Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jail Bait

Well, I now know why Jail Bait isn’t really mentioned when people are discussing Ed Wood’s oeuvre, and as I had guessed yesterday, it’s because it’s terminally boring. If I don’t want to commit to saying it’s the worst film noir I’ve ever watched, that’s mainly because I have a bad enough memory that, while I certainly can’t remember any that were worse, there’s always an outside chance that there was and I just blocked it out of my mind.

The plot concerns an attempted heist that goes wrong, in which the elderly night watchman is killed. Of the two would be robbers, the one that shot the watchman is wracked with guilt, and decides to confess, and is subsequently killed by his partner, who then demands that his partner’s father, a renowned plastic surgeon, give him a new face so that he can evade the police. Of course, the father has his own ideas…

Reading that, one can imagine, if not a great story, at least a serviceable one. That’s not what we get here. Instead, what we get is so dull that I want to go to sleep just thinking back on it. Wood directs this in as generic a manner as possible, planting the camera down Kevin Smith style and just assuming the material is good enough to carry the film, despite his amateur actors (just like in Glen or Glenda?, he cast his girlfriend Dolores Fuller in a prominent role) behaving in such a stiff manner one could almost suspect they were reading off of cue cards (aside from Herbert Rawlinson, who plays the old doctor -- he keeps pausing halfway through each sentence because he‘s trying to remember his lines, so he obviously isn‘t reading off of any cue cards), as they no doubt had absolutely no time to rehearse the material at all. To be fair, there is one future star in Steve Reeves, in his first film role before finding fame in a long series of gladiator movies, but outside of randomly showing off his abs he really doesn’t do much here.

It’s a shame too, because there are honestly some good moments in the story (as there would have to be, to balance out the hideous inappropriateness of the blackface routine early on), such as the idea of the plastic surgery, which to my knowledge had only been done once before in the gimmicky Humphrey Bogart vehicle Dark Passage (and which is done more like Face/Off here, half a century before that movie was made). It’s just executed so poorly at every turn that it’s impossible to enjoy any moment of it, even at such moments when the witness to the attempted robbery points the finger at the murderer and says she saw it happen even when we know full well she didn’t. In a better movie her false claims to have witnessed the whole event would lead somewhere. Here it’s just a continuity error.

There’s not much I can really say about this movie. It isn’t written that badly, surprisingly enough, but the acting and directing just crush any possible entertainment value the film might have otherwise had. I can honestly say that I feel sorry for any young film buff whose first experience to film noir is somehow this movie here, because it’s about as low as the genre goes (to say nothing of the wildly misleading title). Go check out Go check out The Third Man or Kiss Me Deadly or something instead, so that you’ll feel better about yourself after this ordeal. You’ve earned it.

Rating: *


Glen or Glenda?

I feel like I’ve been living a bit of a lie all these many years, and there’s really no better place than here, in my review of Ed Wood’s infamous ode to transvestites, to finally admit it to all of you. This is a little hard to admit, but despite my love of both terrible movies and cult films, and my love of the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood, before this week I hadn’t actually seen any of Wood’s movies aside from Plan 9. Thankfully, with the help of the Ed Wood Box Set, I am now able to enjoy such completely insane efforts as this one.

As mentioned above, this is at least theoretically Wood’s appeal to the masses to become more accepting of transvestites (one of whom was Wood himself), and in that regard it can be regarded as both fairly noble and very ahead of its time, coming as it did in the early 1950s, when being different was something that could outright get you arrested or beaten to death. Of course, what makes the film truly sublime is how Wood feels he can’t let it just be a straightforward tale of a transvestite terrified at his girlfriend/wife finding out his dark secret (and one told almost documentary style at times, due to Wood’s fairly minimalist directing style), and so has his friend Bela Lugosi play the Puppet Master (damn it, I just can’t get away from that series!), who sits in his chair on some gothic horror set while spouting random madness that has nothing to do with anything in the main story of this film or any other, while we get stock footage of bulls running or whatever. Also, when we hit the forty minute mark, it suddenly derails and gives us like ten minutes of women doing strip teases and a woman lying on a couch while a man cracks a whip above her.

One has to admire the sheer bravado on display here by Edward D. Wood Jr. On this, his debut feature, he wrote, directed, and starred in it, also coming out as a transvestite in the process (in later films he’d also take on producing and editing chores, because he was just that much of a workaholic). That he was woefully incompetent at every one of these jobs is almost beside the point; being able to accomplish even this much is pretty damn impressive, no matter how poorly executed.

Of course, that’s not being entirely honest, as the main audience for this film is people wanting to see just how incompetently made it was. They largely won’t be disappointed, as, in addition to the aforementioned goofy kitchen sink approach to storytelling (though I’m pretty certain he only threw in Lugosi and the way too long strip teases as a means of padding out a story that barely has enough plot for half an hour) we get intensely wooden acting, awkwardly spliced together takes of scenes that leave characters standing there with their mouths abruptly shut while they finish their sentences like ventriloquists, hilariously terrible dialogue that badly misinterprets transvestites, homosexuals, and hermaphrodites (it misunderstands gender relations too, but since virtually all non noir movies did back then I’ll give Wood a pass) while admirably trying to remain understanding of them all, and through it all framing the whole endeavor as a police investigation into a transvestite suicide that seems to serve no purpose beyond having a major authority figure in the form of a cop growing to understand these poor, misunderstood people. In short, it’s everything a fan of campy, culty nonsense would want.

Of course, being his first movie, he had yet to develop his style (or budget) enough to really get his craziness going properly, but it’s a very promising start to a week of Ed Wood movies. You know, aside from the Bob Flanagan movie. Up next is Jail Bait, which isn’t really one of his more famous films. I’m going to go ahead and guess that’s because it’s not as interesting as his other movies, though I can‘t imagine how that could be, if it holds true to that title.

Rating: **


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

One never knows where a classic film will appear into one’s life. I know that I certainly never suspected that a documentary about a man who became famous for pounding nails through his penis would wind up being one of the most touching and painful (okay, I had an idea about the painful part, but not exactly how I imagined) movies I have ever seen in my life, and yet here I am, urging you all to go see it.

Some backstory: Bob Flanagan was born in 1952 with cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes the lungs and throat to continually fill up with mucus, and for which there is no cure. Given a median life expectancy of six months, by the start of the documentary he’s made it into his early 40s, though he is continually in and out of hospitals and has plastic tubes permanently pumping oxygen in through his nose. His survival seems at least partially due to how he chose to deal with the constant pain of his life, by creating even more pain for himself through masochistic acts as a means of showing that he was in control of his body and pain, not some disease. It’s a decision that led him to his girlfriend of 15 years, Sheree Rose, a former dominatrix who fell in love with him and joined him in his masochistic endeavors for the surprisingly long remainder of his life.

As I mentioned, the film is surprisingly painful, both physically and emotionally. The physical part was enough to make me squirm in quite a few places: on multiple occasions, we unfortunately get to see close-ups of him nailing his penis to blocks of wood, hanging himself upside down by hooks, having Rose give him a new scrotal piercing, or appearing in the Nine Inch Nails video “Happiness in Slavery”, where clamps yank and twist on his nipples and testicles. All that, however, pales in comparison to the emotional toll of the film. While I don’t recall it being expressly stated anywhere during the doc, it’s pretty clear that Flanagan and Rose had director Kirby Dick start making this movie when it became clear he only had a few months left to live, so we get moments like when Rose is upset at him because he won’t let her give him a birthday spanking. While he doesn’t come out and say it, he’s clearly upset at her for wanting to do that when he’s visibly in so much pain that it’s taking everything he has just to sit up in a chair and talk. Meanwhile, while she doesn’t come right out and say it, she’s not upset about him rejecting the spanking, she’s upset because she knows she’s losing him to his disease, and is now unable to connect with him on the single most intimate level they’ve developed for each other.

Also, while they don’t quite capture the very moment of his death, they do show his final conversations with Rose and his mother the evening before, where he’s in a hospital bed, barely able to whisper, and openly crying that he doesn’t understand why this is happening to him and how he doesn’t want to die. Later, his mother holds up a large jar completely filled with the fluid that was in his lungs when he died, explaining that he drowned from this. It’s one of the most tragic endings to any film I have ever seen, all the worse because it‘s true.

