Monday, October 31, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
A few years ago I noticed that MAD magazine was still around, and that they were skewering the big release of the summer, The Dark Knight (I am assuming their parody was entitled “The Fart Knight”). The thing that got to me was this particular issue was coming out pretty much the same week as Christopher Nolan’s film. Knowing how deadlines work and how long it takes to write, ink and edit the piece, it occurred to me that this MAD piece was probably generated based on previews and other marketing tactics, whereas I know that in 1989, because I bought the issue, that their parody of Tim Burton’s film Batman (which I seem to recall was entitled “Blecchman”) came out in September, meaning, it was more likely the writers and artists actually had the opportunity to see the finish product that were satirizing beforehand, thus making their work more a response to the product than to the marketing. Now obviously the way information is disseminated these days requires a quick turnaround, and even a monster hit like The Dark Knight is probably gone from most cinemas three months’ after its release date, and is far enough removed from public consciousness that a MAD parody will feel stale, well more stale than usual for a MAD parody. Another example, and one that actually relates to the film being discussed today (yes, I’ll eventually provide some reviewing in this review) is the modern churner of direct to DVD rip-off releases of big blockbusters, Asylum Pictures. I should mention that I’ve never actually have seen one of their works in its entirety, but knowing what I know of their quality, I am going to take a stab that things like the Transmorphers series, and their hope that illiterate people grab this thinking that somehow they found a DVD of a film just released theatrically, aren’t exactly grand artistic achievements, or even try to be.
From the 1960’s to the 1980’s producer Roger Corman was the king of capitalizing on successful films of the day. Of course, back then successful films were not the manifest destinies they are today, so Corman and the filmmakers that worked for him had to wait to see which film audiences enjoyed. Thus, his “rip-offs” (for better lack of a word) were a response to their actual content and entailed a study of the film to see what made them work, a process that would take a few years generally. So Bonnie and Clyde (1967) begat Bloody Mama (1970), Jaws (1975) begat Piranha (1979), Star Wars (1977) begat Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and yes, Alien (1979) begat Galaxy of Terror (1981).
Galaxy of Terror is basically Alien for those without an attention span, in fact the deliberate pacing of Ridley Scott’s film seem to be practically mocked when our captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie) kicks off their crews mission to discover the whereabouts of a missing ship by kicking their shuttle into speeds so fast, it can only be visually implied with the actual film speeding up. The film packs as much disgusting space horrors: tentacles ripping off faces, body parts being torn off, faces exploding, even death via rape from a giant worm, as it can in its brief 81 minute running time, perhaps enough to equal the entire Alien series.
That’s of course not to say it’s anywhere in the class of Scott’s film, but unlike the previously mentioned Asylum production films, there was care put into making it a quality film. Even though it’s low budget surfaces during certain special effect sequences, a lot of attention was paid to the fine set design and matte paintings. The world created by the designers, which interestingly enough included future director of Aliens, James Cameron (another in the long tradition of Corman protégés that went on to bigger things), is a fog enshrouded, cavernous one, with a pyramid as the central force, and a very MC Escher vibe to the style. The practical effects of the tentacles can be very effectively skin crawling, especially when provided a good angle and darkness to hide the relative cheapness of them.
While the direction can be a little stiff at time, Bruce D. Clark is able to move things along at the breakneck pace clearly. The screenplay by Clark and Marc Siegler is a little heady and full of big announcements and platitudes for what is essentially a body count in space film, but I did love this one exchange: “Aren’t you afraid?” “No, I’m too scared to be” which enters the pantheon for ridiculous lines delivered with conviction along with such favorites as Road House’s “Pain don’t hurt”. A game cast includes Happy Days’ Joanie, Erin Moran, whose passing resemblance to Sigourney Weaver is actually subverted with her character’s fate, genre favorite Sid Haig, future Freddy Krueger Robert England, future softcore director Zalman King, and as the cook, Ray Walston, whose career would get a shot in the arm one year later, as Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Galaxy of Terror is not a great film, but it’s a fun and obviously lovingly made B-movie, something that’s becoming more and more of a rarity these days.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The premise of Ghost Story, four elderly men with a macabre secret from their past who meet weekly as the Chowder Society, where they tell one another scary stories is rife with potential for evocative subtext leaden spectral vengeance. Does this fifty year old practice really serve as a sort of coping mechanism for their guilty consciousness? Or is it possible subconscious self-punishment? And what happens when the spirits set their sights on the offspring of the Chowder Society members? Perhaps Peter Straub’s bestselling 560 page novel delves into these aspects…or at least is a compelling narrative, because unfortunately, the film adaptation bungles the promising premise and is a tonal mess and a bit of a dirge.
