Saturday, February 28, 2009

City of Rott

Of all the animated films I’ve seen in my day, I think this may even outrank Fist of the North Star as the most over-the-top violent. Also like Fist of the North Star, it starts to wear a little thin after a while. Still, this remains the only zombie cartoon I’ve seen to date and even if it doesn’t have quite enough variety to stand with the best zombie movies out there, it’s still well worth at least a viewing.

The film follows the adventures of an old man named Fred as he bludgeons a small army of zombies to death with his walker, which he also talks to. Apparently the zombie infestation was caused by a new species of worm that got into the water supply and is turning everyone into ravenous zombies, so whenever a person gets bitten, we get to see worms dripping out of the zombies’ mouths into the wounds so as to infect new victims. Being old, Fred’s kind of a prick, and spends his whole time ignoring any fellow survivors he sees in favor of trying to find something to drink that’s not contaminated with worms, and getting some more comfortable slippers so his feet won’t hurt so much. While it’s entertaining seeing him just slaughter zombies nonstop a la Dead Alive, it is nice that right when it gets to be a little too repetitive to continue, writer-director Frank Sudol changes it up by killing him and then starting to follow the adventures of Zombie Fred.

The animation is pretty interesting in a deliberately underdone Aqua Teen kind of way. It’s nice and detailed, so you can see just what body parts are getting ripped out of someone, or what’s left of a zombie’s head after half of it is ripped off with a walker. There’s also some nice bits of humor, as when he walks past a store named Tex’s Chain Saws, or when he meets a girl that’s been bitten, and lies about having a cure so he can get her to brave a zombie-filled mall to get him some slippers. Even at under 80 minutes it goes on a little long, but I think I can say with some assurance that it is still by far the best zombie cartoon ever made, and you should give it a whirl on that alone.

Rating: ***


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Church

The Church (a.k.a. Demons 3 – not Demons 3: The Ogre, the other one. The other one that’s not Black Demons) opens with a band of knights massacring an entire village and building a church overtop of the corpses, and then spends an hour and a half showing that this was exactly the right thing for them to have done. It’s uncommon to find a movie so willing to make its heroes a pack of vicious thugs.

Fast forward to the present day, and an exploration is being done of the basement of the church, which seems curious when at least one elderly priest at the church is familiar with the legend surrounding the place (though he later goes crazy and tries to end the world, so maybe this isn’t so strange after all). The church’s new librarian manages to find an underground cave where something possesses him and starts to turn him into a demon, and before long the church has been sealed off and it's now a race against time for one lone priest to stop all the demons before they escape and destroy the world~!!!

This film, by Argento protégé Michele Soavi (yes, the guy that did Cemetery Man), was originally intended to be the official Demons 3. For reasons I do not know, Lamberto Bava (the director of the first two Demons films) instead made the terrible TV movie Demons 3: the Ogre, leaving this one to remain an unofficial sequel, despite stylistically being an obvious continuation of the series. We have people getting possessed when injured, everyone trapped in a confined space, and tons of needless yet wonderful gore. Compare that with the official Demons 3, where we get one monster that doesn’t really show up until the end of the film, and possesses and frightens nobody at all. I’m still not certain how Umberto Lenzi’s Black Demons factors into this, outside of Italians being absolutely shameless at ripping off popular franchises (see Lucio Fulci’s “official” Dawn of the Dead sequel Zombie). Regardless, of the three Demons 3 films, this is the only one at all worth watching.

If you’re a big fan of Italian horror, then you already know what you’re in store for here: great visuals, lots of blood, a fine mix of heavy overacting and thoroughly wooden underacting, and a fairly incoherent plot to help you along the way. Seriously, you can just watch it safe in the knowledge that pretty much an entire class of schoolchildren is wiped out by demons. And who can’t get behind something like that?

Also, the main characters totally fucks the Devil in it.

Rating: ***


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cherry Falls

One of the worst parts of slasher movies is the unbearable sameness of them all. It’s as though there were a firm blueprint they all must share in or else nobody will take them seriously, which severely weakens any attempts at originality they might try. While this film does not completely break free from the bonds of slasherdom, it makes a surprising enough try that I feel I must commend its efforts.

The film, set in the small town of Cherry Falls, concerns a mad killer that is slicing up all the teenage virgins in the town. Right from that we’re getting an inversion of the normal premise, where now a person is only safe if they have had sex before. The main heroine, Jody (played surprisingly by Brittany Murphy, as part of her ongoing efforts to prove to me that no matter how many times I see her, I still have no idea what she looks like), who has just broken up with her boyfriend, is now being pressured not only to start dating him again, but to immediately sleep with him so that she isn’t murdered. It’s a nice change of pace from the necessary virginal beauty we usually get in movies. This is further compounded by the general student body, getting wind of the killer’s modus operandi, deciding to engage in a big group orgy after school to keep themselves safe. Nice!