I can imagine quite a few of you having already decided based on this description that you never want to see such a movie, and I don‘t blame you. A film filled with this much pain would be rather unendurable, if not for all the humor Flanagan infuses into the film. He constantly jokes about his condition, whether to the camera, to the audiences of his stage shows, to the students he occasionally lectures about his condition, in his songs and poems. Even in his final few days, he manages some levity, as when he decides on his final art project: “I want a wealthy collector to finance an installation in which a video camera will be placed in the coffin with my body, connected to a screen on the wall, and whenever he wants to, the patron can see how I'm coming along.” There’s also a surprising undercurrent of hope running through the film, both in his own case of having managed to live so far beyond what his doctors believed to be his life expectancy (particularly when two of his sisters also died of the disease, one at 17 years and one at six months), and in the case of a 17 year old girl with cystic fibrosis who visits him through the Make a Wish Foundation, and informs him how his book completely changed the way she viewed her condition. It’s a camaraderie built on dealing with a terminal illness, true, but when facing a disease that tends to kill you at a very young age (though Wikipedia informs me that the life expectancy for an infant born with the disease in 2008 is 37.4 years, so apparently modern medicine has gotten better at treating it), every extra day you’re around can count as a victory.

As I write this, I finished the movie two hours ago, and I’m still tearing up about it like a child. One that cries at sad things. As I said, this is not an easy movie to sit through by any means, but it is one of the most powerful and affecting I have ever seen. I strongly urge you to at least attempt to watch it, even though you may be spending a good chunk of time looking anywhere but at the screen.

Rating: ****

P.S. In lieu of a trailer, here’s the film’s opening montage:


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Puppet Master 5

So here we are. It’s Thanksgiving and I just wasted a good chunk of my morning by watching a pretty terrible sequel in a pretty silly franchise based around murderous puppets that have largely stopped being all that murderous. Fortunately for me, this was “The Final Chapter”, ending out the series on a low note, so I don’t have to review any more of them after this. That there are four other films in the DVD collection I bought is a fact I am choosing to ignore.

As the film was made back to back with the fourth, it starts shortly after the events of the last one, which we find out about by way of a lengthy montage of the entire fourth film, complete with every bit of puppet fighting or violence, just to make absolutely certain that anyone who watched the fourth film will feel like their time has been wasted (and to help pad this film’s running time, but that just goes without saying for this series). Anyway, our hero Rick (Gordon Currie) has been picked up by police as their lead suspect in the murder of the female scientist at the start of the last film, but he’s freed soon enough to go back to that damnable hotel to lead the puppets once more in their war against evil gremlin lord Sutec, slightly complicated in this by his boss Dr. Jennings, who wants to secret formula for animating the puppets to help make his company Biotech, “a major scientific industrial concern”, fabulously rich.

The film falls prey to the same problems that have plagued the series up to this point, as well as a few new ones. For one, it continues the general problem inherent in being one of the most blood-free horror franchises since the old Universal films of the 30s and 40s. Not that I automatically require that a horror movie be wall to wall gore, mind you, but it helps a lot when a horror movie has so little else to offer. Here again half the kills are off-camera, and the on-camera ones are generally so shadowy that we never get a clear look at what’s going on. Again, these movies all went straight to video, so they didn’t need to worry about MPAA censorship at any point (alright, the first one was originally intended to get a theatrical run, but that’s all). They made the conscious decision to make these films borderline PG for violence for reasons that completely escape me.

The movie also contains pretty much every other problem I’ve complained about in the other films, from the constant padding (once more we have opening titles going on for several minutes while set against a black screen just to try to prod the film along to 80 minutes), acting that starts at laughable and then goes downhill, a great deal of characters wandering around that damn hotel because they can’t afford more interesting locations, and a completely retarded storyline, my favorite part of which was when the girl in the coma at the hospital manages to achieve a psychic bond with the hotel computer (and despite the film coming out in 1994, the computer is one of those lovely green text on a black background deals one would expect more from the 80s) so she can give Rick some great advice like “HELP ME” and “KILL BEAST”. Wow, what a great contribution there. And Rick, while I have to agree that the average audience for these films is probably not the most highly literate one could find, when the computer screen is reading out “LIFE FORCE” in giant capital letters that take up pretty much the whole screen, you don’t automatically have to repeat it out loud to make sure we understand what those crazy letters and word shapes are trying to tell us.

I guess Jeff Burr should be proud, in a way. He took a series that had started out pretty retarded and managed to make the two worst films in the series up to that point. That’s quite an achievement, assuming of course that his idea of an achievement is to destroy whatever series he’s working on. Given that he also made what is easily the worst of the original Texas Chainsaw movies (Leatherface) and made a terrible sequel to a pretty underrated late 80s horror movie with Pumpkinhead 2 (I haven’t seen his Stepfather 2, so I can only guess at how wonderful that must be), I have to think that he’s been doing this sort of thing on purpose, or at least that his idea of good is very, very different from my own.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I’m going to just drink now until I can’t remember the word puppet.

Rating: *


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Puppet Master 4

I wrote in my last review that I hoped the Puppet Master series would manage to continue with its efforts to slightly improve with each successive film, in the hopes that by the end of this massive nine-film set I’ll have reached a film that could rank right up there with The Exorcist or Halloween. Rather unsurprisingly, director Jeff Burr (Leatherface, Pumpkinhead 2) had other ideas, bringing the series instead into a blissful state of deeply retarded madness.

I twigged to this pretty early on in the film, when a miniature gremlin (sent by his evil master Sutec that lives in some small cave filled with human bones) kills a scientist in a lab. That in itself isn’t that mad, but when it starts off with her having her finger ripped off, complete with her clutching her ruined hand to her chest in a camera shot long enough to clearly show her finger is still fully intact, and then rather than showing the kill it quickly flashes red and cuts to the master, who cries out “Yes, take her power. Draw her energy into us,” as ridiculous early 90s CG fog suddenly swirls out of her eyes and into the gremlin, that’s when I knew this film was going to be something special.

The film follows Rick (Gordon Currie), a robotics guy that’s become caretaker to an old hotel while trying to perfect his A.I. programs (which basically amount to creating robots to play laser tag with). He lets his friends visit him there, and soon they’ve all uncovered an old box that (after a tediously long sequence of them hammering away at the lock while one of the girls flips the fuck out and screams about the evil forces in the house) is filled with the puppets, Toulon’s journal explaining them, and the formula that gives them life. This is just in time, too, since the evil gremlins have also found the hotel, and they do not want anyone else having the secret of life.

There are so many things wrong with this movie that I hardly know where to begin. The acting is of course beyond awful, as is normally the case with these films, but when you’re handed gems like “You don’t know the forces we’d be summoning here” then you’d have your work cut out for you even if you were Brando. The kills are also largely nonexistent, as Burr has chosen to keep them all off-camera, frequently having a sudden red flash to mark for the audience when someone is killed. I can only assume this was Burr’s over-reaction to his film Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 being so butchered by the MPAA, but when you’re making a film DTV you really don’t need to worry about that sort of thing.

The pacing is also pretty bad, with lots of padding going on to try to reach that crucial 80 minute mark, from the ponderously long sequence of them hammering on the lock to the opening credits being placed on an otherwise black screen to what feels like ten minutes’ worth of just Rick playing laser tag with Pinhead and Tunneler while a generic rock song plays. It’s strange, really. Laser tag is actually quite fun to play, it really shouldn’t be so damned dull to watch someone playing it with robots and puppets in a movie.

Really worst of all, though, is that after a story that finally helped us escape the damn hotel in Puppet Master 3, we get brought right back to it one movie later. It’s as though all of my earlier enthusiasm was just completely misplaced somehow. While this movie does get some points for just sheer brassy ridiculousness -- really, you’re making a movie in a franchise about killer puppets and you include two lengthy laser tag fights? -- it’s a pretty major step backwards for the franchise, and going by the IMDB ratings, the franchise never really recovered. This was apparently filmed back to back with Puppet Master 5 (also by Burr -- yay), so apparently I’m going to hate tomorrow’s movie too. I can’t wait.