Director John Irvin, who did a fine job with the exciting mercenary film Dogs of War (my review) which was released in February of 1981, and screenwriter Lawrence Cohen (not too be confused with It’s Alive b-movie auteur Larry Cohen), certainly have some high ambitions for the film: dream sequences, long flashback sequences and no strict leading characters, that give it a more novelistic approach than a straight three act structure, but it feels like too much was condensed from the novel to fit a just under two hour running time, resulting in a film that feels too short for its ambitions, but too long for what it actually is. The film opens with an effective sequence showing the four elderly leads (Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and Melvyn Douglas) being shaken from their sleep, set to an effectively eerie score by composer Phillipe Sarde. The film has nice snowy atmosphere, but Irvin has no feel for manufacturing thrills or working with special effects, diminishing what should be the film’s strongest moments. From there on, most of the scare tactics are juvenile jump scares and ineffective.
The other major flaw is the film’s schizophrenic tone. A major marketing of the film was the assembled cast from Hollywood’s past, but what’s not accounted for is that with the exception of Douglas none of the foursome is exactly known for their horror chops (though Houseman appeared in 1980’s The Fog and Douglas in The Changeling), and only Houseman actually seems particularly interested in the genre at this point. And sexuality is a major component for a movie starring several elderly people; hopefully the audience who grew up watching Astaire films appreciated their glimpses at a full frontal Craig Wasson!
Monday, October 24, 2011
Thirty years later and that poster and its tagline (“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can’t get to it!”—a riff on the famous Jaws 2 marketing) is still indelible for genre fans. Unfortunately, it appears the poster was conceived first, probably by legendary exploitation market producer Jerry Gross (Teenage Mother, I Drink Your Blood), and the film second, since both that image as well as the tagline are recreated on screen (John Saxon gets the pleasure of reciting that line!)
Blood Beach combines elements from both the burgeoning slasher genre as well as the more classic 1950s era monster movie tropes and transplants them to a beach setting. A quiet community (played by Santa Monica) is shocked as residents seemingly vanish in thin air while on the beach. The effect of sand sucking people into it is pretty good considering the low budget of the film, though each victim seems to have a completely different injuries resulting via the sand monster that range from disappearing entirely, getting decapitated, the rapist who gets his dick torn off, and most heinous of all, the teenage girl whose legs get all scratched up!!!
The problem is that the set pieces are either very short or we just witness the aftermath, and for the rest of the running time we are stuck with long stretches comprised solely of the lame “witty banter” of cops Saxon, Otis Young and Burt Young and the budding rekindled romance of the bland lifeguard lead (David Huffman) and his old flame (Marianna Hill). When the “exciting” moments do occur on screen, they are over quickly and sans any sense of suspense or atmosphere from director Jeffrey Bloom (Flowers in the Attic). Spoiler alert: the monster perpetrating these acts looks like an artichoke.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
I’ve gathered from some of my perusal of reviews online that The Funhouse is not the most highly regarded horror film of 1981, which is probably due to the fact that the film is pretty back loaded; there’s not a killing until about the fifty-five minute mark, and even the titular funhouse is not visited until ten minutes prior to that. Additionally, save for the enchanting Elizabeth Berridge (probably best known for her role as Mozart’s wife in Amadeus) as the virginal (though frequently topless) suburban girl next door, the other three lead characters and performers are obnoxious and indistinct, which come to think of it are issues one could raise with Hooper’s seminal Texas Chain Saw Massacre, to which this film resembles the closest out of all in the director’s oeuvre (I’d argue even more so than Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2.)
What enjoyment I did garner from the film in the non-horror sections were Hooper’s keen eye for the suburban milieu of the early 1980’s (something he would exploit to even further lengths in his next film, Poltergeist) and the loving care and detail given to the ramshackle carnival and the societal outcasts that operate it (including DePalma favorite William Finley as a possibly demented magician). The rickety well-trodden yet temporal nature of the structures, the slightly askew and older faces of the carnies (and freak show animals!) and the sinister sheen of the rides’ animatronics give the film an eerie atmosphere, that frankly I found more effective than any suspense Hooper is able to churn once the film becomes a routine, yet oddly blood and goreless (the MPAA’s work?) body count slasher picture.
