Sunday, October 31, 2010
One more time, folks: don't build on Native American burial grounds! Seriously, who still does this? Anyhoo, American Chicken Bunker makes the fatal mistake of opening a fried chicken franchise on the site of the Tromahawk tribe burial grounds. Pissed off chicken-zombies, bestiality, gore, boobs, vomit, and feces ensue. Oh yes, and occasional musical numbers.
Guess I was pushing my Troma luck with this one! One of the most disgusting movies I've ever seen; the musical numbers sucked; there were plenty of boobs; lots of purposefully offensive stereotypes; wildly inventive gore and copious bodily humor and bodily waste; and a role for Troma kingpin Lloyd Kaufman himself. I found it only mildly funny and really gross. If this sounds like your cup of tea, enjoy; otherwise give it a wide berth.
Two of the most self engrossed parents (Dennis Weaver and Valerie Harper) and their bickering little brats move to a new house. They are happy for a change after the death of their daughter Jennifer. Grandma is also moving in, she's a pushy old battleaxe who likes to criticize everything. In other words, no one is very charming here. More information is revealed regarding the personalities of these people as we move forward. Dad is drinking way too much, in fact Dennis Weaver spends most of the film in a drunken stupor. He was wise, if I had to deal with those ungrateful kids I would probably do the same. He also has no say in matters of the house, this is quite apparent by the way his wife squashes his nuts anytime he tries to add his input. Like Mother Like daughter, which means she and her Mother do quite a bit of arguing as well.
The very first night in the new house their daughter Mary startles everyone awake with screams. They rush to her room only to find her bed engulfed in flames. She claims something that was under the bed did it. Upon investigation her father finds a lamp with a faulty wire and the mystery is explained. The following night while sharing a room with her brother Kevin, Mary hears her name being whispered and freaks out again. Soon after she discovers the voice is actually the ghost of her dead sister Jennifer. She tells Jennifer she will keep her presence secret and the two girls begin to concoct mischief. Before we know it people are dying all around them and the whole family becomes unraveled.
These would be the "exotic" women.
I haven't read Oscar Wilde's book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, but my wife read it earlier this year and told me this film is actually a pretty faithful adaptation. The cast is fantastic to begin with. Colin Firth does well playing Henry, the debaucerous villain. Ben Chaplin's work as Basil, trying to steer Dorian away form iniquity shows a sadness and frustration that complement Dorian's character. And finally, Rebecca Hall (from The Town and Vicky Cristina Barcelona) doesn't hide her British accent here, and it's lovely.
So, from a literary perspective, it's a fine adaptation. From a horror persepective, it still delivers! The portrait and its control over Dorian is well done and serves as a source of suspense for the viewer that really kept me glued for its two-hour run time. And, not to spoil it, but when we see this portrait come to life, it is well worth the wait.
Beyond a number of Vincent Price's '60s and '70s horror films, the "Brit flick" is not particularly well known for its horror genre the way Japanese films are. Still, Dorian Gray shows that they may have potential.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
From the moment the "Haxan Films" logo comes onto the screen, I'm hooked—I'm plunged back into an utterly unique cinematic mood; a blend of mundanity and dread, of ugly visual noise and fleeting, nearly transcendental beauty that can only mean one movie: The Blair Witch Project (1999). The "haxan" logo gets me because it manages to express the central theme of this excellent movie so immediately and viscerally: the minimal, archaic-looking black-and-white graphic for a tiny production company you've never heard of, blown up to the enormous dimensions of a 35mm movie-theater print of a major Hollywood release. A small and delicate thing has been retrieved and made huge: the essence of the "Project."
