Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween

(1978) ****

Halloween, 1963. A six year old boy, Michael Myers, stabs his older sister to death. Michael spends the next 15 years in an asylum before breaking out and making his way back to his home town in time for Halloween. While Michael begins to stalk a new victim and her friends, his psychiatrist attempts to catch up with him. By the end of the movie we are told: the Boogeyman really does exist, and his name is Michael Myers.

Well, it's been fun. Really. I know that assigning Halloween 4 stars will get me kicked off the blog forever, but I have to be honest here. I just wasn't that scared. The movie is great, but not what I would call a masterpiece. Love the plot, love the score. Jamie Lee Curtis is perfect, a brainy scream queen par excellence. Michael Myers is a wonderful creation and relatively believable. I don't hold the dated 70s details against the movie. In fact, it made me wish for the good old days of unlocked doors, land lines, and high school age babysitters wearing flared pants who brought their boyfriends over to neck (yes, I had babysitters like that). I was reluctantly forced to dock a star by the B movie elements that made Halloween a less smart and frightening film than it could have been: the stereotypical teens, the bad calls made by authority figures including sheriff and psychiatrist, Michael's physical invincibility on the one hand and vulnerability on the other. Those factors kept me from being completely drawn into the movie and I resent them for it.

Did Halloween take the horror film to a whole new level? Hell yes. And I enjoyed it thoroughly, and will watch it again in future. But I was hoping it would be more, well, scary.

From the Candy Fueled Masses

See, I bought 4yr olds' costume last year after Halloween as it was on sale and all. Problem was, it didn't come with a mask. Which I figured was fine since kids tend to ditch the mask in the first five minutes. BUT, my Father-In-Law was insistent that there be a mask and bought him...a Jason mask. So we ended up with this:

Power Ranger Jason and Miss Butterfly

Luckily, the mask was "forgotten" in the car, so all's well that end's well. Aren't they cute?


HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

Happy Halloween!

The Gruesome Twosome

(1967) ***



“If things go wrong, don’t go with them. That’s what I always say, don’t I Napoleon?” – Homicidal elderly wig vendor speaking to her stuffed cat when she realizes that the cops are on to her.

The great discovery for me this year was depraved director Herschell Gordon Lewis who also helmed the impressive 2000 Maniacs and The Wizard of Gore. You know you’re watching one of his films if you are struck by the combination of excessive gore, intriguing but ridiculous plots and the god-awful acting. Gruesome Twosome isn’t quite as memorable as the above mentioned but if you enjoy those, you’ll like this one too.

Mrs. Pringle runs a boarding house and makes wigs on the side. She lures a young girl to her attic to meet her mentally retarded son Rodney. In the first of several truly revolting scenes, Rodney scalps the girl with a small knife. The girl goes missing and Mrs. Pringle has a lovely new wig to sell. Why the scalping? Why not just drug her and shave her head? I suppose such questions should not be asked.

The college girls are a little worried about the missing girls but dancing on the bed seems to put their mind at ease. One student named Cathy starts a little investigation of her own and wastes a good ten minutes of the movie falsely accusing an old man. (He was burying bones in his yard but it turned out to be for his dog’s birthday party.) Meanwhile Mrs. Pringle (who looks a helluva lot like Mama from Mama’s Family) gives Rodney a lovely new electric knife to play with…

Not for everybody...

Ghoulies IV

(1993) *



Ouch. Why was this movie made? How was this movie made? It’s difficult to convey just how unspeakably awful this installment really is. But if there’s one thing I know for sure in this crazy old world it’s that Ghoulies 4 sucks. It really, really, really sucks.

A buxom blonde in black leather runs around humming Chinese stars at security guards. She finds a jewel, draws up a chalk pentagram and conjures up an evil spirit named Faust. As an accidental byproduct, two Ghoulies also pop out of the pentagram. But these aren’t the puppets from the previous films that we’ve grown to know and tolerate. These are jive talking, wise cracking midgets that like to talk to the camera.

Presumably Green Fetus and the gang read the script and wanted no part of it. But they did manage to get Jonathan from the first movie. He plays a cop who refuses to play by the rules. Faust needs human sacrifices to stay alive in the real world and he’s also looking for another jewel. The Ghoulies show up every 15 minutes or so to say something unfunny then go back to doing whatever it is that they do. Jonathan has a Kun Fu fight with a Chinese guy in a bathrobe named Bongo. The Ghoulies say goodbye to the camera and allude to a sequel called Ghoulies 4 Part 2. I don’t think anyone is holding their breath for that one.

I was stunned that Ghoulies 3 was overflowing with gratuitous T & A for a PG-13 rated movie. Conversely, I am baffled as to how Ghoulies 4 earned its R rating. There is precious little blood, no profanity and the only nudity to be found is a brief shot of Jonathan’s rear end. BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Atom Age Vampire

(1960) *1/2



Though it wasn’t my intention to devote my attention to skin graft movies, they just kept on finding me. Undoubtedly inspired by Les Yeux Sans Visage, Atom Age Vampire leaves much to be desired. After a stripper is mutilated in a car crash, Albert the scientist invents a breakthrough skin graft treatment and restores her beauty. Upon seeing her recovery, she passionately kisses him in gratitude, causing him to fall madly in love with her. Unfortunately Jeannette’s skin needs constant maintenance that can only be administered with the assistance of fresh bodies. Albert predictably starts to abduct young women while the police try to crack the case by drawing ridiculous conclusions and talking utter nonsense.