Hooper subtly and slyly comments on the changing landscape of fear and entertainment, and how something quaint like a hand built funhouse seem to youths such as the protagonists when compared to modern horror films. Like Massacre, there’s also a twisted display of family, and Hooper contrasts the killer with the “normal kids” of whom he shares a sexual immaturity and penchant for wearing Frankenstein monster masks.
Tonight, we kick off the final week of our celebration of horror films from 1981 with the last category of the month, this time our focus will be on films centered around spooky locations.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
He also begins to have visions of his missing hand-shot in eerie black and white which has a gothic Universal horror look, a Grand Guignol style that is a nice contrast to the more basic visual style of the rest of the film, haunting his dreams, and making him lose control of his emotions. Soon his enemies: a homeless man (played by director Oliver Stone) who assaults him, the cute co-ed who is having an non-exclusive affair with him and a psychology professor at the school who is on to him, are dispersed one by one in gorier and gorier fashion. Has his haunted appendage taken a life of his own that manifest itself into action at the darker impulses of Jon? Or is Jon really off his rocker?
Friday, October 21, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
John Brady (Michael Murphy) is a widowed detective in a small college town who begins investigating the death of his son’s classmates, which leads him to a fantastical laboratory performing experiments on humans turning them into killing machines. Starting off rather slowly, the film begins to take some unique and unexpected turns as the plot thickens.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
In the opening of Tattoo, Karl Kinsky, a soldier on vacation in Japan (Bruce Dern) witnesses a ceremonial ritual featuring full body tattooed men in sumo loincloths and is instantly transfixed. Upon returning to the United States, specifically Hoboken, New Jersey, Kinksy, an obsessive personality, has replicated the tattoos on his body and has become an in demand tattoo artist. The permanence of the art form leaves an indelible mark on Kinsky, whose relationships with other people, including his family, are fleeting and shallow. That is until his infatuation with a model, Maddy (Maude Adams), comes to fruition when he’s hired to paint tattoos on her for a photo shoot. But then his obsessiveness takes hold.
First and only time director Bob Brooks probably envisioned this as a similar take on obsessive psychosis to Taxi Driver, and character actor extraordinaire Bruce Dern is definitely capable of such a performance; however it is just a rote variation of the fill-in-the-blank from hell thriller that Play Misty for Me made famous. While I appreciate a film that doesn’t provide all the details, I still wonder what specifically about the Maude Adams character Dern found so fascinating other than her beauty, which seems like the exact superficiality that he rejects. Consequently, after a disastrous dinner at the restaurant I also struggled to accept that Adams’ strung him along for as long as she did before finally severing ties with him, other than the plot called for it.
With all that said, things do pick up in the final act when Kinsky’s possessive instincts lead to a kidnapping. The film finally reaches the uncomfortable tension that had been building up as Kinsky rapes his infatuation’s skin not through sexual penetration but through the act of tattooing her entire body against her will. The film hints at a surprising turn of events until ultimately returning to the familiar generic thriller beats.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Perhaps the most atypical movie to be discussed this month (but we’ll see), this is one film where the madness and insanity contained within it extends outwardly and affects the viewer. Employing frequent use of hypnotic roaming long shots and disorienting compositions and editing that moves time and space without any forewarning, Andrez Zuwalski’s Possession uses the form of cinema to put us in its character’s state of mind as they crumble to psychotic results.
Combining horror/science fiction tropes and the confines of Germany under Communist rule with the looming Berlin Wall as a key visual metaphor, Zulawski’s singular vision explores the emotional violence and visceral effects of divorce, ultimately positing the question: could an alien species be any worse than us humans? Or at least that’s one interpretation I deduced, it’s an ambiguous and sometimes impenetrable (though always intriguing) film.
Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill give performance turned up to eleven that would probably make Nicolas Cage blush and say “that’s maybe a skooch too much guys” but work perfectly within the film’s parameters. They are, pardon the pun, truly possessed.