This is not to say the movie is perfect, mind you. I managed to successfully identify the killer from the first time they appeared, which does not really help when so much is made of who it could possibly be. There’s also the maddening cleverness of how a movie that’s all about arguing for young people to screw contains exactly zero nudity (sort of like the complete lack of anyone smoking in Thank You For Smoking, only not as fun because we are deprived of tits). The characters also tend to verge on the annoying side, which I guess is to be expected in a slasher film, but speaking just for myself I do always prefer getting a chance to actually give a shit about the characters before they start dying off. Still, despite its faults, it is definitely one of the better slasher movies to have come out since the 80s, and you should at least give it a try.

One more thing: if you watch the trailer below, you’ll notice Murphy spouting off about how your first time is supposed to be perfect and wonderful and magical and all that nonsense. For those younger readers that have as of yet not had sex yet, here’s how your first time is going to be, no matter how well you plan it: awkward, uncomfortable, and probably outright painful for the girl. The magical aspect of things doesn’t show up until you’ve had enough practice to actually be good at it. This is why you should in no way wait until marriage, as all that means is that your wedding night won’t stop being awkward, uncomfortable, and painful until well after the ceremony and reception.

Rating: ***


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Changeling

It’s admittedly kind of a toss-up as to whether this qualifies as a ghost movie or a haunted house movie, but I’ve always counted it as a haunted house film just for the fact that a) the ghost is possessing the house, rather than just appearing by himself a lot, and b) were it not for this film, I would have been much harder pressed to name a single haunted house movie I unreservedly liked (the only other I can name is The Legend of Hell House, and I only saw that for the first time last year).

The film opens with George C. Scott watching in horror as his wife and daughter are killed by a truck that skids in the snow. Trying to pick up the pieces of his life, he moves into an old mansion, where he swiftly realizes that things are Not Right. Here’s where the film really stands out among other haunted house stories, because unlike the standard two responses to creepy things happening in the old house, where the main characters either try to pretend nothing is happening, or see something fairly minor and just immediately flip the fuck out and go completely crazy, Scott gives a great understated performance in acknowledging that something clearly supernatural is happening, but it’s not that big a deal. Presumably due to how his world has already been destroyed in the opening scene, he doesn’t bemoan his fate at having done such a bad job picking a new home, but instead decides that helping the young boy whose spirit lives on in the house might help him move on from the deaths of his own family.

It’s a nicely understated, fairly intelligent film, that manages to throw in some good visual style as well. One visual, in fact, was apparently so good, that of him going through the floorboards to search for the boy’s body in an old well under the house, that it was so totally ripped off for The Ring (I don’t care if this isn’t that famous a movie, Hideo Nakata must have seen it). Lest you think it ends with a whimper, have no fear: director Peter Medak made sure to fill the ending with fire and pain and the death of someone who wasn’t really much of a guilty party, just to ensure that everyone goes home somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cemetery Man

There seems to be something hard-wired into my brain that makes me get all stupidly excited whenever I see a cemetery. I want to run around and explore them all, and get chased by ghosts and monsters in them. This is what a childhood filled with horror novels and movies causes. Fortunately for me, unlike a great deal of shabby-looking horror movie graveyards, this cemetery looks really, really good, as if Argento protégé Michele Soavi were actively shooting for an updated version of the cemeteries from the old Universal horror films.

Rupert Everett stars as Francisco Dellamorte, the cemetery’s groundskeeper who is stuck with the thankless side job of re-killing his tenants after they rise from the dead. He is remarkably blasé about this situation – at one point he starts to wonder if this is happening in every cemetery or just his, then just says “who cares?” His only companion in these endeavors is Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro), his retarded mute assistant. Although it starts out seeming like a fairly standard zombie movie, it soon moves into a more surreal area, to the point where we aren’t sure just how reliable the film narrative is. We see him seduce and sleep with a woman in the cemetery, and then the next day we learn that he’s impotent, which would seem to have made the earlier scene physically impossible. Further, after a conversation with Death, where the being advises him that if he doesn’t want the dead to rise, he should instead kill the living, he embarks on a murdering spree with no effort at all made in not getting caught, only to find that just about everyone but him is getting blamed for his crimes. And that ending, wow.

This is certainly not a movie that everyone is going to really get behind. It is weird and off-kilter, and leads you in one direction before shunting you off into madness and ridiculousness. It is, in short, the kind of movie that I generally love. While the 90s were largely a bit of a creative dead zone for horror films, this shows that the decade was far from a complete wash. If you have a similar taste in movies to me, you will find this film quite worthwhile. If not, then you need to develop a more refined taste.

Rating: *** ½


The Cat O'Nine Tails

I don’t know that I can stress enough just how much I adore the films of Dario Argento. He is easily the greatest Italian horror director of all time, and while his output after the 80s generally doesn’t come close to matching his earlier work, he is still responsible for many of the greatest horror films and gialli ever made. This is one of his earliest, most unheralded films, but it definitely holds up as well as his more famous gialli like Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Tenebrae.

