobody else. Here's the mother ship's hopping night spot.


We never see who's flying the spaceship or working behind the bar or anything. Nor, for that matter, do we ever hear the word "Leprechaun." Sgt. Metal Head Hooker (not kidding, and he's got a big chrome plate in his head) refers to the wee elf as an "alien" who has been disrupting mining operations. And the little man, while still sporting the tight pants and buckles, is veering pretty wide of his mission statement. He's got a bunch of gold already, I guess, and now he wants to marry a bitchy space princess and be the King of Space. "Haven't ye read the lore?" He also engages in quite a bit of gunplay for a mystical sprite, and we learn that blowing him to bits with a grenade doesn't take, although on the bright side you do get to see him blown to bits with a grenade.

According to our resident Leprechaun movie expert, this is the first of these movies with any cheesecake, and the princess delivers one of the most laughably disappointing OTS's ever. That's because the spiked bra she's been sporting the whole flick turns out to be heavily padded. On the other hand, while the scientist is fleeing the spider monster, it actually manages to eat her pants off. I love modern movies that find some arbitrary reason to have the heroine suddenly in her underwear. It's such a Roger Corman move. Tremors and Deep Blue Sea both do that. Hilarious, and also...underwear.

Lastly, this guy is a riot.


So, if you're in a position where you have to watch one of the Leprechaun movies (and don't laugh, that could totally really happen), this is probably the one to go for. I could watch In The Hood and Back 2 Tha Hood to make sure, but...no, I won't be doing that.