Rating: *


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Puppet Master 3

I have to hand it to the Puppet Master movies: I’m three films in now, and each one has been a visible improvement over the previous movie. Here, we get to see, if not quite the origins of the OG Puppet Master Andre Toulon (Guy Rolfe, the third actor to play the role, though he would go on to repeat the role in another three films), how he spent his time when the Nazis had taken over and decided his living puppets needed to be replicated for the war effort.

As a great many filmmakers already know, there is no concept so great that it can’t be improved by throwing Nazis into the mix, and director David DeCoteau (who IMDB informs me also directed Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, which I may have to crush on him a bit for) clearly understands that. We get an evil Nazi officer (Richard Lynch) who decides to capture Toulon and, just to show he means business about forcing him to make puppets for the Reich, guns down Toulon’s wife in front of him. Somehow this breeds a measure of rebellion in Toulon’s heart, and he manages to escape, leading to a showdown between his puppets and the major’s forces.

First, it has to be said that the period setting enables, in addition to all the cool Nazi imagery (say what you want about the regime, it had a pretty snappy look to it), the introduction of yet another neat new puppet in the form of Six Shooter, a cowboy with six arms (and a revolver in each, of course), presumably to help add to the overall firepower of the puppets now that they’re facing an actual army. We even get to see here the creation of Blade, who has always been probably the most “iconic” of the puppets (I may be wrong on that, but I doubt it -- come on, he was based on Klaus Kinski, people!). Sadly, we don’t get Torch here, despite him being outright dressed like a Nazi storm trooper, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

Unfortunately, while we do get a nice new setting, better screenplay, and better acting than we did in the first two, we do run into one slight snag, and that is that it’s not really much of a horror movie at all. The puppets are now unquestionably in the heroes’ camp for this one, and the kills noticeably suffer as a result. There’s not much available in the way of stalking and killing, and most of the Nazi deaths come at the hands of Six Shooter simply gunning them down instead of Tunneler drilling holes in them, Blade slitting their throats, Leech Woman puking up an army of leeches onto them, or Pinhead punching them right in the damn face. It’s a change that fit’s the story, but I can’t help but feel a little let down all the same.

Still, despite that, it’s easily the best film yet in the series, and I’m eager to find out if they can actually keep this momentum going. At this rate the recently released Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (the ninth or tenth in the series) must no doubt be one of the greatest horror movies ever made. I can only hope that actually winds up being true.

Rating: ** ½


Monday, November 22, 2010

Puppet Master 2

The first two Puppet Masters work well as a study in how two different directors can make two movies of pretty noticeably different quality despite having nearly identical plots. Not only did the original film follow a bit of a slasher formula, with a group of people going to an isolated location and getting picked off one by one in various elaborate ways, this follows in the tradition of a slasher sequel by basically being the same movie all over again. Also, like the best slasher sequels, it improves upon the original in almost every way (the exception: no William Hickey).

Set a few years after the first one, the hotel, once filled with psychics, is now filling up with paranormal investigators who are trying to figure out what the hell happened with the psychics getting killed by puppets and soon find themselves getting killed by puppets, which somehow takes them by surprise. They also find out that the hotel isn’t quite as uninhabited as they had believed: a man (Steve Welles) who dresses like Claude Rains and talks with a thick German accent is living there, and while he befriends them all, he couldn’t be anymore obvious as the villain if he had a moustache to twirl attached to the outside of his bandages.

The directing, by visual effects artist Dave Allen (who also did the puppet effects for the first five films in the series), shows that it’s not always a bad thing to give a directing gig to someone from a different field. The visual feel of the film is definitely improved, with the hotel looking more gothic and creepy than it did in the original film, when it looked more like…well, like a standard hotel. We also get a nice new puppet in Torch, who wears a Nazi storm trooper outfit, a black metal head (complete with metallic fangs), and a flamethrower, and our head villain, who has chosen to look like the Invisible Man for reasons that seem like they were mostly invented just so he can dress like that. The pacing is also much faster, with the first kill coming shortly after they arrive at the hotel, and the rest of the investigators actually catching the killer puppet in question (Tunneler) and dissecting him to figure out how he works, and both the kills and the nudity come more frequently here.

The only thing that’s really not an improvement, really, is the acting. The original, as I may have mentioned, had one of my childhood icons in Hickey, and Welles is a pretty shabby replacement, even if he once played Lab Tech # 1 in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. The only really entertaining actor in the whole thing was the woman who played the farmer’s wife, and I unfortunately didn’t write down either her name or her character’s, but she was pretty entertaining all the same. Still, one hardly watches a DTV horror movie made for under a million dollars because they’re expecting actual good acting, so it’s hardly a major flaw.

While I’m beginning to suspect that the Puppet Master series is never going to actually become good, this was at least a decent effort, and a clear improvement over its predecessor. If this winds up being the peak of the series (IMDB assures me the third one is best, but we’ll see), then it’s at least not the worst horror franchise out there (yes Amityville, I’m looking your way), and had enough fun moments to justify a watch. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Rating: **


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Puppet Master

As a surprise gift to the horror community, Full Moon Entertainment recently released a new boxed set of all nine of the Puppet Master films for under $40, just in time for our post-Halloween horror shopping. The main benefit of this was that I could now casually purchase one of the last semi-major horror franchises that I’d been missing up to now (due in large part to how the last set they released had the slightly less competitive price of about $100). Just as importantly as the pricing, though (well, almost as importantly), is that I’ve never previously seen any of them beyond the occasional clip in a horror documentary, so I’m now getting to go in fresh to see just how good (or more likely bad -- it is Full Moon here) all of them are.

And having said that, I can now affirm that the first film is not very good. It starts off pretty impressively -- we get a POV shot of a tiny figure running across the floor of an Olde Tymey hotel, spying on what looks like gangsters in the lobby, and then running upstairs to warn the Puppet Master, played by William Hickey. I’ve had an undying love for Hickey ever since he fully branded himself into my childhood with his roles in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and My Blue Heaven, so it’s always nice to see him in a movie. Sadly, he doesn’t last past the opening of the film, as we jump from the 40s to the present day of the late 80s, when a group of psychics starts having dreams about the hotel and the old Puppet Master, and decide to head out to the hotel to investigate the matter. I have to say, as a fan of completely stupid movie plots, the setup here is rather impressive.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t all that impressive. The psychics just wander around the hotel, triggering terribly filmed flashbacks and showing why their combined paychecks for the film were about $100. And occasionally a puppet shows up and kills one of them, though not often enough, or soon enough. The puppet attacks are decent enough for what they are -- visibly low budget, with a minimum of blood since this was made in the late 80s when the MPAA was taking a hatchet to all horror movies -- but while they’re generally different from the standard slasher fare of the time, they still aren’t really exciting enough to make up for the general dullness that makes up the bulk of the film.

Okay, there is one nice, horribly mean-spirited sequence. A woman gets attacked by Pinhead, who breaks her ankle before she can throw him down several flights of stairs. Then Blade comes at her (the other puppets in the movie, as helpfully named in the Wikipedia page, are Jester, Leech Woman, and Tunneler, though apparently there were also Indian and Oriental puppets that I missed), and she’s barely able to crawl into the nearby elevator before he can get her with his hook hand. She manages to take the elevator down to the lobby, where of course Pinhead is waiting, and starts punching her square in the face a few times (with sound effects like she was in the ring with LaMotta) before she can finally fling him off of her. She then makes the key mistake of pausing for a moment to catch her breath, which naturally gives Blade time to jump down the elevator shaft and cut her throat with his knife hand. The poor woman was getting it from all sides, it was like trying to take on Freddy and Jason at the same time here.

This isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this month by any means, and is certainly able to rise to a general level of mediocrity, but it’s hardly the sort of effort one would expect to be transformed into a franchise beyond how cool the puppets look. Director David Schmoeller does a pretty drab job here, much like he did in his late 70s slasher Tourist Trap (which remains popular among slasher fans for reasons that escape me). If you’re big on evil doll movies, you should probably check this out (though you most likely already have), but everyone else may want to give this one a pass.