For reasons that are still unclear to me, the more Albert performs the surgery on Jeannette, the more he himself transforms into a horrific monster. This is one of many strange developments that served only to muddle the already uneven script. Equally unpleasant is Jeannette’s voice when she sobs, which sounds almost exactly the hermit from Life of Brian. Do yourself a favor and leave this one be.

Nightmare Castle

(1965) *1/2



After a jealous count discovers his beautiful wife unfaithful, he chains her and her lover to a wall in the dungeon. When she refuses to change her will on his behalf, he burns them with acid and then administers electro-shock therapy before removing their hearts. After this gruesome beginning, the movie enters sleep mode for the next hour or so.

Since his wife left fortune to her mentally unstable sister, the count takes her as his new bride. His intention is to play tricks on her until she can be deemed insane and shipped off to the loony bin. Unfortunately for him, the psychiatrist he enlists to vouch for her craziness turns out to be quite the detective, putting a monkey wrench into his nefarious scheme.

The obvious dubbing and regurgitated plot make for a negative overall viewing experience. I should know better than to watch generic public domain movies by now but I like to learn things the hard way.

The Thing With Two Heads




(1972) **

Dr. Max Kirshner (Ray Milland- really) is a self-proclaimed "genius" transplant specialist. He is also incurably ill. The solution? Experiment with transplanting a head onto a body, wait about a month for the transplant to take, and remove the old head. He tries this on a gorilla with complete success (poor original gorilla!). Then he shares his secret experiments with his closest colleagues, and becomes comatose: now they have to choose a donor body for him. The problem is, the donor needs to be a person with an inoperable brain tumor or something similar, because the body donor's head will be eventually removed and the donor consciousness will die, while Dr. Max lives on. Solution? Use a convict on death row. New problems? Convict may be innocent, he is black (Rosey Grier), and Dr. Max is a bigot.

This odd little movie was found by husband in the horror section of a local video store, but it isn't really a horror movie, nor (surprisingly) a comedy. All the actors play it absolutely straight. The Thing with Two Heads plays more like a 70s made-for-TV drama for the majority of the movie, then devolves into Smoky and the Bandit for the last half hour (with funkier music), and the ending is relatively abrupt though satisfying. If it had stuck with the inital tone I may have awarded it 3 stars but I felt let down by the ending, like they ran out of ideas and budget at the same time. To be fair, this is the kind of bad movie I would happily see again.

I highly recommend the trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWHNA_j7h5A

OK, enough crap. Anything I watch tonight will be QUALITY.

Happy Halloween and very happy final day of Horrorthon!

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

(1956) ***

Before this contest started I declared my intention to check out some films from the East and their Western counterparts, but so far this has been my only example. To import the popular Gojira to America, the movie was trimmed and then re-fatted-up with new footage featuring Raymond Burr as an American reporter Steve Martin. (Yes, that's right, Steve Martin.) After watching Gojira a few days earlier, it was pretty funny watching how they did it. Step one is to show some scene from the original movie (in some cases leaving in the Japanese dialogue), and then in step two show Raymond Burr on a small set made to look like some corner of the room we couldn't see before. Movie magic.

For instance, in the scene in which the fearsome beast first rears his head (above), we see the original scenes of the cast running in terror down the (live location) hill, and then this:



When we see the orginal scene of Emiko falling to the ground as panicked villagers rush past her,



we also see Raymond Burr's sidekick doing the same thing.



Sometimes, in order to interact with one of the main characters, Raymond Burr would converse with an actor who was cast based on what the back of their head looked like. Suddenly Emiko abruptly switches to English and the words "Steve! Steve Martin! How good to see you" come from a woman wearing the same shirt and kerchief, albeit two years later and thousands of miles away. It actually made me think of the contemporary trend to make the audience part of the media experience; here were visionaries in the 50's engineering the most interactive viewing of Gojira possible. But of course the mass marketing appeal falls apart when you imagine the commercial:

Happy, excited voice-over: "You can actually be in the movie!"
Rapid, low-toned "batteries not included" voice-over: "only available to Raymond Burr."

I still recommend the Godzilla debut experience for the reasons I mentioned in my review of the original. I found this version distracting, but it's possible that had more to do with seeing the two of them back to back. And I suppose the American version is adequate to deliver the fine imagery I ogled earlier. Ultimately, however, I think it's worth it to find the original. The references to the A-bomb haven't been excised, the story flows better, and the tone is more sincere.

On a side note, for the past two years I've tried to include a movie with an exclamation point in its title in my lineup, but the flick I'd set my sights on this year proved too elusive. (And Die, Monster, Die! didn't qualify because I reviewed it two years ago.) I always look up the imdb page of a movie when I write its review, so imagine my delight when "Monsters" in this title was "Monsters!" When I was briefly stymied as I looked around and saw that the title isn't always punctuated that way, I decided that the onscreen appearance in the movie itself should be the deciding factor in conflicts of this nature. Then I promptly found this screenshot on the internet. (Hadn't thought to snag one myself.) Leapin' lizards!