Our bodies are our temples. But our temples are pretty gross. Feces, spit, vomit, urine, mucus, phlegm, and blood are just a small sample of the disgusting excretion we all perform on a daily basis. We like to keep our bodies in shape, healthy and free from germs, so when a movie can effectively exploit the possible lack of control over our physical being, it can cause an instinctive discomfort that we feel internally.
Over the next few days, we will be spending some time exploring body horror. Vomit bags sold separately.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Two points of interest: 1.) This was conceived as a bulletin point post where I listed the Good, the Bad and the Ugly aspects of the film instead of a cohesive review, that method is restored here. 2.) I make a lot of references to the then newly released Rob Zombie film of the same name, which I had provided a similar breakdown of the day before this piece was originally posted. If you’d like to read that first to get all the references, then click here.
Spoilers, ye be warned
-I think what appeals to most viewers, and me too, at least to the extent I had considered this a genuinely "good" film until recently, is that it takes place almost literally the second after the original ended. While the film ultimately doesn't work as a whole, the gimmick of making the first two films take place over the course of the entire day, or at least once Laurie Strode's character is introduced, plays into various what then? questions or theories viewers might have formulated after constant reviewing and analyzing of the first film.
-Most of the characters (and actors) from the first film return, which other than obviously Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis, means that Charles Cyphers is back as Sheriff Brackett as is Nancy Loomis in a cameo as his deceased daughter, Annie. Brackett seeing his murdered daughter provides some weight to the proceedings and a scene we rarely see in slasher movies, the parent coping with the death of their teenage child. We also learn the fate of Laurie's crush Ben Tramer.
-This is the movie where Donald Pleasance lets his ham freak fly, he's great here and increases Loomis' obsessive relationship to his former patient. Plus he gets a wonderful line at the beginning where stewing over losing Myers, an awakened by the racket neighbor tells him to quiet down because "I've been Trick Or Treated to death tonight" to which he impudently replies "You don't know what death is!" Cue the famous Carpenter score and opening credits. This is the best moment of the film.
-While I find Dick Warlock's portrayal of "The Shape" severely lacking, there's a wonderful moment where he finally gets Laurie within his sights and he just walks through a glass door without pause. It's the only time Warlock approaches the conviction of Nick Castle's original performance.
-The final shots of the film: Laurie being taken from one hospital after surviving a night of horrors to god knows where with an expression of complete blankness on her face. She finally has a moment's pause to reflect on what just happened in the last 12 or so hours...CUT TO...Myers on fire, his mask in flames...FADE OUT...end of film. This is more unsettling than anything in either of the "trying too hard to be unsettling" Zombie films.
-While most of the surviving cast returns, what happened to the kids, Lindsay and Tommy? I realize that the actors would have looked the most different of all the cast in the three year gap between films, and thus would not be able to reprise their roles, but recast or at least a mention of them would be appreciated.
-Speaking of missing cast members, don't you think the Strodes would want to visit their daughter in the hospital, even if she is (and we'll get to this in the Ugly section) "adopted".
-The first film features a body count of five, but over the course of Halloween night, only three. The sequel really amps up the number of killings, a pardon the pun, stab at, ironically enough, keeping pace with the Halloween slasher film imitators that popped up with great frequency after the originals success. It seems like Myers goes out of his way to kill people here, with none of the watching or premeditation that the original film established.
-Speaking of killing, and again this was probably a response to the imitators, Myers uses a plethora of weapons in II whereas in the original he uses either a knife (a phallic extension) or his hands. I prefer the more primal Myers over the hot tub dunking one.
-The first Halloween has atmosphere and is scary, Friday the 13ths and other imitators ramped up the gore, Halloween II exists somewhere between, trying to emulate the originals suspense but without the assured pacing of Carpenter's film while trying to up the gore quotient. In that regards it fails to reach the heights of the work of someone like Tom Savini. The result is a film that's neither scary nor gory. According to IMDB, which is not all that reliable (at least two of the trivia bits they state for the film are false), Carpenter added the gore scenes after shooting, which makes sense as they feel like an afterthought.
-Too many fake jump scares, yeah the first film has it's share, but here it's a crutch that is relied on too much. Example: a cat jumps out from a previously closed dumpster, a minute or so after it's already been opened to provide a "shock"
-For the most part they recycle the original theme, which I am fine with, it's the same night, the theme is iconic, why not? But they add little flourishes (not sure if this was Alan Howarth's contribution, he's listed as a second composer in the credits) which are distracting for those like myself who are intimately familiar with the original score.