Rating: * ½


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dead Space

It seems like almost every week I sit here and prepare myself to tell you about the latest Alien ripoff I’ve seen, and now…wait, didn’t we just have this conversation? I’m not honestly sure that this makes for the greatest double bill with The Terror Within, as not only are both films bad (though Dead Space is clearly superior), but both are shameless ripoffs of the same damn movie (okay, this one’s a remake of Forbidden World, but Forbidden World itself was a bit of an Alien clone), to the point where they have almost identical plots. At least this one’s set in outer space, though, so points for that.

The film stars Marc Singer, who as everyone knows is the Goddamn Beastmaster, as the captain of a spaceship whose idea of r & r is to lean back in his chair and kick his feet up while wearing only a speedo. “Sadly”, his rest is interrupted by a distress call from a nearby research station that’s under threat from what starts out as a deadly virus, but which quickly turns out to be the birth of an alien monster that quickly grows larger than any of the humans at the research station. Now, Singer has to try to stop the monster, as it stalks the station and kills the researchers one by one, before he becomes its next victim.

There are a great many ways director Fred Gallo was able to make this better than The Terror Within was. The most important, and the one I am most grateful for, is that it’s much shorter, clocking in at a lean, mean 70 minutes. First-time filmmakers, take note: a 70 minute running time is nothing to be ashamed of for your debut film, particularly if you’re making a cheapo genre film. If you’re reading through your script, and you’re uncertain as to whether or not you have enough interesting material for a 90 minute film, that means you don’t, so start trimming the fat. Of course, there’s no real guarantee that cutting it down by twenty minutes is going to make the film good, but it certainly isn’t likely to make it worse, now is it?

There are other aspects of this film that are superior to Terror Within, such as Singer’s presence. While I obviously enjoyed George Kennedy in Terror, he was only a supporting character and died stupidly, leaving us to deal with the guy that was imitating Michael Biehn and the girl whose name I never learned as our non stars. The Beastmaster, on the other hand, is just effortlessly charismatic and action star-y. Just watch him in the trailer below; you could buy a car from that man, you just know he’d treat you right. The film is also somewhat better lit -- while it’s still a fairly dark film, you can at least see what’s going on at all times, and I can’t stress enough how much it benefits a film when you can actually watch it. The monster’s a bit of a wash, though. It’s got a more interesting design than the one in Terror, but was clearly unwieldy, as rather than seeing a guy in a monster suit running around, we’re largely just limited to close-ups of its head moving around, and cuts to frightened reaction shots of the poor humans in its path. This is what happens when function tries to follow form.

I feel rather conflicted here. This is still a very bad movie, but The Terror Within set the bar so low that I want to praise it at the same time, as it takes the same basic story and visibly improves on it. I’ll just say this instead. If you’re a big (and I mean somewhat obsessive here) fan of lousy no budget science fiction from the 80s, then this movie should hold some appeal for you. The rest of you should probably look elsewhere.

Rating: * ½


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Terror Within

It seems like almost every week I sit here and prepare myself to tell you about the latest Alien ripoff I’ve seen, and now here’s another one for me to share with you all. This is another of Shout! Factory’s recent Roger Corman releases, on a double bill DVD with Dead Space (which I guess I’ll be reviewing tomorrow), and it’s almost eerie how little effort was involved in its creation.

We’re in the future and most of the world has been wiped out by some man-made plague. We center on a small group of survivors led by George Kennedy that live in an underground bunker out in the desert somewhere (ideal for a post-apocalyptic film, as it greatly reduces the chance of a car driving by and wrecking the shot), as they venture out of their lair in search of food, finding both some monsters (called gargoyles) and a pregnant woman that’s somehow survived the plague without the vaccine those in the bunker had taken. Of course, as anyone who’s seen Alien can expect, it’s actually a gargoyle baby, and when it comes time for her to give birth, it tears its way out of her belly (spraying blood all over the medical staff) and skeedaddles into the air vents. After that, it’s just a matter of hunting and being hunted, and preparing various weapons (including, yes, a flamethrower) to take down the abruptly adult gargoyle that’s now in there with them.

So let’s see: we’ve got a monster that impregnates other species with its young (though these monsters admittedly eschew the facehugger-style monsters in favor of just raping the women), a tiny crew of people in a confined, dingy metallic area with poor lighting, a monster that goes from being infant-sized to full adult in about an hour, lots of hiding in air vents, and a black guy trying and failing to stop it with a flamethrower. Does this sound at all familiar to anyone else? I didn’t think so, because this is the most original film I’ve seen since Snakes on a Train.

Of course, a lack of imagination isn’t always enough to kill a movie, so let’s get to the other problems. First, there’s the rubber suit design of the gargoyles themselves, which look like the creature on the cover of the Neon Maniacs DVD but with a crocodile snout (I haven‘t actually seen Neon Maniacs, so I can‘t really say if the monsters in that look like they do on the cover or not -- though given that it came out three years before this film, I have to assume it‘s more than coincidence). We also have the sheer delightfulness of how director Thierry Notz seemingly decided to disguise his inability to make an exciting action scene by shrouding the film in so much darkness that you can barely make out what’s going on half the time (this was a frequent occurrence back in the 80s, particularly among first time filmmakers like Notz who apparently didn’t realize just how much lighting they needed in order for their scenes to actually be visible). The bare bones lighting is kind of like today’s shaky cam action movies in how it renders the film impossible to follow at times. This means a good deal of the money shots of the gargoyle killing people are also buried in shadow, though the ones that we can see easily tend to be pretty lazy and uninspired, so I guess it evens out.

I’d also try to criticize the acting, but I have an unwarranted amount of love for George Kennedy due to a misspent youth involving constantly rewatching all the Naked Gun movies and Police Squad! You’ll never get me to find fault with him, so don’t even try. I can’t even criticize the male lead, played by Andrew Stevens of Night Eyes 3 fame, as he spends the whole movie trying his hardest to look like Michael Biehn did in The Terminator, for no discernable reason, and so I assume it was done specifically to confuse us and make us think the movie couldn’t possibly be ripping off Alien when it’s clearly ripping off Terminator instead.

This is not the kind of movie one watches by themselves unless they either have a very masochistic streak in them, or they are concerned the average ratings on their movie blog are skewed too high. It’s bad in just about every way possible, and is perhaps the worst Alien clone I’ve yet seen. I trust Dead Space will turn out better, but I’ll keep you posted either way.

Rating: *


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Toy Story 3

It’s been eleven years since the last Toy Story, and being Pixar’s flagship title (the original Toy Story was their first feature film back in 1995) I guess it was only natural for them to leave it in the hands of Lee Unkrich, in his first solo directorial effort (after co-directing Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo). I assume John Lasseter, who directed the first two in the series, was too busy making Cars 2 to helm this one. What the lack of Lasseter’s hand means is that this is the weakest of the three films, though it must be said that Unkrich still does a good job making this into what is easily the darkest and gloomiest of all of Pixar’s films to date.

See, not only have eleven years passed in the real world between Toy Story 2 and 3, but in the film world itself Andy, the boy who owns all the toys, is now in his late teens and getting ready to go to college. He plans to store away all his old toys (the ones he still has, that is; poor Bo Peep got sold at a yard sale long ago) up in the attic, but due to a misunderstanding between him and his mom, the toys get put out for the trash. Feeling betrayed, the toys take it upon themselves to relocate to a nursery school, where they’ll have a small army of children to play with them. Unfortunately, the toy end of the nursery school is headed by Lotso the Bear (Ned Beatty), a seemingly nice old man that has his own ideas about how they’re all going to fit in there…

One thing I like about Pixar is that they seem to be outright incapable of making a bad movie. I’ve seen every one of their movies except Cars, and A Bug’s Life was the only weak one in the whole bunch (curiously, that was directed by Lasseter). This one may wobble at times, but it’s still pretty clever and touching, capturing the pain of toys who have outlasted their owner’s interest in them, and what kind of life (or lack thereof) that would create. It’s also nice how they managed to retain all the old voice actors: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, even John Morris (Andy) are all back, and joined by Beatty and Michael Keaton (who plays a downright inspired Ken). One of the most important aspects to movies like this is a collection of interesting, likable characters, and Toy Story 3 is packed with them.