Happy Halloween everybody!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

One Missed Call (Chakushin ari)

(2004) **1/2

Back to the Japanese "Angry Ghost Syndrome" we go.

Yumi's friends start getting creepy phone calls from themselves, placed a few days in the future. None of them ever answer these calls, hence the title, so they always get a message from themselves which is their voices saying something innocuous and then screaming. Of course, once the times and dates arrive the person who received the call dies in a nasty way. Yumi hooks up with a guy who has also been affected by the killings to try to solve the mystery of the origin of the calls.

This movie did have a few good freaky-tense scares, but it was really all over the map. A bit too much influence from The Ring and Ju-On, without any of the awesomeness of those two flicks. Who exactly is the evil/vengeful ghost? If you knew you were supposed to die at a certain time, would you really spend any part of that day in an abandoned, creepy hospital? I'm thinking not so much. Plus I thought the ending sucked. Maybe the remake Warner Bros. just wrapped will be better. I look forward to the comparison.

Kind of a lame way to wrap up my Horrothon Debut, but whatcha gonna do? This has been a complete blast and I am very happy with my healthy dozen flicks. I'm going to be too busy trick-or-treating with the kiddos tomorrow, (not to mention getting prepped mentally to go back to work after nine vacation days,) to watch any more movies. Already looking forward to next year! Woo-Hoo Horrorthon 2007!

Horrorthon Exclusive! I AM LEGEND Sneak Review Preview Review

THIS
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
PLUS THIS
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
EQUALS THIS
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Okay, okay, I know it doesn't come out til December, and there's no spoilers here, but I thought I'd make it my last 'Thon offering, because this was, hands-down, the greatest movie-making experience I have ever had, and it's got a SHITLOAD of zombie action in it (seemingly that action being a notch or two higher than 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake), TONS of shit blowing up, and some KILLER stunt action.

But that all pales in comparison to what MY job entailed on the set (of course), which was to personally own and control, on weekends in the fall in New York City, the most populous avenues and streets you could possibly imagine. I employed no less than 150 and at a maximum 250 Production Assistants on any given day (a film-industry record, that's right), all for the sole purpose of making huge swaths of Manhattan streets look like they had been deserted for four years (it's 2012 in the movie, everyone dead of mysterious virus in '08).

And the streets were empty. As if New York had died. THAT’S what I (well, and a hundred-plus others) created. [And if you’ve never been to New York City, try imagining those streets empty, devoid of activity. That’s what we had to do for that one shot in Vanilla Sky of an empty Times Square, which I was one of ten Key P.A.s for, but that was only for one quick shot on Sunday morning, ending at 7am. On IAL, we did this shit ALL DAY, EVERY WEEKEND, IN THE FALL, AND ALL WITH THE CAPS LOCK KEY PRESSED DOWN THE WHOLE TIME.]

Standing in the middle of Broadway, 6th Avenue and 34th Street at 9am on a September Saturday with three Bradley tanks and a bunch of Humvees behind me, completely blocking what would normally go on in New York City at that time, bullhorn in hand, inconveniencing arguably thousands of people, and yelling at the director, “I’ve got all ten blocks locked up! Roll the cameras!"” was a bit of a thrill. Actually, “bit of a thrill” doesn’t quite cover it. It was a complete fucking power trip that went straight to my head. I could have started my own religion.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Speaking of the director (this was the Action Unit, not the Main Unit), it was Vic Armstrong, who, if you don’t have the time to imdb him, actually WAS Superman while he was flying in 1977 (Reeve stunt double) and also Indiana Jones (Ford stunt double) under the truck. Yeah, that guy. [Fall off the radiator, get dragged underneath the truck, working your way back hand-over-hand clinging to truck undercarriage while being dragged on your back at 35 mph - this is the guy I am personally clearing twenty blocks of New York City real estate for. And HE came up and thanked ME for doing such a perfect job. I love this business.]

In any event, the movie is a remake of The Omega Man (1974) starring Charlton Heston and Abner Devereaux from Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park. I’m quite sure that that actor has a real name, and he in fact appeared in the Matrix Reloaded, but it’s far more funny this way.

Abner Devereaux, anyway, played the lead zombie, who fortunately speaks perfect English and wears Ray-Ban aviator glasses throughout. This, while seemingly completely absurd in nature, actually ends up being pulled off quite nicely (comedically, to be sure, but compellingly so. JUST like Kiss Meeets The Phantom Of The Park - funny, that). Abner has some great dialogue explaining how his species is now the “new” human race, and it is in fact Charlton Heston who is the oddball, the hunted “zombie” of the flick. Two and a half stars for The Omega Man. Check it out.