-Am I missing something, why is everyone constantly blaming Loomis for Myers' escape. Was he responsible for security at the Haddonfield Mental Hospital? Loomis was the only one who was prepared for his return and he did plug a chamber's worth of bullets into him. It's not his fault Myers escaped and is virtually unkillable. Lay off the guy.
-Like I said before, Nick Castle had a deliberateness and grace in his portrayal of Myers that Dick Warlock just doesn't possess, we don't see the voyeuristic aspects of Myers here, he pops up, jumps from out of nowhere, it is what it ultimately is, a stunt man doing stunts, not an actor giving a performance.
-The direction. What better way to compare a visionary director to an anonymous one than watching Halloween and part II back to back, granted as a producer Carpenter probably oversaw a lot of the production (which would have been right smack between Escape From New York and The Thing), but there's no pacing, the deliberate nature of the first film is completely gone leaving us with a hurry up and get this done with tempo, the shot compositions are lazy (even with cinematographer Dean Cundey returning), the film suffers from bad editing and most of all, it just is not suspenseful. In Rosenthal's defense, the script, by original Halloween scribes Carpenter and Debra Hill is no great shakes.
-The Sister thing. The twist that effectively killed the mystery and much of thematic elements of the first film and gave Myers, who originally embodied unclassifiable evil, a lame and simple purpose. He was no longer "The Shape" or "The Boogeyman" he became "The dude who wants to kill his sisters". John Carpenter himself even dismisses this addition as a gimmick, put in to capitalize on the Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader paternal relationship in Empire Strikes Back. What's worse, is there's no thought put into it, and only 2 scenes that mention the sister-brother link, a fuzzy focus flashback that Laurie has in the midst of her hospital recuperation (because that's when I always randomly recall the one time my mother told me I was adopted and then took me to meet my mute murderous older brother) and when Loomis' doctor pal, Dr. Exposition, er, Marion, informs Loomis of the familial connection. I would appreciate someone doing a fan edit of the film and remove those scenes, even if it wouldn't completely redeem the film. What's most upsetting is that everyone takes Laurie and Michael's relationship to be canonical, Rob Zombie who claimed that he either hated or never saw the sequels made it a major factor of his two films and I even have friends who are convinced the baby sister is seen at some point in the first scenes of the original film. FYI: She's not.
In conclusion, if you must see a movie named Halloween II, definitely make it the 1981 Rick Rosenthal directed film. But your best bet is sticking with Carpenter's original or the Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
While featuring the typical cast of co-eds as potential fodder, including the nerd, the shy girl, the smart ass, and a new favorite rarity, the French jock, as well as the typical Ten Little Indians mystery and giallo flashback structure so favored by the slasher genre of the era, it does differ in a few respects. Instead of some inexperienced but hungry young buck behind the camera, J. Lee Thompson (Guns of the Navarone, the original Cape Fear, several Charles Bronson’s 70’s/80 ‘s programmers), who was the ripe age of 67 when the film was released, directs. The film also gives a significant role to 50’s film noir mainstay and Pa Kent in the 1978 film, Superman, Glen Ford, was developed and released via a major studio (versus being merely distributed a la the first Friday the 13th film), and at an hour and fifty minutes, runs a good twenty minutes longer than its many counterparts.
Ultimately the extended running time is felt early, as it slogs along slowly. Part of the problem is that though we spend a longer amount of time with the murder fodder, they are still barely distinguishable from one another save for the main lead, Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson) and future character actor Matt Craven. In an attempt to conceal the identity of the killer, Thompson and screenwriters John CW Saxton, Peter Jobin and Timothy Bond, go to unintentionally comic lengths to draw suspicion on everyone (including having a character have a life like severed head he crafted sitting on a dish with red paint below!). The flashbacks to a past traumatic event in Virginia’s life are handled very well, intriguing us just right with bits and pieces to keep us tantalized before the final reveal. The film really picks up in the last act, and blazes towards a twisted conclusion. Unfortunately, not knowing when to stop, a final twist was added late in the game, and seeing how it was probably conceived in the shooting stage, it feels tacked on and weakens some of the impact of the otherwise awesome conclusion