Unfortunately, while the film has a good many highlights (Spanish Buzz being the best, though the opening adventure is a close second), the pacing is also pretty off, leaving the film dragging at times. Further, presumably due to the long gap between the films, it also feels the need to play sort of like a greatest hits at times with its characters, trying to get in all of their catchphrases several times (not only do we hear the lines “There’s a snake in my boot!” and “To infinity and beyond!” far too many times, but we even return to the three aliens and their worship of the claw) to try to garner cheap audience applause. Sorry, but unless said catchphrase is either “Cooooobrrraaaaaa!” or “Cobra-Lalalalalalalalalalalala!”, I remain unmoved.

The movie is still good, if rather emotionally draining (we’re essentially dealing with Toy Hell here, or at least Toy Purgatory), it’s just that the shoes it had to fill may have been a little too big (Full disclosure: when I saw Toy Story 2 in the theater, I literally fell out of my chair at one point because I was laughing so hard. This may not have been a normal reaction). It’s a movie well worth seeing, though I do have to say, newer parents may want to keep in mind that it is a little bit darker than one would expect from a G film. Of course, I went to see Gremlins when I was three and loved it, so as long as you haven’t raised your kid to be a total wuss they should still enjoy it. If you don’t know if they can handle it, that’s just all the more reason to make them see it. Frankly, they sound like they need to toughen up a little.

Rating: ***


Monday, November 15, 2010

Cannibal Girls

I suppose it shouldn’t be odd to discover that, before helping to make the 80s completely awesome with such films as Stripes, Twins, and Ghostbusters 1 & 2, director Ivan Reitman first got his start with this early 70s horror movie. After all, it’s sort of a rite of passage for directors to get their start by making cheap exploitation fare; everyone from Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13) to Peter Jackson (Bad Taste through Dead Alive) to Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha) to…well, I could go on for a while with that. So what better way, then, for a goofy, offbeat director to first make his mark than with a goofy, offbeat horror movie?

The film stars Eugene Levy in his second role (it was both his and Reitman’s second film, after Foxy Lady, which I know nothing about) as a young hippie on vacation with his girlfriend (Andrea Martin). While traveling through Canada, they are told the legend of the cannibal girls, a trio of women that ate their victims and as a result never got sick a day in their lives. As it turns out, the house the girls lived in is now a bed and breakfast, so they decide to spend the night there, meeting their rather outlandish (and touchy feely) host, and his staff of three suspiciously familiar looking women…

Now, the problem with that synopsis is that it makes the film seem like a natural progression from plot point to plot point, when the film is actually, in the grand style of 70s films and films without much of a budget, extremely loose and free form, feeling half improvised for the bulk of the film. You get random bits like a couple characters playing Monopoly (which, combined with the period clothing and woodsy setting, just made me think of Friday the 13th), or the butcher that gets his own closeup so he can assure Martin that “if it was any fresher it would get up and tell you itself!” before winking at her to end the scene. I won’t even get into the last twenty minutes, where the film seems to have ended too early at the one hour mark and so hits the reset button and tries to do a bit of a jazz riff on it.

It’s a completely weird, loopy effort, which I suppose is the sort of thing one should expect from a director that would go on to be primarily associated with Bill Murray. One could almost forget it was a horror movie at various points, were it not for all the gory murders (and the rampant nudity, I guess, but that happened in almost every movie in the 70s). It’s a little incoherent at times, though I guess that’s to be expected when dealing with a movie about immortal cannibalistic women, and the frequent nudity and surprisingly graphic violence help it over the various hurdles it encounters.

The film does fall into the trap that hits most horror comedies, in that by dividing its efforts it manages to not be funny enough or scary enough to justify itself, but it’s still a thoroughly watchable venture, with enough highlights to (mostly) make up for the more draggy sections of the movie. Reitman, Levy, and Martin would all go on to bigger and better movies, but it’s kind of neat seeing such an early, juvenile effort by them. Thanks can go out once again to Shout! Factory for giving this a long-awaited DVD release, they deserve praise for all the old movies they’ve been releasing lately.

Rating: **


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not of This Earth

While I seem to be disappointed by them as often as not, I’m rather glad that Shout! Factory has been releasing so many of Roger Corman’s productions from the late 70s through early 90s. For one, I’m a bit of an idealist and want every movie ever made to have a DVD release, and for two, I’m always excited to have another early Jim Wynorski film getting a proper showcase.

Of course, being a fan of cheap exploitation directors like Wynorski does mean that one will be frequently let down by them. I had here been hoping for a film on the same level of quality as Sorority House Massacre 2 or Chopping Mall (or at least on the level of Transylvania Twist), and instead wound up with something closer in quality to Komodo vs. Cobra but with much more nudity. Granted, I’m hardly one to turn my nose up at naked women, but outside of Traci Lords, none of the ladies here are really attractive enough to justify themselves.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again. The film stars Arthur Roberts as Mr. Johnson, a vampiric alien who comes to Earth on a mission to see if his species can survive on our blood. Disguising himself as a human, he soon enlists the aid of a nurse (Traci Lords) who moves into his home to give him a series of transfusions to keep him alive, while slowly discovering a little too much about her new employer. Like his ability to drain all the blood out of his victims instantaneously just by removing his sunglasses and looking at them, for instance.

The main problem with the movie, if I had to point one out, is that there’s about enough of a plot for an episode of the Twilight Zone, here stretched out for about 80 minutes. It’s a very slow-paced, draggy film, and aside from Lords’ willingness to get naked frequently and a faint trace of Wynorski’s normal humor (though much more muted here than in his other efforts of the time), there is very little to offer here. There are some entertaining scenes scattered here and there (the highlight easily being when he picks up a trio of the most ridiculous prostitutes in film history, though the opening, featuring a couple getting it on in a car being killed by an alien is pretty nice too), but they account for less than half the film’s running time.

Even though I wasn’t really expecting much out of the film, it’s hard for me to not feel a little bit disappointed in it. After all, when I watch a Jim Wynorski/Roger Corman match-up, I do have a right to expect a bare minimum level of quality that just wasn’t shown here. It’s easily the dullest Wynorski film I’ve yet seen, and all the Traci Lords nudity in the world doesn’t fix that. Though I would not be opposed to her trying it some more.

Rating: * ½


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Howling 2

I hope I’m not ruining my horror cred here when I admit that I’ve never particularly been a fan of the original Howling. While I do normally think Joe Dante is a fantastic director (I’ve seen most of his other films and liked or loved all of them), the difficulties in making a werewolf movie that isn’t lousy were apparently too much for him to overcome at such an early stage in his career. I do still understand why so many werewolf fans list it as one of the best werewolf movies ever made, of course, as the standards of that genre are so low that it actually is. One might ask why, when I didn’t really care for the original, did I decide to buy the second one, and I don’t really have a feasible answer for you, beyond that it was cheap (on sale for $4 at Amazon for their Halloween sale) and I do a lot of impulse shopping.

At any rate, I am glad I saw this movie. Not because it’s good, mind you, but because it’s so batshit insane that it just can’t bring itself to be boring at any moment. It’s the sort of movie where you’ll get an evil midget taking off his Punch mask (from Punch & Judy, something I’m sure none of you clever readers need explained) and stabbing someone before another character rushes him and throws him out a second story window where he’s impaled on spikes below. It’s the sort of movie where Christopher Lee, going against all sanity and logic, is actually one of the heroes instead of a villain. It’s the sort of movie where (I sweat this actually happens) he takes out a werewolf with a holy hand grenade. Brilliant.

I can’t really do a full paragraph on the plot with this film, because it was all so disjointed and weird that I honestly couldn’t follow it at all. The film’s subtitle is “Your Sister is a Werewolf”, which is something Lee informs a young lady at the beginning, when he tries to recruit her and her boyfriend into his lycanthrope hunting crew. Apparently, there’s a secret cult of werewolves (led by Sybil Danning) plotting to take over the world entire, evidently by wearing skimpy bondage gear (!) and using their magical powers (!!!) like when Danning shoots red lightning from her fingertips, causing a man’s face to abruptly turn into a rubber mask with blood pouring out of the eyes (along with a sound effect that makes me suspect we’re meant to think his eyes actually exploded, even though they’re still there). Anyway, they must all be stopped for the good of the world. Also, much is made of them transforming with the full moon, and yet several times one of them attacks in broad daylight, because consistency is for fools.