Such was the thrust of the short story “I Am Legend,” written in the 50s, which The Omega Man is based on: a flip-flop of the humans vs. zombies theme, in that the one lone human (a super-scientist doctor) still alive struggling to restore “normalcy” is now the oddball, the “zombie,” the one that is sought out by the newly-mutated masses and destroyed. Whereas we would consider a zombie an “aberration” and something to be eliminated, the premise and appeal (and title choice) of “I Am Legend” is to make the one lone human survivor the aberration, the one the mutated zombies are trying to eliminate. For us, zombies are the stuff of myth and fantasy and legend, and now it's the one HUMAN who is the legend, the story told around the proverbial zombie campfire. If they do those sorts of things. Which this movie does not cover.

But "Zombie Campfire" is a great title for SOMETHING.

In any event, the Will Smith version looks promising, to a point. What you will see in the opening five minutes or so of the movie (which is the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rocketing through the city in a souped-up Mustang 2008 Shelby Cobra, streets devoid of life), was all worked by me on the aforementioned Action Unit. You might think it’s computer generated - but it ain't. That’s how good and big our street lockups were. Setting the stage of Will Smith in an empty New York City is executed with perfection, nothing but a real, honest-to-goodness film crew of hundreds doing it, and nary a computer nerd in sight.

It’s what happens after that with that actual zombies that may or may not break the film. The problem is, we’ve seen this before. We know about the one guy fighting off the onrushing, unrelenting hordes of zombies. We know how this story ends. For the most part.

All I can say is that during the filming, we had an enormously elaborate plan for the creatures and how they look: latex sculpted bodysuits with peeling rotting flesh, some totally bleached out, some with twisted, blackened organs – they looked pretty cool, and it took about four hours to get one single zombie ready, with said zombie being worked on by three different people. Then, halfway through our first week of shooting nights with 80 stunt men and women running through Washington Square Park in these elaborate outfits, the producers decide they don’t like the “look” and are just going to CGI all of the onrushing hordes of creatures, and they’re gonna look different than what we had.

So I’m not sure I’ll care about Will Smith that much, or the woman and kid that he finds, or how they resolve it in the end, because I wasn't there for most of their filming. I do know, however, that the empty-street future stuff and the flashback stuff to the quarantining of New York City looks, for lack of a better term, (damn this English major liability) pretty fucking awesome. The ending (slight spoiler) kind of sticks to the short story, but they definitely make it an original version for the most part. But those first five minutes are ALL Handsome Stan, and it only remains to be seen how cheaply the producers go with the credits, and whether or not the Action Unit gets any credits at all, or if I see my name, because they dicked aroud with us for the whole thing.

To get back on some sort of track here, IF they pull off the Everybody-Wiped-Out-By-Virus thing with credibility (done very well in the book and miniseries The Stand, by Stephen King), and IF they pull off the Show-Us-Something-Relatively-New-With-Zombies-Fucking-Shit-Up aspect (again done very well in 28 Days Later and DOTD remake), THEN the movie has a fighting chance. Their ace in the hole is that quarantine of New York City scene, which they had to for weeks prior to the filming of that, advertise on local TV and radio that what was coming up was not real, it was just a movie, and that real New Yorkers should not panic about a posible outbreak and/or quarantine for any reaon. It's that post 9/11, approaching-2012 impending doom feeling of total paranoia that they can capture and capitalize on if they execute well.

It's just all the shit with the woman and the kid I worry about. For the most part, I gather that the "kid" role is minimalized, and there's no "I-happen-to-be-an-expert-ten-year-old-on-zombies-that's-seen-zombie-movies" aspect to it. It's all played out damn serious-like, and if you can't tell by this point, I like hyphens almost as much as parentheses. So I'm pulling for the film, big-time, but then again, I was also pulling for Eight Legged Freaks.

Working on IAL: *****
Potential for IAL: *** to ****
Probable for IAL: ** 1/2

Plus, I should add that the wrap party for the movie was pretty cool. Will Smith basically put on a mini-concert, and did a full-on word-for-word hardcore version of the theme from Prince of Bel-Air. DJ Jazzy Jeff was there, so it was great to see him getting some work. If you happen to care about these sorts of things.

And yeah, that picture of me up there sure does feature a T-shirt with a Superman logo from Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, for those that care about these sorts of things. Stunning photographic proof that I seriously Nerd it up at work and chicks still dig me. (Except there's no girls in THAT picture. But right after it was taken...)

Is there an Honorable Mention category for Horrorthon? Or, more appropriately, Rookie Of The Year Award? I'd like to think I've earned consideration for SOMETHING.

Standby in November for the Hardest Star Wars Trivia Questions you have ever fucking experienced. All of you. I can not be beat, and I will stump the greatest of you. I got weeks worth of 'em stored up.

Creep

(2004) ***

Two sewer workers discover a new tunnel has opened up underground London. They investigate, with gruesome results. Something violent is lurking down there.

Cut to our protagonist, Kate (Franka Potente), a party girl hoping to hang out with George Clooney that night. Having a hard time catching a cab, she ends up in the Tube. Waiting for the last train she falls asleep (don't the Brits have Red Bull?). When she wakes up, she discovers she is locked in the underground. Irritating to be sure, but it gets a lot worse as the night progresses and she meets a variety of underground dwellers, including the eponymous creep.

