Saturday, November 27, 2010

Army of Darkness

(1992) ***

Ash (Bruce Campbell) gets sucked into a time portal and dropped into the 13th/14th century. Although he's recognized as the one of the prophecy who will help against the evil deadites, King Arthur treats him as an enemy and gets thrown in a pit where his bad ass self starts kicking some evil butt.


Eventually our hero must be a hero and goes on a quest to acquire the Necronomicon and fights an army of dead in order to be returned to his own time. He battles himself, himself, himself, himself and many more himselfs.


He also battles many many skeletons, skeleton arms moved by cast members, stop-motion skeletons, and people in skeleton costume. Lots of skeletons, lots of battles. Lots of comedy.


I'm afraid of the response I'm gonna get for this, but man was I disappointed! I'd heard good things. I loved Evil Dead II. I instantly became a big Bruce Campbell fan, and god love him, he gives just as much in this movie as he did in Evil Dead II, but somehow it just didn't hit me right. Even while writing this summary, I can conceptualize all the good things in this movie, but I just didn't enjoy them while watching the movie. The one liners were mostly annoying, and the slapstick, while perfectly executed, went on just a little too long. Oh well. Maybe it will grow on me in the future? I mean, I did really like the "This is my boom stick" scene. Hell, I don't even understand why I wasn't in fits of laughter during Bruce Campbell vs himself and many mini-Bruces. Please don't hate me for my bored and disappointed feelings on this one. I promise, Evil Dead I is still on my to watch list.



Sleepy Hollow

(1999) ****


Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a late 1700's New York constable who believes in science!

The New York magistrates, however, don't like his rebellious analytical approach to justice and as punishment they send him off to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a recent rash of murders. Ichabod learns that these murders are dreadful decapitations where the head is "not found severed, but never found at all."

spoiler alert: decapitated heads are found later in the movie

The town elders inform Ichabod that the only suspect is the Headless Horseman. The Headless Horseman is a former Hessian mercenary famous for beheading his enemies who was beheaded by his own sword and buried creating a haunted area of a nearby wood. Crane rejects the elder's ghost stories and begins his investigation.

The numbers of disappearances, deaths and decapitations rise and Crane determines the murders are not random. He follows his logic into a web of mysterious intrigue, romance, witchcraft, and evil that challenges his choice rationale and scientific approach.

The opening of this film was just beautiful. Absolutely beautiful to watch. I fell in love with it. I loved the smokey fogginess, the title lettering, the blood red dripping wax, and the handwriting style of the last will and testament. I loved the horse and carriage ride through the dark scary woods, the frightening pumpkin scarecrow, the execution of the first beheading, etc. Unfortunately that got my hopes way up for rest of the film, which didn't live up to my expectations, and how could it? The movie is pretty throughout, but there was just something about the beginning.... That said, I almost always enjoy the Burton/Elfman/Depp combos.

There's something about the aesthetic that I just dig. The cinematography, set design, special effects, lighting, and both the subtle and not so subtle qualities that say "I'm Tim Burton" tend to be pretty and pretty makes me happy. The cast ain't to shabby neither: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christoher Walken, Michael Gambon, Jeffery Jones Miranda Richardson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Sheep

(2006) ***1/2

Two young brothers are raised on a sheep farm in New Zealand. When their father dies in a sheep-related accident, however, Harry flees the farm and all it represents. Angus stays on, and decides that mother nature is insufficient for sheep breeding purposes. When Harry returns, battling his sheep phobia, he walks into a situation involving bumbling environmental activists and cold-hearted genetic engineers. The collision of these factions leads to the creation of a herd of vicious, carnivorous sheep.

The minute I read 50p's review of this movie I knew I had to see it. I love horror-comedy, and sheep are usually so fuzzy and benign and peaceful. I thought the movie worked well both as horror and as comedy: the effects were great, the plot perhaps a little predictable, the humor consistent. Another good pick if you're looking to mix it up next 'thon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!