But really, consistency and its brother coherency are not what one watches a film like this for (at least I hope not). No, we watch movies like this because they show that an American director like Philippe Mora (IMDB tells me he’s a Frenchman that’s spent most of his life living in Australia and England, but clearly the site has been tampered with by foreign agents) can make a movie just as wild and crazy as a Japanese director might have made. And if it’s one that happens to have a good deal of blood and nudity in it as well, then that’s just all for the better (the scene where Danning rips off her top and shows the goods is so nice, in fact that they replay it about a dozen times over the end credits, which is really how all movies should end).

Of course, those going in hoping for a good werewolf movie are probably going to be rather disappointed. Half of the werewolves are killed with things other than silver, they sometimes show up in the daytime, they have magical powers somehow, and they look more like rejected models from Planet of the Apes than actual werewolves. The constant religious iconography might be a turn off as well, as they’re blatantly stealing a theme from the much more popular vampire genre in the clear assumption that it was the religious element to vampires that made them so much more popular. Still, despite the obvious disregard the filmmakers had for the genre they were working with, it was hard for me to avoid being entertained for the bulk of the film. It’s messy, stupid, and crazy, and you could do much worse than to catch this during your next werewolf movie marathon. Don’t lie to me, I know that you have them.

Rating: **


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Night of the Demons

There’s always a little bit of trepidation involved when preparing to watch a movie that was finished and shelved for a couple years before finally being dumped onto DVD with pretty much no fanfare whatsoever, particularly when it’s a remake of a moderately popular horror movie from the 80s, which should have at least guaranteed it a minor profit in theaters regardless of quality. It’s that lovely vote of no confidence by the studio that just forces you to assume the worst about the film.

Which means that it’s kind of surprising to discover that the film is actually somewhat superior to the original, making it an extremely rare kind of remake. The last instance I can think of where a remake was better than the original was John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing way back in 1982. I’m sure there’s been one or two since, but none that comes readily to mind. To be sure, that’s as much due to the original film not being very good as it is to the relative quality of this effort, but a win’s a win however it comes.

For those that haven’t seen the original, it’s Halloween night, and popular girl Angela (Shannon Elizabeth, long after her American Pie fame has vanished) is hosting a huge party at some abandoned house where some people died in sepia tones in the prologue in goofy, overly gory ways. After the damn cops raid the place, we’re left with just a few stragglers, who discover a walled off room in the basement, where a skeleton with a gold tooth lies on the floor. When Angela tries to get the gold tooth, however, the skeleton snaps down and bites her, infecting her with a demon that needs to spread to seven people (coincidentally the number of stragglers) before dawn so it can free itself from the house and wreak havoc over the world entire. Trapped in the house now, the remaining people now have to find some way to survive until morning.

That’s not exactly the plot of the original, but it’s close enough to be instantly recognizable. It ramps up the violence and nudity from its predecessor, and while the CG is pretty much always noticeable whenever it appears, it at least provides co-writer/director Adam Gierasch with the ability to include things like having someone’s face outright torn off their head, which I could never bring myself to speak against. It also has the benefit of having much better actors on hand -- sure, Amelia Kinkade was a much better Angela than Shannon Elizabeth is here, but you just can’t top Edward Furlong thoroughly hamming it up and visibly having the time of his life as her drug dealing scumbag friend. Also, while I generally prefer when remakes just use the same general premise of the original, and not remake all the actual big scenes (see the recent remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street to see how terribly wrong that path can go), I will say they do a nice job here updating the lipstick scene. And no, for those of you that haven’t seen either version, I won’t spoil what that is.

The Night of the Demons remake isn’t ever going to be mistaken for a classic, but it’s certainly in the upper tier of horror remakes I’ve encountered. Again, while that’s admittedly because most remakes are awful, it’s effortlessly watchable, and comes so close to being an actual good film that one could easily be fooled into thinking that it was (particularly during the lesbian seduction scene, which was incredibly awkward and fake, but which had two girls kissing and brief nudity so I didn‘t care). Fortunately you have me here to set the record straight, but I feel a little sad for all those poor souls out there that are buying this without having me around to give them fair warning.

Rating: ** ½


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don't Go Near the Park

While the reviews here tend to be somewhat skewed more favorably than the average critic’s, as I have the luxury of reviewing only movies that I was interested in (and therefore would normally hope were good), there come times such as now when I purchased a movie (usually, as is the case here, a horror movie) for the express purpose of trying to see just how bad it is.

Don’t Go Near the Park has quite a pedigree. Fans of 70s grind house fare will be familiar with the “Don’t” horror movies, which were a number of cheaply made horror films warning audiences not to go somewhere or do something. Films like Don’t Look in the Basement, Don’t Go in the House, Don’t Go in the Woods, Don’t Open the Door, etc. Every last one of these was a terrible film, though some were admittedly quite entertaining in their badness (my favorite probably being Don’t Go in the Woods). Don’t Go Near the Park, on the other hand, is pretty widely considered to be by far the worst of the lot, with an Amazon rating of 1.5 stars and an IMDB rating so low that a few more negative reviews might well push it down into Bottom 100 territory.

The problems start right at the opening text crawl which informs us that “while the film you are about to see is fiction, it's based on actual occurrences which happened over the centuries”, before jumping into a plot about two Neanderthals cursed by a witch to stay young forever by cutting people’s bellies open and eating their internal organs, thus stealing their youth. Yeah, I must have missed that part of my world history class too. The one Neanderthal (Robert Gribbin), now in semi-present day, winds up falling for a young woman he’s stalking (scream queen Linnea Quigley -- this, by the way, was her 38th highest ranked movie by IMDB), marrying her, and having a daughter (Tamara Taylor). The daughter quickly grows up to get molested by a bunch of guys in a van (shortly before the van crashes and explodes for reasons unknown, leaving her the sole survivor), get hit on by a seven year old boy, and be used in a dark ritual intended to end her father’s curse in some vague way.

There’s quite a few problems with the film, from the acting to the near complete lack of a plot to the terrible dialogue to the even more terrible gore effects, which generally involve a character’s shirt being ripped open to reveal a giant fake-looking wrinkly pot belly for the Neanderthal to rip into and yank out organs. The acting routinely is along the lines of the cast standing there reciting their lines completely devoid of emotion, as if the only film any of them had previously seen was Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (that film I would absolutely recommend, as the complete indifference every last actor in it has to everything starts to become outright hypnotic after a while). The plot, what little there is of it, is badly disjointed, with scenes ending abruptly (sometimes with just an immediate cut to a different scene without any resolution) and plotlines being dropped and never mentioned again. The dialogue is perhaps the worst part, though: it’s as if co-writer and director Lawrence D. Foldes decided to pass off dialogue duties to someone from France who was then in their second year of English courses in college, or perhaps gave the task to a robot to handle. It’s awkward and stilted to the point where it’s nearly impossible to believe someone that speaks English as their native tongue could have written it, and the actors frequently wind up pausing awkwardly (some would says Shatneresquely) midsentence, as if pondering where their life’s decisions have led them.

While there is plenty of (terrible looking) blood and Linnea Quigley’s breasts in the film, there are a great many films from the 80s that feature both things and are much better than this. Do yourself a favor and go check out Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers or Return of the Living Dead instead, if you’re looking for such a film; you’ll be much happier than you would be watching this drivel.

Rating: *

P.S. Notice how, in the trailer below, they showed almost nothing from the actual film. This is because they were fully aware that anything they showed would only decrease ticket sales.


Monday, November 8, 2010


One of my friends saw this in theaters and helpfully informed me that it was the best Predator movie since the second one, which has to rank among the faintest praise a major motion picture can get. Better than Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem??? Why, it must be a classic!