This was a solid medium horror flick. Medium acting, medium gore/disturbingness, medium scares, medium dread. The friend who lent it to me found it more frightening because the premise is somewhat more realistic than the usual horror movie. Kate's character is not particularly likeable, which worked in the movie's favor for me- again, a hair more realistic than the usual. Creep is a solid effort, but not much more than that.

Year-By-Year With Friday The 13th



The always excellent Onion AV Club has a great Noel Murray essay today, called Year-By-Year With Friday The 13th:

Whole books have been written about the conservative-leaning "sex = death" politics of early-'80s slasher films and the Friday The 13th series in particular. But since, the Friday The 13th saga stretches from 1980 to 2003 (so far), has it had anything else to say about the world in which we've lived? Has it changed along with that world? Can you flip past Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and instantly recognize that it came out in 1989? Short answer: Yes. For the long answer, read the survey below..."

Highly recommended.

And now back to (octopunk whispers) Horrorthon!

Monday, October 29, 2007

From Beyond

(1986) ***1/2

As I'm gathering these H. P. Lovecraft movies into my fevered brain, two questions seem to come up again and again. 1. His stories weren't really fleshed out enough to suggest an entire movie based on his work, so if you're going to make one, how do you choose what to add? 2. The "horrors" in his stories were exquisitely fleshed out, so how do you make the movie versions effective, especially with limited resources?

These are sticky questions, but after watching From Beyond, anyone looking to make a Lovecraft flick will have the partial answer to both: "not quite like that."

After answering both questions perfectly by directing Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon made another fairly astute choice of material to adapt. From Beyond has no mysterious non-Euclidean cities or vast, writhing Other Gods to portray, just a mad scientist achieving the unthinkable in his home laboratory (although this one has opted to use the attic instead of the more popular basement).

Good old Jeffrey Combs entertains us again, not as the head Mad Edward Pretorius but as his more level-headed assistant Crawford Tillinghast. Pretorius has invented a machine that uses vibrations to stimulate the human pineal gland and bring co-existing dimensions into visibility.

Here we see the machine's glowing tuning forks and one of the nasty eel creatures that they render visible. Part of the sublime creepiness of the original short story is that these critters are just filling the room, as if they make up the very atmosphere of the subtler realm. But, what the effects can't show us is made up for with plain meaness, as the eel takes a bite out of poor Crawford's face (see top). I love the "if you can see them, they can see you" maneuver. If you think about it, it operates within the same basic childhood logic that renders you safe from monster attacks if you're beneath the covers. And it's so perfectly Lovecraftian -- just daring to observe the loathsome mysteries of the universe invites the greatest peril.

True to his mad profession, Pretorius considers Crawford's being attacked by predatory eels a rousing success and cranks the machine up to 11. Then something comes and eats his head off and they toss Crawford in the booby hatch.

Here's where the need to expand on the material becomes apparent, because by now the movie has already moved past the original story. Lovecraft only hints at the presence of bigger, smarter things in the Beyond, but we never see one. As it stands the short story only gets us through the opening credits. Enter the pretty and controversial Dr. Katherine McMichaels, who pulls Crawford from the madhouse so he can get a chance to set his story straight. Joining them is the woefully un-Lovecraftian Buford "Bubba" Brownlee, the pro ball player turned cop who has a big smile for everybody, and who's played by the badass black SWAT guy from the original Dawn of the Dead. Later we'll get to see Bubba do this:

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When the machine is switched on, Tillinghast's innocence is assured as it does indeed reveal flying, fanged eels and jellyfish and also the bigger, smarter thing we've heard about -- although now it's merged with the personality of our mad scientist. His mania? To find a sensual experience beyond the boring five senses we know (as presaged by his S/M lifestyle), and induct as many victims into his new realm as he can. Fortunately, he can be switched off, and he is.

UNfortunately, stimulation of the pineal is a tempting feeling, comingling with the sexual urge, and in this stupor of curiousity Dr. Michaels wanders upstairs in her nightgown and turns the machine back on. Pretorius shows up to menace her in an even more inhuman form and Crawford and Bubba have to fight a giant lamprey eel in the basement to pull the plug. This is where we find out that Bubba, despite being a cop, thinks it's legal to sleep in tiny red briefs.


This scene is pretty damn good: the theme of dangerous curiousity is solid, you're not too mad at them for not going and getting more people because that's exactly what they were gonna do in the morning anyway, and Pretorius turns into a cool monster that looks to twist Katherine's head off with its mandibles. Up to now, the movie has been promising, a four star effort for sure, maybe even four and a half. But it is not to be.

From here the story unravels quickly. The machine starts turning itself on, there's a ridiculous scene with a bug swarm that only swarms certain parts of a room, Crawford's newly hairless head (because giant lampreys have Nair for saliva, apparently) looks even worse when his pineal gland pops out of his forehead, whipping around like a rubber feeler. He starts sucking people's brains out their eyesockets. What started as a creepy idea ends up a silly, confused, sensationalist affair.

Had the story been better, I might have been in the mood to forgive the special effects. Clearly Gordon and company are fans of Lovecraft's, and I understand the limitations of practical effects when it comes to the author's brand of squirming, incredibly hideous monsters, but I really think they could have done better than this.