This doesn't really have anything to do with Thanksgiving, except that the moms of these two kids were downstairs making pies. Here's what Zack is reading (The first line I didn't catch; the movie starts on the second page):

A little boy planted a carrot seed (missed)
His mother said, "I'm afraid it won't come up."
His father said, "I'm afraid it won't come up."
And his big brother said, "It won't come up."
Every day the little boy pulled up the weeds around the seed and sprinkled the ground with water.
But nothing came up.
And nothing came up.
Everyone kept saying it wouldn't come up.
But he still pulled up the weeds around it every day and sprinkled the ground with water.
And then, one day,
a carrot came up
just as the little boy had known it would.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wild Zero

(2000) ***1/2

In case you were wondering, the dude behind the flaming microphone on my avatar is Guitar Wolf, lead singer of a Japanese garage rock band of the same name. (His band mates are Bass Wolf & Drum Wolf.) Like me, Guitar Wolf believes in the almighty power of rock and roll. He flings guitar pics like Chinese stars and he shouts inspirational phrases such as “rock and roll jet party to the morning!” In other words, don’t waste your time trying to be as cool as this guy ‘cuz it ain’t gonna happen.

Unfortunately the band isn’t the focus of Wild Zero. The hero of this cult classic (how long do you have to wait before labeling a movie as such?) is Ace, Guitar Wolf’s #1 fan. Ace is somewhat of a wuss but Guitar Wolf takes note of his love of rock & roll by making him a blood brother and giving him a whistle. If Ace finds himself in danger all he has to do is blow the whistle and Guitar Wolf will appear out of nowhere with, ready to wield his samurai sword (hidden in the neck of his guitar, of course).

The action consists of solid cartoon violence and there are enough explosions and splatter to satisfy the whole family. The zombies themselves are cut from the Romero cloth: blood thirsty and slow moving. If it takes more than that to hold your attention I should also mention the motorcycles equipped with booze holders, the transgendered love interest, naked women blowing away zombies in the shower and the promotional drinking game. (The instructions on the back of the box advise you to drink every time someone combs their hair or whenever a zombie’s head pops.)

As far as wacky Japanese movies go, this is my personal favorite. I watched it with 5 other people who hadn’t seen it and it went over very well. I will admit that it wasn’t quite as good for me the second time around but I'll be damned if composing this review doesn't make me want to watch it again. The middle drags and at one point I forgot I was even watching a zombie movie but it’s mostly hilarious and worth seeing, if for no other reason than to bask in the warm glow of Guitar Wolf’s coolness.

But don't take my word for it. Watch the trailer!

Fragile

(2005) ***1/2

Welcome to Mercy Falls children's hospital. Sure it's a little rundown and all the kids are scared shitless of Charlotte, the ghost of the “mechanical girl” that lives on the abandoned second floor but what the hell, it's a job. There are a few things you should know about Charlotte however before you decide to accept employment. She has a bit of an anger management problem.

Like the time when one of the kids was just playing with some old blocks. She thought they were just any old blocks, but she was dead wrong (emphasis on dead).

They belonged to Charlotte and she had no qualms about telling her so.

Now you can ignore her warnings if you like, but beware she tends to fly off the handle when she doesn't get her way. If you don't watch out you could end up like poor Simon.

His bones mysteriously broke while he was lying in bed. Just up and snapped like a toothpick. The doctor's were amazed, they took one x ray and there was one break. The second x ray taken immediately after shows a second break. Yeah, that Charlotte is a real bitch.

One final warning before you decide to take that job. At all costs steer clear of the second floor. Charlotte doesn't take too kindly to visitors, her welcome is, well, let's say it's less than gracious. Not the entity you want to meet face to face, she's no Casper that's for sure.

Thank you again Fangoria Frightfest for renewing the faith that Afterdark Horrorfest killed. Fragile was my favorite film from this series. I'm not sure I watched them all but this film certainly delivered the goods. Creepy place with a great ghost, fantastic!

I am Harry Potter


Sorry to interrupt the reviews, but since the movie just opened, this is timely (and funny).

