Blood And Lace (1971)

JANUARY 31, 2011


The weirdest thing about Netflix Instant is how many movies they have that aren’t even available on DVD. So if I was a disc purist, I couldn’t even watch Blood And Lace, which was apparently never even released properly on VHS, let alone DVD. Yet Netflix has a pristine, OAR copy? How does that work? There’s an MGM logo at the very end, so I guess they must have some deal with them (I noticed a few other non-DVD streaming titles were also MGM). Glad MGM has its priorities in order. Release Cabin in the Woods? No, it’s all about getting Blood And Lace onto Netflix Instant!

Anyway, it’s kind of like an “early demo” of a slasher film. You know when a band releases demos of songs that already exist, and they sort of sound bad and have different lyrics that you don’t like as much, but it's still worth a listen for comparison's sake or just plain curiosity? That’s what this movie is. A die hard slasher fan (as I am) will enjoy seeing early versions of the POV opening murder (not unlike Halloween and Friday the 13th), and a killer in a mask chasing our heroine around the woods, but it also lacks suspense and the body count is too low (lower than Halloween’s even), rendering it hard to recommend to casual slasher fans who just want the boobs and blood.

Hell even I got annoyed at the lack of nudity at one point (the movie was originally rated PG!). One of the girls is the insanely cute Terri Messina, and there was a scene where it became clear she was going to get it on with a guy. But when they get to the scene, she’s always obscured or covered up in some way! What the hell! According to the IMDb, she was 24 during filming, so even though she was playing a 16 year old, there’s no need to hide it. Especially in a movie that’s as occasionally sleazy as this one – there’s an attempted rape, a lot of talk about the heroine’s mother being a prostitute, and a final twist that gives the girl an option of either going to jail or marrying her father.

But despite the lack of “action” (any kind), I still dug the flick. It reminded me of other offbeat slashers like Silent Scream and Pigs (aka Love Exorcist), and the villains’ plot was both realistic and fairly chilling. Basically, they got 150 bucks a month for each kid in their orphanage, but since they were so tyrannical, the kids would often try running away. If they ran away they wouldn’t get the dough, so they would chain them up (or kill them) to prevent them from running off, and would make excuses if someone came snooping around. Like when a cop comes by, they tell him that three of the kids are sick and are in the infirmary, and talk up the risk of contagion, so he opts not to actually look in the room. It’s the type of plot that could never work today, and that’s sort of what I liked about it – it’s somewhat ripoff/homage/remake proof. Part of why the 70s and 80s were the best decades for horror was because they were nestled in between the period where they couldn’t show much due to limitations of FX (or the Code), and the period where communication options rendered a lot of plots invalid. Take Halloween 4, for example – Loomis has to drive out to Haddonfield to warn them in person about Myers because a phone line was down, which of course was too late. Now it would be a cell call or email away. OR, they have to go through the generic motions of explaining why no one can call. So it’s always nice to go back to when the isolation and lack of communication was just a face of life, not a contrivance.

Back on track, this movie has one of the weirdest kills I’ve ever seen in a horror film, possibly any genre. There’s a runaway being chased by one of the asshole orphanage owners (Uncle Leo from Seinfeld!), and the kid’s suitcase falls apart. Rather than be like “screw my ugly clothes”, the kid stops to pick them up, and when he realizes that he’s allowing the guy to gain too much ground on him, he stands back up and... hugs a tree? I don’t know how else to explain it – it’s almost like he’s trying to hide behind it (which makes sense) but he wraps his arms around it (which doesn’t), thus providing the killer with a clear target. But it’s the only kill in the movie in between the first and last 5 minutes, so I won’t complain.

Anyway, if you liked those other movies I mentioned, you’ll probably enjoy this one, but otherwise I’d steer clear. It’s different, and of better quality than I expected (the lady that runs the orphanage is an Oscar winner!), but the strange approach of exploring exploitative/Grindhouse plot elements with a PG attitude keeps it from being a true lost classic.

What say you?


Prowl (2010)

JANUARY 30, 2011


Well, I knew it couldn’t last. After two above average After Dark entries (Husk and Seconds Apart), we have Prowl, a typically forgettable/somewhat bad offering that doesn’t add anything new to its sub-genre(s) and does a fairly lousy job with a lot of the basics. In short, it’s the type of movie that’s barely worth a rental, let alone showcasing theatrically. But on the other hand, if this is the worst of this year’s lot, then it’s been a pretty good year for the series.