And what does the title mean, anyway? Is the titular "project" meant to refer to Heather Donohoe's doomed attempt to make a documentary film in 1994? Or does it refer to the work done by whatever nameless (fictional) archivists saw fit to spend what must have been months of intense, grueling effort re-assembling the "footage" "found" (according to a title card) near Burkittsville, Maryland a year after Heather's disappearance (along with the two technicians who accompanied her)? Who made that title card? Whose movie is this, anyway? The clever meta-fictional envelope around the horror story isn't just a device for suspense and exposition (as is the case with Quarantine, Cloverfield and other 'found footage" movies); it's much more interesting. You can't spend too much time thinking about the surrounding circumstances of Quarantine or Cloverfield -- in each case, you're just watching a tape from the camera that recorded the horror story. But Heather and her crew had two cameras (only one of which captures sound) operated by two people, and a separate audio track associated with a third; simply creating a straightforward narrative out of all the resulting footage would be a daunting task in and of itself, notwithstanding the additional overlay of paranormal irrationality and mystery. In the first five minutes of the movie, Heather and Josh circle each other in the driveway, pointing their cameras at each other as we cut back and forth between them, and you get the point immediately (whether you realize it consciously or not): somebody had to work very hard to put this together -- to find the videotape of Josh that matched the 16mm film of Heather and actually sync them up with each other -- and, for me, those nameless people and the work they did is as much the "Project" as is Heather's documentary. The Haxan people, whoever they are, finished her film for her...and, in so doing, accomplished a artistic miracle of alchemy, wherein a incomprehensible tangle of retrieved film cartridges, DAT tapes and Hi8 videocassettes is woven into a shimmering, horrifying Greek Tragedy in the woods; a spellbinding, dream-like excursion into fear. (We all know how this was accomplished -- how the actors were actually given the cameras and surprised by the surrounding events that they hadn't been told about -- but the method worked so well that its difficult to find anything wrong with it.) I can't emphasize this point enough: from the Haxan logo through the silent title cards to the first white-balance-adjusting fade-in on Heather's face against a blank wall, the viewer is keenly aware of being shown something -- of being privy to a post-facto awareness of the tragedy of the filmmakers' disappearance and the need to understand what happened in the woods -- that surpasses the work of all subsequent "found footage" movies (or at least the ones I've seen). The title card at the beginning of Cloverfield is really scary, but it doesn't convey that same unsettling sense of thwarted investigation, of pieces having been carefully put together by somebody who was keenly interested in penetrating into the darkness and finding the truth.
A truth that's never found, by the way. That's an element of this movie that so many people dislike, but which I think is a great strength, putting The Blair Witch Project in the same category as 2001: A Space Odyssey: we can point our cameras at the infinite, but we'll only be dazzled by the light. Heather tried to get to the bottom of what had been going on in Maryland (decades of disappearances and other, stranger elements of local legend which are masterfully unspooled in the movie's first twenty minutes), and she failed, as do the nameless editors and archivists who try to complete her task. What's out there in the woods, anyway? What do Heather, Josh and Mike do wrong, if anything, or are they simply traveling across forbidden terrain, a zone of disorder (where the compasses don't work)? As the filmmakers enter the woods for the first time and their empty car disappears slowly behind them in a long, lingering shot, I'm reminded of Disney's animated clouds forming a hand the covers the moon in their Sleepy Hollow movie (Ichabod and Mr. Toad). They never see the car again, and while they don't know this, the post-facto editors certainly do, and you can feel their fingers on your spinal column as they choose to show the entire long languid shot of the car disappearing forever.
Why does Heather keep insisting she knows the way? Why does Michael throw away the map? What makes Josh's voice so strange in the movie's final twenty minutes? (Michael Williams screaming "Tell us where you are, Josh!" over the DVD menus is so terrifying you're almost afraid to press the "Play" button.) The framework and the concept are powerfully inventive, as I've described, but the actors provide the rest of what makes this movie a classic, and, as I said above, the too-clever-by-half methodology of the (actual) filmmakers is forgivable because the results are so striking. The dialogue, the mood swings, the camerawork (which the actors did themselves, unlike the far-more-conventionally-made Cloverfield), the odd touches and, of course, the portrayal of fear are all explosively effective because the method (as in "Method") of the acting is so powerful, tapping into veins of emotion and expressiveness that few actors get anywhere near. (The fact that these three actors have gone nowhere in the decade since this hit suggests that the filmmaking "method" was the sole reason for their triumph here.)