Someone's Watching Me


(1978) TVM ***

Leigh is ecstatic when she purchases a beautiful high rise apartment with a magnificent view in downtown L.A. Her good fortune continues when she is immediately hired to work at a local television station as the station’s director. Her seemingly charmed life starts to unravel as she begins to receive strange, anonymous phone calls and worse, odd little gifts. The phone calls and gifts suggest that her unknown assailant must be someone living in the high-rise across from her building. When the police prove to be useless she decides to take matters into her own hands.



Someone’s Watching Me is John Carpenter’s Rear Window. Shot before Halloween and debuting a month after Halloween was released Carpenter’s stamp can be seen all over this teleplay. Leigh resembles the Laurie Strode “victim” and Carpenter’s POV camera work will remind you of his famous slasher. For a television movie this is a nice little thriller with above par acting and terrific cinematography. Still, it offers little in the way of originality and the big reveal isn’t all that interesting.



One minor quibble; I hate ringing telephones. There is a lot of ringing telephone in this film. I understand that movies such as Someone’s Watching Me use ringing telephones to ratchet up tension – in a sense the phone becomes another character in the film, however a ringing telephone is like nails on a chalkboard to me. At times I muted my television when the phone started ringing. I found myself yelling at the screen, “Just take it off the hook, dummy!”

Dark House

(2009) ***1/2

A group of children approach a creepy old house where orphaned children live. One girl, Claire, boldly announces that she isn't scared and walks right up to the door to prove it. She walks into the house to find a grisly scene, dead children everywhere and a crazy woman grinding her hands in the garbage disposal. Flash forward to present day, Claire is now a student in an advanced acting class. The class has been offered a once in a lifetime gig working for Walston(Jeffrey Combs) the world's greatest spook house creator. He's opening up the old child murder house as a high tech spook house and needs actors. Claire sees this as an opportunity to finally confront her childhood fears head on so she can push past them and get on with her life.

The house is rigged with a new and innovative holographic program. The holograms are scary vicious, random and interactive with the guests. Really cool, until the ghost of the crazy house bitch shows up and turns them real.

Bravo once again to Fangoria Frightfest! Great concept, tons of blood splatter, a creepy old house and Jeffrey Combs. Need I say more? Fangoria is bringing back good old fashioned scare horror, the stuff we all grew up on. Amen to that!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Black Sheep

2006 ****

Sheep are weird-looking critters. Not when shorn, because you can see how they're put together, and they're close enough to deer, dogs, horses etc. and you get them. But when they're sporting a full coat of wool, sheep are pretty bizarre to look at. Big four-legged wads of fluff, with a head adrift in the mass that clearly expresses a complete inability to do anything about it, or even really to care. But with the comic elements there is some creepiness, thanks to Christian armageddon imagery and those freaky-shaped pupils. Maybe, in the right context, the fluff can be like a lion's mane, framing not the face of nobility but of madness...

What Black Sheep has over other animal attack movies is that, well, most of those movies that I've seen were made in the 70s and they just tried to get the actual animals on camera and make them look menacing.

In contemporary New Zealand, where they have a healthy respect of puppets, sophisticated animatronics can be deployed for interactions with more character. As when the dead sheep foetus turns out to be not really all that dead...

For me the comedy was greatly buoyed by the sheep's reversal of nature. Sure, that's the main thrust of any animals attack movie: formerly chill animals suddenly become bold enough to expose man's hubris and, since they're doing it simultaneously, become organized like the mafia. But you have to figure most wild animals already have the ruthless urge in them. These are goddamn sheep. If you increase the "sheepness" in a sheep population, I'd figure they'd just, what? Stand around more intensely? But these sheep get angry. And once you've seen one sheep trying to kick through a door in rage, seeing a couple of them standing on the yard staring at you takes on a whole new meaning. They do stand around more intensely, when you know they also do... other stuff.