The biggest problem with the film is its woeful script. The concept is fine, but everything about it is botched, as if they were going out of their way to ruin their story. For example, our heroine wants desperately to escape to “the big city” (she repeatedly says “the big city” even though it’s Chicago – why does she refer to her specific dream in such a generic way?), and this being a horror movie, she needs one friend’s car and four other friends to join for the ride. And again, it’s a horror movie, so of course the car breaks down, literally inches from the town line. The visual gag is fine, but the script beats us over the head with it – she actually says “It’s like the town won’t let me leave!” But their proximity also renders the rest of the movie idiotic, because rather than simply go back into town and see if they can find another car (or rent one, one kid is 21 even though he looks the youngest), they flag down a truck and hitch a ride. The script even tries to seem smart by having the kids take pictures of the truck and send them to other friends as “insurance”, but nothing comes of this plot point when they are inevitably kidnapped, so it doesn’t matter.

Another big blunder is that they kill off almost all of the kids at once, which means that the bulk of the action involves our Final Girls running away from vampires, hiding, getting found, running... lather, rinse, repeat. Once a rather silly twist is revealed, it gets mixed up a bit, but it’s still rather monotonous. Worse, the action is poorly shot/edited – it’s often too dark to really make out much of the image, and the editing would make Michael Bay sick. And you might be thinking “It’s a vampire movie, it has to be dark!”, but you’d be wrong. Well you’re right, Prowl is wrong. These vamps CAN go in the sun, so I’m actually kind of baffled why they didn’t just set the whole movie in the daytime, which would have been interesting.

But like I said, the concept is fine. It’s not often the breakdown and vampire genres are combined, and the idea of bringing junkies into a deserted warehouse to let vampires both feed AND train to be better hunters is pretty cool (anything that kills junkies is fine by me, actually). There’s also a decent 5-10 minutes in the middle when the kids are aware that they’re in deep shit, prior to any of them being killed – we stay in the truck, as unsure of what is going on as the characters are, and director Patrik Syversen quickly creates (and maintains) tension out of the situation. It’s like a different (better) creative team took over for a while, and it's almost worth watching the film just to enjoy this taut sequence.

Also making it somewhat worthwhile is Courtney Hope as the heroine. She got saddled with some inane dialogue, but that’s not her fault, and of far more importance to her future as a scream queen, she was just as good as the action heroics as she was at screaming and being a potential victim. Also: hot. Always a plus. The other kids are pretty bland, though they looked (and, assuming the IMDb is correct for the few birthdays I checked, ARE) roughly the age that they were playing, which is one of those “why do I have to consider this a plus” things, but ‘for what it’s worth’ and all that, I suppose.

And as I said early on, if this is the low point for this year’s fest, then this new direction was a worthy endeavor. It’s not a good movie, but it’s hardly a disaster on the level of Lake Dead, Unearthed, or The Graves. Sometimes I wish movies were more like TV series, where the pilot or first couple episodes are shaky but they find their footing and become really great shows after some minor tinkering or a change in focus (Supernatural and Community being two examples). Movies like Prowl don’t get that chance, which is kind of a shame - they were onto something here, but they didn’t quite make it work. Oh well.

What say you?


Seconds Apart (2011)

JANUARY 29, 2011


I’m surprised there aren’t more twin horror movies. The basic facts about twins are kind of creepy (to me anyway) – their oft-reported seeming telepathy (one twin is hurt, and the other can sense it hundreds of miles away), the fact that they dress/groom alike, etc. So basically, it doesn’t take too much exaggeration to turn their story into a horror film like Seconds Apart, which focuses on a pair of teenaged twins who possess the ability to cloud/warp/control the minds of those around them. And this being a horror movie and not a porno, they don’t use this to get laid. Fools!

No instead they kill folks, usually for some sort of petty revenge, such as four jock douchebags that they kill in the opening scene by “convincing” them to play Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun. A lesser film would make it more of a mystery, with the hero/the audience thinking only one twin was responsible and spending the movie trying to figure out which (or worse, springing the twin as a “surprise” in the 3rd act), so I liked that the movie tells us right off the bat that both of these kids are evil. However, a girl comes along, and their relationship starts to crumble, which leads to a weakening of their power and thus unveils some secrets about their nature.

I must admit, there’s a great twist in the film that I never even considered for a second, and made me want to go back and watch the film again (I still might, if time allows). I always love being fooled, especially when it’s not an out of nowhere but still clichéd “twist” (i.e. he was dead the whole time, it was all a dream, etc). I just wish the film was grabbing my attention as well throughout more of its running time. The stuff with the girl is fine, but it slows the film down some, and takes a bit long to get to the point where the boys begin turning on each other, which is something you KNOW will happen even before the girl enters the picture. It sort of feels like the first act takes up more than half the movie, with the 2nd and 3rd acts somewhat squished together. Given the fact that the film has a more complex plot and deeper characters than the other films in this year’s crop, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a longer cut of the film on an AVID somewhere (as it runs the same 80-odd minutes that the other, less complicated films in the series do).