Watching again, a decade later, I'm struck by how old-fashioned all of this looks when viewed in today's iPhone/Facebook/Twitter world. (The lack of cell phones is, of course, the reason the movie was set five years before it was made, which, in turn, is the reason for the incredible analog video footage, complete with ghosting.) (Pun intended.) But it's not just advances in technology and communication that "date" this movie; it's the movie itself. Cinematically and culturally, we're living in a post-Blair Witch world, and I would argue that even big unrelated Hollywood productions like J. J. Abrams' Star Trek show the influence of this movie. There are some obvious shortcomings, but I have no trouble disregarding them. The images shake a lot, but it's worth putting up with the dizziness (and it's not nearly the same on home video, although I would love to see this in a theater again). And you don't really penetrate the mystery and find out what's in the woods, but based on what we do see, I'm perfectly happy not to know. As Heather and her friends learned too late, you exlpore the darkness at your own risk.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Oh Coffin Joe, you've really done it this time. What a journey I've just been on my friends. This is Coffin Joe's idea of an LSD propaganda film and it's quite a piece of work. The first half of the film attempts to show us the severely different and all outrageous effects the drug can have on people. We first witness a group of men all tripped out, staring at pictures of large bare breasts in magazines. Then we witness two men leading a school girl up to a room full of weird musicians scattered about singing songs.
The girl gets up on a table as they circle around and she willingly allows them to take turns looking up her skirt. Eventually they get around to violating her with a large rod until she is pleasured to death.
Not all the drug reactions are sexual some are just strange and some are violent. This whole abomination of a beginning almost lost me. I tell you, if it weren't for Horrorthon there's a good chance I would have bailed on the film. Oh I am glad I didn't.
We then go into a segment involving four volunteers who agree to a controlled environment LSD test given by a doctor. This test specifically focuses on the effect of LSD when accompanied by visions of Coffin Joe. The films suddenly goes from black and white to color and things get wild.
It was all pure entertainment. Flames, blood, lady head spiders, trippy music and Coffin Joe. Totally awesome, and then this happened.
Laughing asses! Some were even smoking. I tell you I laughed so hard I nearly choked. These pictures do no justice. Zeke is home this weekend, he had just sat down with his dinner right before the asses showed up. He laughed so hard he almost puked. After we got our laughing under control he looked at me all serious and said, “Mom, how can you watch this fucked up shit?” Truthfully, I have no answer for that. I just do.
The third Coffin Joe flick is not available on Netflix. Have no fear, I am bound and determined to own the entire collection before next Horrorthon. I'm convinced, the man is a genius.
In one of John Carpenter’s more divisive films, a priest (Donald Pleasance) summons a team of scientists, experts and grad students to a church to examine a canister of swirling bright green ooze that dwells in the basement. This is no ordinary green slime, mind you. As the team conducts their various tests on the matter, an aura of evil and creepy music fills the air. The physics data and ancient translations lead the team to the conclusion that the cylinder contains none other than Satan himself! But wait – there’s more! A group of silent homeless people led by Alice Cooper surround the church and gruesomely swarm anyone who attempts to leave. And that's not all! The green stuff that escapes turns humans into infectious, green liquid puking zombies! Aaaaahhhh...
While much slower building than Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, there are several impressive shocks and gross outs to reward the patient viewer. Critics panned it for a number of legitimate reasons. It offers intriguing ideas that are never explored. Its epic ambition isn never realized. The characters lack depth. The supernatural scenes aren't very scary. Carpenter fans are split 50/50. Some hail it as an underrated masterpiece and others can't seem to hate it enough. Personally I thought it was just great. Satan + zombies + bugs = Johnny Sweatpants will almost certainly sing its praises.
Not that I didn't have my issues... Bright green liquid isn't scary. Heavy metal music isn't scary. Donald Pleasance never smiles. I don't have time for an atheist rant but the idea of non overlapping magisteria (that science and religion answer different questions and don't interfere with each other) always makes my blood boil. I do love me my Satan stories on a fantastical level but when the importance of science is such a prominent theme then it should be dealt with in a scientific way. I'm not asking for complicated mathematical equations in my horror movies but don't insult your audience by throwing out a few phrases about antimatter and atomic theory and expect them to accept your movie as intellectually stimulating.