If you haven't read it already, please check out 50PageMcGee's review. This doesn't usually happen, but someone else went a good way towards writing the review I would've liked to write -- or at least I'm claiming that so I can phone this one in a little.

I initially thought four stars was a bit too high a rating, but I think Black Sheep earns it. It's not as good as the oft-compared Shaun of the Dead, but it delivers on all the fronts you would hope for, and manages a couple of small surprises.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Underworld





(2003) ***

A common household vampire vs werewolf movie that hasn't been reviewed on the horrorthon? I see a need and I'm filling it! However, I'm guessing the reason it was never reviewed is because even though it has vampires and werewolves, even though its in the horror section of the video store (and netflix),


and even though it has good gross make up and blood, its really just an action flick. And I'm guessing you guys figured that out before I did. The only scary things are the kinda creepy mad scientist doctor (because in my opinion all creepy mad scientist doctor types are scary), Kraven's scary bad acting, his scary bad wardrobe, and the scary telephone ringing (what, it surprised me and I jumped! Leave me alone, it was the scariest part of the movie).

Underworld has a weak plot, some good acting (BIll Nighy), some bad acting (Shane Brolly as Kraven), good make up and some decent action sequences. I can't decide what I think about Underworld's use of weapons. Semiautomatics appropriate for modern warfare? Ok. Silver nitrate liquid filled bullets getting silver into the bloodstream stops werewolf/lycan regeneration? ok. Bullets filled with special ultraviolet liquid sun deadly to vampires? Well at least they glow a pretty blue through the eyes, ears and mouths when they die....



Also, an old man with IV's is not scary--I don't care how many IV's you put in him, still not scary.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thirst (1979)

(1979) ***

I had three films titled Thirst on my watch list this year. This is the second, I didn't get to the third but 50P did and gave it a positive review so I'll watch it at some point. This strange and surprisingly unique take on vampirism was pretty entertaining.

"Plug it up Carrie!"

Kate Davis, finds out she is a direct descendant of Elizabeth Bathory, a renowned vampire, when she is abducted by a cult of self-righteous vamps. These arrogant vampires farm people for their blood going so far as to call them blood cows and they keep them at the dairy farm. They are pushing Kate to find her inner vamp and join them. She is resistant but they are persuasive in their methods making it near impossible for her not to give in to the desire.

Mmmmoo..moo

Hooked up to the milking machines

There is a particularly intense scene where Kate begins to break down and hallucinate. She's in a room alone and the walls begin to rip as she rolls along them trying to fight the desire for blood. Good stuff.

Number 17

(1932) ***

Landshark spent some time digging up Hitchcock films this year. He got me thinking about the Hitchcock films I haven't seen, mostly the old British ones. Number 17 involves a group of thieves holding up in a seemingly abandoned house but a detective is hot on their trail. The whole chase comes to a head with a climactic scene that involves a train.

I read that Hitchcock wasn't very enthusiastic about making this film since he despised the J. Jefferson Farjeon play of the same name. I can totally see why he felt that way, this film is all over the place. I found the plot rather hard to follow, utter chaos. I did enjoy the train sequence however, it was classic Hitchcock through and through. There are still more of these old gems for me to watch, perhaps next year.

Shock Waves


(1977)**

“Beneath the living... Beyond the dead... From the depths of Hell's Ocean!”

During World War II German scientists created an army of super soldiers called the Death Corps. Neither living nor dead this elite army killed with their hands and none were ever captured. No one knows what became of them. Apparently the Nazis deemed them too dangerous and dumped them somewhere where they were never to be encountered again. Fast forward to present day (*cough 1977 cough*) where we find two couples boating in the middle of nowhere. The captain (John Carradine) manages to shipwreck the boat but fortunately there’s a remote island conveniently nearby. Arriving on the island they stumble upon a sprawling mansion where Nazi commander Peter Cushing lives. After regaling the soggy sailors with tales of the SS elite, it soon becomes apparent that they still roam the territory and they are thirsty for new victims.


Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?