Well, fortunately, it did turn out to be pretty good after all. This is a little surprising, considering how director Nimrod Antal’s previous film Armored was one of the most tedious cop movies I’ve ever seen (he also directed Vacancy, which I thought was decent, but I seem to be a minority opinion there). The plot’s pretty simple: a group of Earth’s toughest badasses wakes up in freefall above a jungle, where they start banding together and realize they’ve been selected as prey for an alien race of big game hunters. Led by Adrien Brody, they now have to try to find a way off this alien world and make their way back home before any of the predators now hunting them can finish them all off.

Since it’s an action movie, we can start our analysis of the film with that. A good deal for the film, too, as the action scenes are the best parts of the movie, though they still aren’t anything that amazing. Too many of these sequences either feel fairly generic and unoriginal, or feel like they were blatantly designed to evoke the memory of the original (most keenly felt when the yakuza character decides to buy the rest of the team time by staying back to go one on one with a predator while armed only with a katana, shades of Billy from the first film). The ones that work best tend to be earlier on, when they’re accidentally triggering traps that have been placed around, or when they fight off a pack of horn-covered beasts that are set upon them.

I can’t give this a firm recommendation, as the film’s various flaws tend to be too numerous and pervasive to comfortably ignore. There’s the problem of the dialogue, which gives us such classic lines as “Your ass is amazing” and “Come on, you alien faggot. Come on, come on, come on, come on!” There’s the completely unsurprising third act revelation that the quiet and seemingly out of place doctor (Topher Grace) is actually the worst one of them all. There’s the troublesome CG, which makes the film look like it was rushed to make it in theaters by its release date before it was really finished (this is particularly noticeable during one high speed pan through the jungle, where -- well, let’s just say it doesn’t look quite as impressive as Avatar, but more like a PS2 game). Antal does try to overcome the screenplay’s various weaknesses by hiring a bunch of actors talented enough to partially compensate for it, from Walt Goggins to Laurence Fishburne to Danny Trejo, but they mostly have a thankless task trying to overcome the dialogue they’re given (Goggins in particular has such terrible lines, including the ass line above, that it was almost depressing to see how far Shane Vendrell has fallen). Louis Changchien, as the yakuza character, somehow manages to fare the best, but that almost certainly has to do with how almost all of his lines are in Japanese.

I would have off-handedly assumed that any of you considering watching this would have managed to already, but IMDB sadly informs me that it only made $52 million in theaters, roughly $30 million less than the first Alien vs. Predator did. This may be a somewhat mediocre effort, but it deserves better than that, at least. Still, while I hesitate to ever call something a rental only (after all, the movie’s either worth seeing or it isn’t), this is definitely one you won’t want to blind buy.

Rating: ** ½


Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Toxic Avenger

It’s appropriate that this early 80s effort by Lloyd Kaufman wound up being the film that largely put Troma Studios on the map and created the company’s signature character, as it’s arguably the best film Troma has ever released. Admittedly, I’ve not seen close to all of their films, as I’m not really a big fan of their style of humor, but of the ones I’ve seen this ranks above even Mother’s Day and Redneck Zombies, two of my other “favorite” Troma films. It’s also much, much, much better than Slaughter Party or Beware: Children at Play, which are not among my favorites.

The film follows Melvin (Mark Torgl), a tremendous nerd who works as a janitor in the Tromaville Health Club, and who runs afoul of the numerous bullies and gang members of the town. After a rather humiliating prank which involves him dressing up in a tutu, he is chased by what appears to be half the town until he smashes through a second story window and falls into a vat of toxic waste. Horribly disfigured and transformed by this waste (and now played by Mitchell Cohen), he has now dedicated his life as the Toxic Avenger (still with the tutu) to romancing a blind woman and viciously killing off all the evildoers of the town, from the gangs to the corrupt mayor.

The idea of a prank gone wrong and the survivor killing his tormentors is hardly a new one, but that’s almost beside the point. Despite its low budget, this seems to have better production values than just about any of Troma’s other movies (perhaps due to Kaufman himself having directed it, or perhaps just because filming on video hadn‘t become widespread yet), and just as importantly, the jokes actually mostly work (uncommon at best for the company) and the violence looks really nice. I think we can all agree that such a thing helps make a horror movie better.

Here’s the problem I normally have with Troma. It’s not that I have a problem with bad horror movies -- if anything, this entire blog stands as proof that that isn’t the case. However, the really fun, entertaining bad horror movies are the ones that actually tried to be something really good and just failed miserably. Most of Troma’s output, however, has them seemingly going out of their way to make bad movies, so that they can presumably then point at it and go “ha ha, look how lousy this is, isn’t that funny?” Well no, not when you’re being all self-conscious and awkward about it it’s not. Just try to make good movies, and if you wind up having made a great many good bad movies, then that’s perfectly all right. This method of trying to make bad movies in the hopes that they turn out as good bad ones is just designed to fail almost every time.

Of course, it’s somewhat out of place for me to post that rant here, at a time when the Troma formula was actually pulled off pretty well (plot and pacing aside), but I watch Troma films so rarely that I figured if it wasn’t said here and now it might never be said at all. Which I’m sure Kaufman and co. would have been fine with, but it sadly just wouldn’t have worked for me. I hope you and they can all forgive me.

Rating: ***


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Leaves of Grass

Perhaps if I watch this movie again, I’ll be able to appreciate it more. It’s certainly a good, funny movie, but as a clash of two worlds (academic vs. hick stoner, both represented here by Edward Norton), the one I much preferred was the send-up of academia, and I feel it was sadly underrepresented here. What we wind up with instead, with an unexpected murder and an astonishingly weird stand-off, is pretty entertaining in its own right. It just seems a bit of a shame that we couldn’t get a full hour and a half of comments about how academia is just people writing papers about papers other people have written.

But anyway, to sidestep my nerdiness for a bit, the film has Edward Norton pulling double duty as twin brothers, one of which is a philosophy professor who, shortly after almost being sexually assaulted by a female student, hears the tragic news that his brother has been killed with a crossbow. Flying back to his home state of Oklahoma, he quickly learns that his brother is quite alive and well, and in fact just had a friend tell him (Academic Norton) he (Stoner Norton) was dead so that he (Academic) would come visit in time for his (Stoner) pending wedding. Oh, and also could he (Academic) go visit their mother while impersonating his brother so that he (Stoner) can go do a major drug deal while appearing to law enforcement officials to be in another part of town?

Let’s get one thing out of the way here: while the story is a bit muddled at times, the film is generally pretty damn funny. In my opinion, it’s at it’s best during such statements as when Stoner Norton mentions that to help read his brother’s published paper on someone else’s paper on Heidegger, he read through the entire Oxford English Dictionary (yes, it was funny to me, and should be to anyone with an English degree), but it still works fairly well when it devolves into drug world humor (the battle between one man armed with a knife and another armed with a brass menorah is a particular highlight). It’s also obviously quite well acted, not just by Norton himself (though let’s face it, he is one of the best actors in Hollywood today) but by such supporting actors as Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss. No matter where you look, someone new keeps popping up to entertain you.

Indeed, that might almost be a problem with the film. It has so many different ideas that it starts to lose focus on what it’s trying to accomplish. All too frequently we get great scene set-ups that end with gunfights, seemingly as though writer-director Tim Blake Nelson wasn’t sure how to end what he had begun. Even with the large supporting cast, you’ll often get a new character appearing just to get you all excited about how goofy and neat they’re going to be, and then they leave forever just like your father did because you misbehaved too much.

Still, just like your absentee father, at least when they’re around they’re delightful. And if the movie isn’t everything that it could have, or should have been, then at least it’s better than the bulk of comedies that come out of Hollywood. That should certainly count for something, as should the fact that it took the time to linger on a shot of Walt Whitman’s famous poetry book “Leaves of Grass” to try to distract us from how the leaves of grass in the trailer are pot leafs. It’s that touch of class that makes it all better, you know?

Rating: ***


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Final Patient

As BC over at Horror Movie a Day is always fond of saying, when you’re operating with a low budget, the only aspect of the film that doesn’t cost anything is the script. This is especially the case when you (you in this case being director Jerry Mainardi, naturally) are just writing the script with your brother. That’s why it’s always nice to see a film like The Final Patient, a low-budget effort (IMDB estimates it at $498,000) that actually took the time to come up with an interesting and original story and characters, at least before throwing in a weak, obligatory horror movie ending.