Still, props to these guys for taking on Lovecraft with any amount of directness. From Beyond is by no means the worst Lovecraft movie I've watched this month, and there's some genuinely good creepy fun on the screen. Worth a look.

This screenshot was a total mistake but I love it.

In general news...just two more days, folks! Man, has it been fun this year. I am so amped about all the new contributors. What I haven't been amped about is my own spotty presence on this blog, but fear not!

In a recent effort to up my numbers and win win win, I have been opting to spend more time viewing than I have writing. I've been gathering screenshots as I go and starting Thursday I'll make sure I crank those bastard reviews out before the deadline. I have quite a few...

(whispers) Horrorthon!

Plan 9 From Outer Space

(1959) *

This cult classic opens graveside. An old man's wife is being interred. Aliens are lurking in a flying saucer, waiting to revive the corpse. You see, humans have been ignoring these aliens and their flying saucers, and the aliens' feelings are hurt. Also they want to warn us to stop our arms race. To really get our attention, they are going to bring corpses to life (=plan 9). That'll show 'em!

This movie is the reason Attack of the Killer Tomatoes richly earned the two stars I awarded it. Frankly, Plan 9 makes Killer Tomatoes look like The Shining. There is no element of Plan 9 that is well done. Sets? Brutally cheap and thrown-together. Acting? Horrific. Dialogue? Don't make me laugh. Continuity? None. Plot? Ludicrous. Scariness quotient? Zero. Editing? What editing? Plan 9 from Outer Space? Awesomely bad.

Fiend Without a Face

(1958) ***



The description for Fiend Without a Face hailed it as “one of the first films to feature explicit gore”. I didn’t even need to read the rest of the summary as I was already sold.

Soldiers are being mysteriously strangled at a remote military base in Canada. I almost aborted this movie after watching 4 separate men pretend to be strangled by an invisible assailant as I feared another Sound of Horror, one of the lousiest no budget horror movies I’ve had the displeasure of watching in October. But the promise of early explicit gore gave me the strength needed to continue.

All of the evidence seems to point to Professor Walgate, an eccentric scientist who is spearheading an experiment that aims to detach thought from consciousness. The locals take matters into their own hand and assemble an armed militia to destroy the invisible killer while the army guys conduct several unproductive meetings to discuss their bad ideas and concerns. Three quarters of the movie is an excruciating bore.

Then the superb last 15 minutes commence, bumping this rating up a full **. Prof. Walgate admits that he lost control of his experiment. Lightning struck his equipment and the electric shock created mental vampires that feed on brains. Any follow-up questions to that last sentence are pointless. What matters is that we are now able to see the attackers and they take the form of brains with spinal chords and slug-like eyes. These brains crawl, leap around and strangle their victims. An epic battle ensues between the brains and the army and there is much awesomeness.

The Driller Killer

(1979) **



It’s not easy for a struggling artist in New York City to pay the bills, particularly when you have two girlfriends to support. But if anyone can do it, Jonathan can. He has the raw talent, the drive and the mental illness that most artists can only dream of. Things go sour when a rock band moves their gear into the loft next door, rocking out till the wee hours of the morn. What the band lacks in talent (everything), they make up for with attitude and funny outfits. They rehearse their punk take on Peter Gunn one too many times, sending Jonathan over the edge. He embarks on a hobo killing spree using a hand held power drill.

The Driller Killer is ultimately a pretentious New York art school film that searches for a point that may not exist. Or maybe that’s the point, man! Jonathan is a believable character seething with rage at life’s injustices. He’s played equal parts Vinnie Bobarino and young Bob Dylan. The film occasionally evokes some emotions by frequently aiming the camera on the homeless people, of whom Jonathan is always one rent check away from joining. The shitty music that keeps shitting along throughout eventually sinks the movie. Add the worst ending of all time to it and you’ll walk away feeling rubbed the wrong way. Still, it goes down swinging.

Teenage Zombies


(1959) *

“People aren’t interested in anything good, they don’t know and they don’t care. Just give them garbage!” (Teenage Zombies director Jerry Warren)

For “teens” go water skiing and stumble upon an uncharted island (how could an island so close to homeland be uncharted?). After the four whippersnappers party, and by “party” I mean drink some root beer and discuss various nerdy things, the gang finds that their boat is gone. A brief search leads them to an ominous house. After coming in contact with a mad doctor (female for once!), she informs them that she never saw their boat nor does she own one.



When she is unable to get rid of these meddling kids who insist she must know where their boat is, she imprisons them. She then reveals her “research”, turning the world into zombies for no apparent reason. The four eventually (and easily) escape after some minor ass-kicking they turn mad scientist lady into a zombie using, yep you guessed it, her own toxin!

Sigh, this is a bad one gang, a really bad one. No doubt one of you are going to tell me that you watched it on MST3K, but it’s unnecessary, it’s so bad we needn’t discuss it ever again.