John Carradine and Peter Cushing add respectability to what could have been simply an awful film. Cushing is particularly good here (he will be seen as Grand Moff Tarkin later this same year) and he’s so good at his craft he has me convinced that he was an evil bastard in real life. The pacing is terrible, which you might expect from a low rent affair yet the zombies look cool and a scene where they slowly rise out of the ocean one by one is particularly effective. Director Ken Wiederhorn clearly ripped this off from Fulci’s Zombie but it’s still cool to see zombies walking on the floor of the ocean.

The House Where Evil Dwells


(1982) *1/2

In 1840 Japan a Samurai comes home one evening only to find his wife in the hands of a lover. This does not sit well with the Samurai and he does the only thing any sensible warrior would do, he slices them up like chopped liver (see above photo) and then performs hara-kiri. The story fast forwards to 1982, where bubbly Americans Ted and Laura Fletcher purchase the house. Apparently no one has wanted to live there since the grizzly murders and 140 years later it still looks exactly the same. The Fletchers can’t believe their good luck as they buy the place for a song (don’t you hate it when people use that expression?). Ted and Laura are very sexual and as they engage in coitus the first night in their new home they are unaware that they are in the presence of the paranormal.


We like to watch


So do we

The spirits of the Japanese love triangle inhabit the house and appear to enjoy playing pranks on anyone who trespasses into their final resting place. The pranks are no more sophisticated than that of an 8-year old. For example, they like to temporarily possess a body in order to make the owner of said body say silly things.

Example:
Wife (unpossessed): "Honey, why didn't Alex ever get married?"

Husband: "He's picky. I guess he never found anyone who satisfied him."

Wife (now possessed): "I'll bet I could satisfy him ... (unpossessed) wait ... why did I say that?"

Even spirits tire of playing pranks and they eventually up the ante by inhabiting the bodies of Ted, Laura, and their friend Alex. Soon the events of the past are recreated and the trio head toward their inevitable doom.

See, it's not me doing all the killin', it's this pesky spirit inside of me!

I watched so many movies with similar titles during Horrorthon that I didn’t realize until it was too late that this was the awful film Catfeeek recently reviewed. Catfreeek managed to take a terrible movie and write a hilarious analysis of it but reading a funny review about a bad movie is much more enjoyable than having to sit through one. My extra half-star was given because Cat’s review made me laugh and I laughed during the film when I was reminded of her observations (e.g. “giant crabs screaming like angry Japanese men”). Make no mistake, this is just awful.

The Reflecting Skin

(1990) *****

So the thing that kind of bums be out about coming to the horror genre this late in the game is that supernatural elements can't really scare me anymore. Devils? Don't believe. Ghosts? Nope. Zombies? What the fuck? I don't even understand why that's a thing now, and you can call me a girl for that confusion if you'd like. (And you will be right. As demonstrated by my super fineness and lack of affinity for Doodle Jump, I'm all girl.)

So finally, along comes a movie about the shit that actually scares me: real people and how horrible we are, right down to the bone and starting from an early age. We're doomed to be absolute fuckers, prone to deluded and superstitious beliefs that cause us to kill each other in bafflingly cruel and creative ways, either one on one or en masse. At best, here's what you can hope for: you find someone to love who dies by accident or of old age, which sure ain't pretty either.

Thanks, Reflecting Skin, for finally putting a beautiful frame around the real horror of real life. I won't ruin it for you, but when you find out what the title means--ew, super duper yuck.

I have only one quibble with Octo's review (and we discussed this and had to agree to disagree). I think that the dead baby Seth finds has been abandoned at birth. It only looks "aborted" to Octo, because it's so skinny and wretched (and our own baby was so pleasingly plump). The baby is definitely a weird little tangent to the plot, but the message is clear that wherever you look, you gonna find you some awful shit that people done. And I think abandoned baby makes more sense in context. While an abandoned baby makes me think, "Aw, fuck no, we don't have a chance; right from the start we're doomed," an aborted fetus just makes me wonder if the mother made it okay. (That's the feminist in me, though, the same one that can't fathom playing video games all day long, so I'm sure all of you big, burly nerd men will jump on the abortion wagon. Just like always. JUST LIKE ALWAYS! Boo hoo....) But aside from more clearly backing up the overall theme of the flick, I just think that's what Seth found. It just looked like it.