Bill Cobbs plays Dr. Daniel Green, an elderly country doctor who draws attention from his community when he rescues a boy pinned under a tractor by lifting the whole tractor up and pulling the child out. The townsfolk get to talking around the bar, and sharing stories of him displaying extraordinary strength, such as lifting up a twenty foot oak tree, or running one night faster than a dog despite his cane. Two young med students hear all this, and decide to check him out to see what his secret is, and after being invited to his house for supper, he begins to regale them with the story of his life and how he became so strong in the first place. Of course, some secrets are better left unknown…*

There’s quite a bit to like about this movie. As I noted in the tags, for most of the movie it functions more as a drama than a horror movie, filled with a great deal of people talking, slowly building up the mystery of the doctor. Some will undoubtedly find this slow and tedious, but I for one am happy to see a low-budget horror that’s not just yet another slasher movie. Further, and this is eve more unexpected for a low-budget horror, the central character is actually played by a really good actor. Cobbs is worn down with life, and yet still just seems more interested in goofing around and telling long-winded stories to his young companions -- you know, like how old men frequently are in real life and almost never are in the movies (when they appear in movies at all). The two med students aren’t as interesting, but at least they’re not visibly bad either.

Of course, all this goodwill is partially undone by the ending, where the movie devolves into more standard horror fare, in a similar (though briefer and less effects oriented) manner to Splice. I actually kind of wish that, while keeping the supernatural mystery about him, they actually had kept it at a drama instead of a horror movie at all. It would have had the potential to have a much better ending than it wound up with, at least.

If you don’t mind a movie with a nice slow build and casual pace, and don’t require scenes of violence throughout the film, The Final Patient has a lot to offer you. Of course, it’s remained pretty obscure since its release five years ago (to the point where the DVD is a bargain price now) while visibly worse-made but gorier indie horrors have thrived, so I may well be in the minority on this.

Rating: ***

* This is actually not true.

P.S. Since the ending is the only part of the movie that really has any violence, the trailer below naturally takes pretty heavily from there. Fair warning.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I guess Giallo just wasn’t enough Argento for me for the week, so I decided that today’s movie should be one of his more notable: it’s his first feature made in the United States, the first time he directed his daughter Asia in a film (and as a result the first time he filmed her naked, something he’s also done every subsequent time she’s appeared in one of his films), and it’s the film most of his fans point to as the one where he started to fall apart creatively. Of course, the real question for me was, is the film really as bad as everyone makes it out to be, or is it just bad compared to his earlier work?

Of course, such questions are fairly meaningless when you can just look at the star rating tag; still, it’s a worthy question, and in answer to it I must acknowledge the film to be merely fairly middling, and not outright lousy. The film follows David (Christopher Rydell), who befriends a young European lady named Aura (Asia Argento), an anorexic with a dark past who escaped from a mental clinic after having witnessed her parents being murdered by a brutal serial killer named ‘The Headhunter’. The rest of the film is mainly just the two of them trying to find and stop the killer before he manages to kill them too.

First, let’s talk about what this film does right. That’s mainly the violence, with gore effects by the always helpful Tom Savini (though the opening decapitation features a delightfully fake-looking papier-mâché head). In proper giallo and slasher style, Argento throws in another grisly murder right at the precise moment when the plot starts to bore us a bit (occasionally he spices it up by throwing in some nudity instead, but it’s mostly violence). On a related note, the pacing is mostly good too -- it takes too long to end the damn thing, because of the giallo tendency to reveal the killer at the end, and then show how clever the filmmakers are by revealing that the killer they just named isn’t the real killer after all, but is actually this character, but until we hit that plot speed bump it moves along pretty quickly, with all the creepy POV shots and random madness present (one of my favorite moments: a psychiatrist tries to get Aura to eat some berries for her condition, and after she says she doesn’t want any drugs, he yells at her “It’s not a drug! It works on the memory!” Well, that just makes perfect sense then).

Of course, that just rather naturally segues into some of the problems I had with the movie, one of which is that the dialogue is at best ridiculous and at worst horrible. This is forgivable when he’s making movies in Italian and some third party is doing a slapdash effort to overdub them, but it’s much less understandable when the film was originally designed for English. There’s also the matter of the wildly inappropriate music. According to IMDB, Argento had wanted to go with longtime collaborators Goblin, which would have been a completely awesome choice (go listen to the soundtrack for Suspiria if you don’t believe me), but the studio demanded he go with a more American sounding score, leading to the oddly sprightly and cheerful soundtrack that we wind up with. Truth be told, I’m not really certain that this should count as a negative; it certainly doesn’t help make for a legitimately better movie, but it is so absurdly out of place that it sort of loops back around and becomes rather inspired.

There’s also, as mentioned earlier, the problems with the plot, but really, you can count the number of gialli with coherent stories and plausible killers on your fingers, regardless of whether or not this was made in America (by the way, I do consider it somewhat clever of Argento to flip the traditional giallo story of an American trying to solve a string of murders in Italy by here having an Italian trying to solve a string of murders in America).

While this wasn’t as good as I would have hoped for, it also isn’t as terrible as I had feared, and I’m glad I bought it, as it brings me closer to my end goal of owning everything Argento has ever done. Indeed, all I have left to see of his “bad” period is Sleepless and The Card Player, so I’m very close to have as full a collection as one can have without The Five Days being available in the U.S. I know you’re all very interested in this. I know I certainly am.

Rating: **

Type rest of the post here


Monday, November 1, 2010


Given the history of the giallo genre, it seems a little crazy that a movie like this had never been made before now. Just think, an entire film subgenre that’s called by the Italian word for yellow, and it took Dario Argento almost forty years since his first entry in the genre to think of making one about a villain whose skin is actually yellow.

Argento has been in a pretty major renaissance lately, after his career hit some pretty big snags over the course of the 90s (full disclosure, I’ve only seen two of his films from that decade -- The Stendhal Syndrome had its moments, but was overly long and fairly dull, and Phantom of the Opera was just terrible). Giallo, however, comes at a much better time in his career, following as it did Do You Like Hitchcock?, his two Masters of Horror entries, and Mother of Tears. Quite frankly, he’s been on fire lately, and I’m eager to see what kind of film he does next (more supernatural stuff, please).

Anyway, the plot: a serial killer is going around, picking up attractive foreigners with his cab in Milan, and dumping their carved up bodies several days later. He eventually makes the key error of abducting Celine (Elsa Pataky), an American model, while she is on the phone with her sister Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), prompting Linda to seek help from the inspector (Adrien Brody) tasked with tracking the killer down. The two of them team up, as inspectors and civilians in gialli often seem to, and it soon becomes a race against time to find the killer before he finishes Celine off.

The film has almost everything you could want in a giallo. It’s got sexy women being cut up and murdered, some astonishingly obtuse clues that lead to the killer (seriously, if that one girl actually wanted her abductor caught, she could have tried not reciting poetry while she was dying), a killer that looks at photos of his work on the girls on his computer while jerking off, some really cool scenery, and just a whole lotta blood. There’s only a couple things it gets wrong, really: the title actually connects logically with the film without even so much as throwing an animal into it, and the killer is both revealed rather early and is largely known solely as a killer, rather than being a seemingly random cast member whose killer status is revealed with five or ten minutes left to go in the movie with no plausible explanation given. Some might say the lack of these two elements was an improvement, but really, if you can’t respect tradition then what can you respect?

If anyone has been hearing about the giallo genre but was worried that it might be too weird or Italian for them, this is a good choice to dip your toe into the water. Argento has long been the unparalleled master of the genre, and while this isn’t quite his best (that would be Opera), it’s definitely the best one to show to a potential new viewer. While Opera was more of a filmed nightmare, of the sort that he frequently made in the late 70s-mid 80s, this one will be more appealing to regular thriller fans -- at least the ones that don’t mind a nice hard R rating. And if they do mind, let’s be honest, there’s not a single Argento movie they’ll ever approve of, the uptight tools.

Rating: *** ½