Possessed


(1947) ***1/2

Joan Crawford is Louise Howell, who is found seemingly out of her mind at the beginning of Possessed. After stumbling through the streets crying out for “David”, and eventually wandering into a bar, the men-in-white are contacted and Louise is hauled off to the “Psychopathic Unit” at the local hospital. It is here that Louise recalls her ordeal through a series of flashbacks. We learn that she was once a nurse employed by wealthy oil businessman, Dean Graham, to care for his mentally and physically ailing wife, Elizabeth. At the same time Louise was involved in an affair with David, a vain playboy-type who tries to let Louise down easy after she makes her desire to be married known (men!). Rather than taking the breakup gracefully, Louise becomes obsessed with David and her view of reality becomes increasingly warped. After Louise’s charge, Elizabeth accidentally drowns, Dean asks Louise to remain in order to care for his young son. Dean eventually asks Louise to marry him and although she makes it known that she is not in love with him, the two marry. Things begin to unravel for Louise when David reenters the picture and begins dating Dean’s 20-year old daughter. Louise becomes delusional and at times hallucinates various scenarios such as murdering Dean’s daughter.

Joan Crawford does an amazing performance as the is-she-or-isn’t-she losing her mind, Louise. I would have given Possessed 4 stars but the ridiculous psychobabble and the suggestion that schizophrenia stems from unrequited love forced my hand. Possessed also loses some points for refusing to tie up some loose ends. Although less than perfect, Possessed is riveting and Joan Crawford plays (what would now be diagnosed as borderline personality disorder) perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that I intend to show the interns I supervise selected scenes from this film to better illustrate the disorder.

Captivity


(2007) ***

Jennifer is a successful, arrogant fashion model who, via interview footage as the opening credits role, makes it clear that she can’t help it if she’s beautiful. Through various interview questions we learn that her greatest fear in life is being alone and she can’t stand the dark. Waking up one morning in her posh apartment she looks out towards her window and the beautiful view below, which includes much beach and numerous palm trees. But then the image flickers and Jennifer suddenly realizes that this isn’t her apartment at all and the window she was looking through was just a high definition movie. Jennifer has been kidnapped.



As she looks around the room she sees that her apartment is actually a dungeon-like cell outfitted with surveillance cameras and drawers that periodically open to provide her with various items including videotapes of herself in various places, which serve to show her that she has been stalked by this unnamed assailant for some time. From time to time her hooded kidnapper brings her into a scary operating room where she is forced to watch videos of previous victims. In the grossest scene I’ve seen in a long time she is forced to drink a blended brew of eyeballs, ears, and other body parts (For the record, you can put a gun to my head and I’ll allow myself to be shot before JPX ever takes a sip of that concoction).

After hearing some noises on the other side of her cell she meets Gary and learns that she is not the only prisoner in this twisted situation. The two repeatedly plot escape and on several occasions almost make it out. However their captor is way ahead of them and has apparently thought of everything, including placing traps in the ventilation system. How the hell are they getting out of this?



Captivity borrows heavily from SAW and Hostel with middling results. Despite the grotesque atmosphere there’s not as much blood and guts as you might expect. This is more of a cat and mouse game with the two captives trying to outwit their captive who knows all their moves given his numerous cameras and audio equipment. There’s one predictable twist that I called early on, which doesn’t make much of a difference. Although not very original, and obviously created to cash in on the now-cooling torture porn trend, Captivity is a serviceable little story with a satisfying conclusion.

Turistas

Turistas

(2006) ***1/2

While vacationing in the North Eastern coast of Brazil, Alex, his sister Bea, and friend Amy find their vacation plans altered when their tourist bus is involved in a near-fatal accident. With the bus destroyed and nothing to do for the next 10 hours until another arrives, the trio hook up with an Austrailian and two Brits and decide to party on a nearby picturesque beach, where there’s an idyllic beach bar and plenty of good-looking people.

After an evening of hard partying the group wakes up on the beach to find that they have been drugged and robbed losing not only their money but also all of their identification including their passports. Following a run-in with some disgruntled locals, Kiko, a local who offers to help them out promises to take them to his uncle’s house, where they can remain safe until the next bus comes along. Leading them through the jungle for several miles Kiko brings them to a beautiful waterfall where the group frolics, dive, and swim. He later takes them underneath the waterfall to a series of underwater caves that, at times, require long periods of breath holding to get from one pocket of air to the next. Eventually the group returns to the waterfall to resume diving.

Kiko confesses to one of the girls that he has never befriended “gringos” before and seems to be genuinely happy that they are enjoying his company. In a moment of misjudgment, he dives off a cliff, bumps his head on a rock, and is knocked unconscious. Realizing that they are near Kiko’s uncle’s house, the group takes him there for medical attention. After finding medicine and fixing Kiko’s gaping head wound, they begin to suspect that the strange house in not a house at all but some sort of bizarre medical facility, replete with strange tools and various medical supplies.


Later that night they are awoken by the sound of a helicopter. Kiko, clearly understanding what’s going on, encourages the group to leave as fast as they can. Kiko’s words come too late, however, as the group suddenly find themselves up against armed guards and a scary-looking surgeon. We quickly learn that Kiko is part of an underground organ harvesting operation and his role is to bring “gringos” to this secret facility. Although Kiko has a change of heart and wishes to help his new friends escape, he is not entirely successful and we see first-hand what this facility is all about. At the same time, the ones that manage to escape must deal with other issues.