That's what you get from this film. A fun little debate about, "What's the kid carrying around? Is that a dead baby or an aborted fetus?"

I am writing this review at almost 2:00 a.m., since I fell asleep at 8:00 p.m. Even my earplugs cannot block the sound of Octo snoring. Toldja. Life is a grim affair.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Liquid Sky

1983 ****

It’s about time people started rendering unto Liquid Sky. Its long lipstick trace is smudged through much of indie cinema. -- Carlos James Chamberlin, senseofcinema.com, 2004

This movie came up in the comment discussion on one of Cat's reviews, and I realized I had to screen it (and Netflix don't got it, suckaaaaahs!).

You have to love the plot. An invisible, shapeless alien in a flying saucer the size of a serving tray comes to New York City in search of heroin. It lands on the roof of nihilistic drug dealer Adrian and her roommate Margaret, a bisexual, coke-loving fashion model who is the real star of the show. The alien visitor proceeds to suck the emotional energy of users as they shoot up in the apartment below. It does this all without leaving the saucer, just sending out its consciousness or...something. Basically it's a bunch of "alien-cam" shots that get the idea across.



Thanks to Margaret's frequent sexual activity, the alien soon discovers a more potent high: the chemicals produced in the brains of humans as they're experiencing orgasm. Unfortunately, the removal of that energy leaves a fatal crystal spike in the source's head. After Margaret makes an out-loud appeal to Indian, the spirit she believes lives in the nearby Empire State Building, the evesdropping alien disappears the bodies for her. (This effect is a riot, being achieved with some rapid stop-motion and mockups of the bodies made from aluminum foil.)

I admit I'm torquing the horror movie qualifications a little bit (hey, there's a body count!), but I really wanted to watch and review this hilarious, ridiculous, awesome movie. It's more like a love letter/expose of the Punk and New Wave scene in New York in the early 80s, and culturally that will always fascinate me more than movies about Watergate or Woodstock. Because I can look at that movie and in my best Dennis Hopper voice say "I was there, man!"

Which is bullshit. I didn't live in New York until 1987; Liquid Sky came out the same year I started high school, going to that first day without my Trapper Keeper because I wasn't sure it was "okay." Under any kind of scrutiny the late 80s reveal themselves to be largely aesthetically disasterous, lamely trying to build on the epic coolness that had recently emerged only to be swamped.

So fine, I wasn't there, man. But I feel I can make such claims because NYC was one of few nuclei of cool from which many of my favorite things in high school could be said to emerge. The sights we see in Liquid Sky are riding the wave of genius punk sensibility from the late 70s, but by '83 are in full morph into the weird, technological forms we love. The broad bell-bottom analog curves of the 70's had given way to neon grids and skinny ties, and it was great. Even if we weren't there, this was our cultural inheritence.

The quote at the top comes from the Wikipedia page, and I opened with it because the early indie elements of this movie are charming. There's a lot of dialogue, a fair amount of philosophical argument, a dash of performance art, a indulgent, sometimes jarring techno soundtrack that also plays subliminally through some of the character scenes, and a delightful number of different reads on the line "Where's the cocaine?"

Okay, that last one isn't really an indie film thing.

I was also quite smitten with the goofy but well-meaning Margaret in all her fucked-uppery. Anne Carlisle, who plays her, also plays the role of Margaret's nemesis, Jimmy.

Jimmy is the ultimate worm, a fashion model junkie with venom in his veins. If done right, I'm a total sucker for movie characters that are glorified heroin addicts. Fortunately I know better in real life.

Liquid Sky will make you feel homesick for a time and place you were probably never really at, except that you were, just miles away listening to music on headphones in the dark. It's well-paced, glamorous, stupid and brilliant. It was well worth another look.