The film partners up two sleuths (an elderly blind puzzle maker played by Karl Malden and a young reporter played by James Fransiscus) as they try to solve an increasing series of murders centered around a robbery at a research institute that’s studying the effects of the XYY chromosome on violent crime. They find a series of loose clues, nine in all (hence the title), but find that they have attracted the attention of the killer, and every time they get any closer to solving the case, they put themselves and their friends in harm’s way.

There’s quite a few of what would become Argento’s standard “killer’s POV” shots, several years before films like Halloween and Friday the 13th would make such shots routine in American horror, and a number of creepy quick closeups of one of the killer’s eyes. Argento has always been a very stylized director (indeed, part of the reason his more recent films have been so lackluster has been a sharp toning down of that style), and while he doesn’t quite hit the heights here of later films like Suspiria or Opera, he still infuses the film with a look and feel that helps to elevate it above most of its giallo brethren.

Another thing that helps is the refreshing viciousness of the kills. This is another area Argento has never shirked away from, and the brutality of such kills as a poor photographer getting strangled with a garrote for having unknowingly photographed a murder just makes the movie an extra bit of fun for everyone. If you like your thrillers flashy, bloody, somewhat incoherent, and ending with a chase through the rooftops, you need to check this film out. And then go see Argento’s other films, if you haven’t already.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Carnival of Souls

This one may be a tad overly famous for the HROHFYSSBYD, but while it was fairly well-known for its time, it seems to have largely escaped the consciousness of the more modern day audience, and so I feel justified in including it here. This is one of those films, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, that just functions so far outside the boundaries of a normal film, that it starts to feel more like a fever dream than anything sane.

The film opens, at least, with some fairly standard early-60s fare, with a group of cheerful youths deciding to go for a friendly bit of drag racing. Events quickly take a turn for the worse, however, when the girls’ car goes out of control and flies off a bridge, seeming to kill the pair in the river below. Some time later, one of the girls resurfaces long after she should have drowned, and tries to start going about her life as if nothing has happened. Unfortunately, she now seems to be getting stalked by a mysterious man that seems to be coming out of the river after her, and wants to drag her away to where others like him are. It all leads to a climax at a dark carnival filled with ghouls that all want her to join them.

There’s not really that much of a coherent narrative to the film after a while, as it gets more and more dreamlike and hallucinatory the farther she gets from her accident. I like a movie that’s not afraid to actually try something new, and I also enjoy when a movie is perfectly happy to be weird and bizarre and never actually explain what’s going on. We are somewhat left to figure out just what the hell happened, which (to me, at least) is a rather nice change of pace from modern horrors like the Saw films, where we have everything over-explained to the point where we just wish they would let us be already. It was definitely a movie ahead of its time, which perhaps explains why nobody watched it when it first came out.

Fortunately for anyone interested in seeing this film, it has lapsed into the public domain, so there is no shortage of ways to view it. There are probably dozens of prints of it on DVD of varying quality (I’ve included a link below of the Criterion edition, which is a tad on the pricey side but which is easily the best version you’ll ever be able to get), but in case you wanted it cheap as free, the entire movie is up on Youtube. Enjoy.

Rating: ***


Friday, February 6, 2009

The Car

Out of all the Jaws ripoffs that littered theaters in the late 70s, I don’t know of a single one that was better than The Car. Much like last week’s Bug, it shows that in the 70s, PG movies were fully allowed to scare the shit out of little children, something that the PG-13 rating has robbed our generation of.

The film, set in the deserts of Southern California, follows a small town sheriff (played by James Brolin, father of Josh), as he struggles to defend his people from the sudden onset of a demonic car that has started murdering everyone. The car, when you see it, just looks like trouble, even before it murders two bikers at the start of the film (and its early reveal, charging out of an ominous dark tunnel and roaring like an old muscle car with the driver flooring it every second of the drive). Even when everyone thinks someone must be driving it, the driver must be like the one in Duel, where it would almost ruin things to see his face and find he’s just some guy.

One nice thing is in how Brolin steadfastly refuses to acknowledge any supernatural possibility with the car, no matter how much the evidence seems to pile up. A large group of people attacked by the car, but is saved when they flee into a graveyard, as it seems unable to drive onto consecrated ground. One victim is killed within her own house, as the car outright leaps into the air to get into her living room. When Brolin himself is attacked, he even sees up close that there’s nobody in the driver’s seat. And then there’s the ending, which I cannot reveal, but seems to point pretty conclusively that the car was not born on this earth. All that, and Brolin stolidly refuses to accept anything other than that it was just some maniac in a car. Good for him.

The film, for all its origins as a goofy cash-in from Jaws, is quite well made, and even though the PG keeps it from being as bloodthirsty as other 70s horror films, it manages to keep as tense and exciting as any thriller (or car chase movie, while we’re at it). The car is as frightening as any masked killer, and is quite a bit louder too – this might be the loudest killer in film history, even topping the Screamers. If you liked Jaws, or just want to see a demon car running roughshod over a bunch of small town folk, you should give this one a look.

Rating: ***