I'm nitpicking. Bottom line: great unique flick. I'm disappointed in myself that I'd never seen it before.
(1974) TVM **
During the opening credits of Killdozer we are shown an errant asteroid plunging towards Earth and crashing into a Pacific Island where a construction team is busy paving a runway. This is the early 40s and presumably the runway will be as asset for our allied forces in WWII. None of this matters, of course, what matters is that while examining the asteroid the men unwittingly unleash an alien presence that immediately takes refuge in a huge-ass bulldozer.
Why is every asteroid that hits the Earth evil?
Pretty soon the bulldozer comes to “life” operating under the auspices of the alien menace. For a reason never explained the alien develops a chip on its shoulder and begins menacing the work crew, first knocking out their communications and then stalking them one at a time. What ensues is a series of hilarious sequences where the men attempt to evade the glacially paced bulldozer (picture that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the soldier is charging towards the castle but takes forever to get there and you get the idea).
Get away from me you slow-as-molasses beast!
The scenes of the Killdozer “stalking” the men are hilarious and are reminiscent of this scene from Family Guy,
Killdozer is a terrible movie that is not without its charms. This is one of those films were it would be so easy to evade the Killdozer (heck, just run into a pond) yet the men make all the wrong decisions, such as taking the Killdozer on like this,
Clash of the titans
If you’re at work and you’re bored and you have access to You Tube, watch Killdozer, otherwise skip it.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
The sauna, in Finnish culture is a place where all your sins are washed away. Two soldiers, brothers Eerik and Knut, leave a young girl locked in a basement to die a cruel death. As they travel through the swamps in the no-zone between Finland and Russia one of the brothers, Knut begins to be haunted by her. The guilt is overwhelming him and he wants to go back and let her out but they have traveled too far. They find a village in the middle of the swamp where there is a sauna. Seeking to be absolved of his sins, Knut step into the sauna triggering some really scary shit. This seems to effect the whole village and Eerik must step up and face his sins as well.
Sauna is not a gore film nor one filled with cheap scares or things that jump out at you. This is an intelligent well constructed film that builds tension slowly until it comes to one massive head. The intensity of the characters, the beautiful elegance of the sets and the much appreciated lack of cgi makes this film special. Spectacularly directed by Antti-Jussi Annila this is a film that makes you think.
Although I'm quite sure this is not a movie that would appeal to the masses(the masses are asses), I'm just as sure the intelligent folks of Horrorthon would love it. It's the kind of film you could watch several times and each time pick up on something new that you missed in previous viewings. After the fatigue of Horrorthon wears off I'll be giving this a second look. A wonderful and surprising discovery.
At first glance it’s tempting to dismiss Hard Rock Zombies as low budget butt paste. I certainly won’t recommend it to you with a straight face. Alas, it even fails the so-bad-its-good test. On the other hand there are so many peculiarities and WTF moments that I already find myself looking back on it fondly.
Originally a short film played before the feature length at drive-in theaters (the “opening act”, if you will), it took a great deal of padding to flesh this out into a full movie. This means that when fictional band Holy Moses starts playing their “hard rock” (think Air Supply) tunes, you’re going to hear the song in its entirety. This also means that there is a montage consisting of footage that was aired only ten minutes prior. It also means that you must endure an endless barrage of silliness that should never have seen the light of day.
It begins with Holy Moses rocking out on tour. Front man Jessie gets a strange warning from a fan (whom he eventually falls in love with) to cancel their gig in Grand Guignol. He probably would have taken her warning seriously had she added “because homicidal murderers that hate rock music live there” instead of running off.
The rednecks of Grand Guignol are extremely threatened by rock music and they hold a town meeting to discuss banning it, citing the dangers of hidden messages and sexuality. One concerned woman testifies “My National Enquirer says that musicians cannot play a single note unless they eat drugs first”. The ban is successful.
After a cheesy Monkees-style romp, the gang is convinced by a sexy blonde to stay with her family for the evening. Did I mention that her family consists of a pair of midgets, a werewolf and Adolf Hitler himself? Did I mention that this movie is hopelessly idiotic? Turns out Hitler lived through WWII, settled down in a hick town of California and raised a family of circus freaks that murder outsiders. I suppose he could have done worse. One by one the band members are killed (one in a reverse-Psycho shower scene, another with a weed whacker).