Riding the recent popular wave of torture-porn/evil tourism movies (e.g., SAW, Wolf Creek, Hostel, etc) Turistas again reminds us that the rest of the world hates Americans. This message is crowbared in late in the film when, while harvesting the organs of a large breasted woman and apparently justifying his behavior, the scruff surgeon notes with disdain that “rich Americans” come to Brazil for easy sex and booze and it’s time for them to give back. It would be easy to summarily dismiss Turistas as more of the same/been there, done that, but a funny thing happened as the film unfolded, I began enjoying the hell out of it. For the most part the characters are likable and you’ll find yourself rooting for them. For those increasingly unsettled by torture-porn movies, don’t worry, aside from one plot-necessary surgery scene, the gruesomeness is kept to a minimum. Instead Turistas becomes a chase through the jungles of Brazil as the Americans flee the ghastly operation they’ve stumbled upon. Worth noting is the lengthy climax, which is a nail-biting extended chase through a series of underwater caves. You’ll find yourself holding your breath along with the characters as they desperately search for tiny pockets of air while evading their captors. These scenes are reminiscent of The Descent as characters navigate through clausterphobic spaces.

Assuming that Turistas was going to be a SAW rip-off, I put off watching it throughout the month. I was generally surprised by how much I enjoyed this film and recommend it to all for fun, edge-of-your-seat escapism.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Slither


(2006) ***1/2

An asteroid hurtles toward the sleepy town of Wheelsy. The small core of matter that survives the earth's atmosphere cracks open, and a slimy blob creeps out. Unfortunately for local citizen Grant Grant, he is the first to find this thing, which promptly barbs him in the chest. Other than some blood here and there, and a blank stare, the initial changes in Grant are limited to a ravenous hunger for meat and a new approach to lovemaking. Soon enough, however, he begins to transform into a slimy, blobby, pimply, tentacle-y thing. This transformation inevitably has an impact on his marriage and on the other townsfolk.

This movie showed up on HBO tonight just I was ready to watch another horror movie, so I took advantage. Many of the regular thonners have seen Slither, with somewhat differing opinions. My take is right about in the middle. The movie was violent, bloody, and often funny; the special effects are good and original and plenty disgusting. I don't think it has the overall quality required to become a favorite horror-comedy, but Slither is certainly gory, nauseating fun.

Ice Spiders

(2007) **

Two hunters are out in the mountains in winter, looking to "bag a trophy." One of them spots a beautiful elk through his binoculars... but wait? What's that? It seems imposssible, but there it is: a gigantic CGI spider. The hunters try shooting it with their compound bows, then realize they are better off running. Needless to say, it is too late. The giant CGI spiders, who have escaped from a local, top-secret laboratory, now proceed to terrorize a nearby ski lodge.

Yes, my eyes were open when I rented a made-for-TV, sci-fi channel produced, recent release horror movie starring 3 former cast members from Melrose Place. The girl at the video store said it was so-bad-it's-good, and there certainly were some entertaining moments, none of them scary. I liked the skiing scenes, and the chittering sounds the spiders made. Stephen J. Cannell played a small part in this one, and his was the best acting performance. (Cannell created the TV series "Wiseguy," the first season of which is among my alltime favorite TV shows. But no, I didn't upgrade my rating because of that.)

Yes, the plot was silly, the dialogue predictable, the acting mediocre, the spiders so very CGI... but I have to admit, it was just the thing for a Sunday morning on the final weekend of Horrorthon.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh


(1971) ***1/2



Mrs. Julie Wardh has returned home from a trip with her husband to discover that a black-gloved killer has been murdering women. Julie is married to Neil, an ambassador that is often absent from their marriage. She married him to escape her masochistic ex-boyfriend Jean that is shown in Julie’s flashback scenes beating then raping her, and cutting her with broken glass bottles. Bored in her marriage, Julie gets involved with “playboy” George. Julie has sex with George, and then receives a phone call threatening to tell her husband if she does not pay a ransom. She is instructed to meet at a park, with the money, at a specified time. Julie’s friend is convinced that Jean is the blackmailer and insists on going in Julie’s place so she can set the crazy bastard straight. The friend winds up dead and Julie is convinced that Jean is the black-gloved killer. Is Julie right and will she be the next victim?


"Crazy" Jean


"Playboy" George
George and Julie

The plot takes several turns and ends up not going where the viewer would expect it to. This film isn’t by any means spectacular, but it is enjoyable. The structure of the story is not always consistent. Style takes dominance over content in this film. I have watched two other films by director Sergio Martino, and I am noticing this is the pattern. I am also noticing that I like his style.The film has some interesting point-of-view shots, nice composition, and a beautiful Italian landscape. The score by Nora Orlandi is nice, and parts of it were re-used by Tarantino in Kill Bill Volume 2. This is Martino’s first giallo.

One of the black-gloved killer's victims. There is a great POV shot of this victim watching the killer run out of the bathroom while her body flops over as she dies.


I almost forgot to mention the best part. I had the option of watching it in Italian with English subtitles.