The band members return as zombies that resemble KISS. I have no doubt that if Hard Rock Zombies made even a slight profit then Gene Simmons would have sued faster than I could type this sentence. Anyway the rock zombies exact revenge on Hitler and his family. Then Hitler and his family return as zombies and must then be killed again. At this point I threw my hands up and said “what the HELL am I watching?” Things get extremely stupid for about 45 minutes but then reaches what turns out to be an entertaining finale. Questions?
A man hideously scarred from head to toe is abducted. A collector hired an assassin to take the man's skin. His abductor makes him an offer, tell the story of how he became that way and he promises a quick death. Turn him down and it will be long and painful. So he tells the story of how he was sanctioned by his college professor to take part in a paranormal investigation. He was chosen due to paranormal experiences he had as a child. The house is the scene of a brutal murder and also has a history of strange and violent happenings. The investigation process is long and slow to build but eventually the pay off comes and we discover the source of his skin condition.
I really enjoyed this film although it has received many mixed reviews. As with so many Clive Barker films they don't always deliver the goods quite like his stories. Having been adapted from a short story, there are some lengthy scenes that feel a bit too much like filler. Still, Book of Blood is intriguing, suspenseful and brings a solid conclusion. One thing I hate is when a film that has brought a decent amount of supernatural phenomenon suddenly explains it all and there is nothing supernatural about it. That just zaps the magic out of it for me. At one point this film does just that but almost immediately redeems itself with great vengeance much to the surprise of myself and the characters.
The late 60's to early 80's brought us a rash of horror subgenre films about Satanist cults. House of the Devil is an homage to these films -- a period piece, with characters sporting feathered haircuts and puff jackets. It's also shot on 16mm film to give it a vintage grainy look. In fact the only real giveaways that we're not watching a movie from the eighties are the wrinkled faces of Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov.
That House of the Devil is contemporary gives it an advantage over the Satanic panic films that inspired it: modern movies draw from a deeper talent pool than movies made in earlier decades. Writer/Director Ti West is trained at a higher level than a lot of his predecessors in the genre probably were. House of the Devil feels well studied -- it's very well shot and the script and the dialogue are unpretentious and convincing.
The story goes, Samantha needs her first month's rent on her very first college apartment, and she only has a couple days to come up with it. She takes a babysitting job out in the countryside. She's got reason to mistrust the family hiring her, The Ulmans. They mislead her or outright lie to her more than once before she's even at their house, and her best friend (and ride back to town) Megan exhorts her to take a hint and skedaddle. But Vincent Ulman (Noonan) offers Sam extra money for her inconvenience (enough to cover the rent). And despite the obviously suspicious circumstances, there's something in his voice that sounds like sincerity.
The tempo of the movie slows to a crawl after the Noonans leave. We spend a lot of time following Sam as she wanders around the house. Slow and quiet at first, just snooping around to stave off boredom. Later on, she slaps on a pair of headphones (remember, this is walkman era -- really huge walkman era) and goes twirling about the house to The Fixx. As the night ticks on and things get stranger, her steps grow more cautious and anxious.
This is kind of make or break time for the movie. If you like your movies to get to the point, you may find these scenes to be a drag. I watched it with my mom and that was her chief complaint, although she conceded that the rest of the stuff was well done. I had talked this movie up a lot before we saw it (I'd caught it earlier in the year), so I was relieved that it at least mostly lived up to her standards. I'm also *really* relieved there's no nudity in it -- may I never again see a movie that has bare ass while my mom is present.
If the movie were in less capable hands -- if the script and the acting hadn't already proven to be good -- this would feel like nothing more than filler. But I've always been a fan of watching characters do things in silence, so this kind of stuff works for me. Also, the breaks in the monotony are effective enough, and the moments where the movie's dread level spikes are dread-ful enough to be worth the time it takes to get there. In any case, it's only 90 minutes, so even if you think of it as filler, you're not wasting much of your day on it.
House of the Devil is a subtle piece of work, the scariest I've seen this year.