Another nice surprise was Orlando Jones’ turn as the cop who is investigating the initial murders and quickly zeroes in on the twins. He is known mainly for comedic roles (or as the friggin 7UP pitchman), so I was a bit puzzled by his casting at first, but he really did some great dramatic work with minimal humor (his fondness for Bazooka Joe comics is pretty much the extent of his levity). His character has a past tragedy, and he sells the obligatory flashbacks to this event as well as any traditional choice for this sort of thing, even when saddled with some rather silly hallucination/dream sequences, such as when he has visions of being trapped in a snow globe.

I was also impressed with the acting ability of Gary and Edmund Entin as the twins (actual twins - take that, Fincher!). At the start of the film, it’s impossible to tell them apart, but as the divide between them deepens, so does their demeanor, and thus it becomes a bit easier to tell which is which (even when one impersonates the other!). Eventually one changes his appearance, which serves both as a good plot point as well as an easier way to follow the action during their climactic battle, but before that point it was rarely an issue for me (after they start drifting apart I mean). Nice work, fellas.

See, this is the type of film I would love to see After Dark championing more often. It’s not perfect (again, the pacing is a bit wonky, and some of the explanation for their “powers” is a bit muddled), but it’s far from generic cookie cutter crap. Even Husk, which I liked a bit more, is basically another teen slasher/killer scarecrow movie, one that could have gotten a release on its own if it had a few names in it (hell, if 2005’s Venom could get a theatrical release...). But this is a bit smarter, and a bit harder to market, and thus wouldn’t have much of a chance (high school students killing jocks is hardly the most enticing prospect) of a decent release, and would be passed over on store shelves in favor of whatever Twilight wannabe was next to it. As with Dread or even going back to the first year’s The Hamiltons (which I didn't exactly love, but was at least not "typical" of anything) it’s the type of offbeat horror film with strong dramatic elements that I’d like to see more often, and kudos to ADF for putting it through production over what I’m sure were more commercially attractive options.

What say you?


The Rite (2011)

JANUARY 28, 2011


I'm not sure if the trailer for The Rite is spoiling too much or doing a good job of preparing you for the film's biggest weakness. If you haven't seen the trailer yet, you'll probably kind of hate the 3rd act, because it starts very abruptly and isn't nearly as interesting as the film that came before it. But in my case, once I figured out that the trailer was selling that 3rd act and not the actual movie, I was able to accept its flaws a bit easier, using the goodwill that the better-than-expected first hour or so of the film to ease the disappointment.

(This review assumes you've also seen the trailer. If not, I'll just say that it's a good drama that unfortunately bows to horror movie trappings and advise you to stop reading.)

Of course all exorcism films post 1973 will get compared to The Exorcist - it's inescapable. While some slashers can escape the shadow of Halloween and succeed on their own terms, William Friedkin's film is just too big of a landmark (I recently learned that when inflation is factored in, it's actually one of the top 20 highest grossing films of all time). The reason being, there hasn't really been another classic exorcism movie to share some of the glory, the way slashers like Scream and Nightmare On Elm Street have helped ease Halloween of its "burden". Luckily, The Rite actually spends most of its time with its exorcists, instead of focusing on the possessed girl.

And thus while there are some unfortunate similarities - our guy also boxes, deals with the recent death of a parent, and, of course, is having a crisis of faith - it definitely doesn't feel like an Exorcist retread for its first hour or so. You know when Karras and Merrin take a break and discuss faith? That sort of conflict forms the basis of the whole movie for a while. Our young Father Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue, who looks like Eddie Cahill and Jake Gylenhaal combined into one dude. Enjoy being one of People's 50 Most Beautiful next year, sir) is the one with a crisis of faith, but it's not like he lost it - he never really had a strong one, having used the priesthood as a means of escape from his father, a mortician.

Of course, that means Hopkins is in the Merrin role, and until that third act, he's the best he's been in years. He plays the role as sort of playful but also world-weary, giving one of his liveliest performances since... Christ, I can't even remember. At any rate, he makes convincing arguments to Kovak without ever talking down to him or getting preachy, even when his own beliefs get challenged. Their scenes together are often quite engrossing, and I liked that the obligatory possessed girl was just a tool to propel Kovak's development along - her story is never really the focus. So apart from the occasional creepy soundtrack choice and her brief outbursts, the movie is more like a drama for a while, and a good one at that.

But then, the third act. As the trailer suggests, Hopkins becomes possessed and it's up to the "new guy" to save him. It's not a complete misfire - Hopkins chews some scenery, the FX are still kept to a minimum, and Mikael Håfström retains his refreshingly old-school approach to the direction - no shaki-cams or rapid editing or any of that crap. But it's just the same old type of exorcism scene we've seen a bunch of times - Hopkins uses different voices, taunts Kovak with personal knowledge he shouldn't have been privy to, etc. It's only the lack of not knowing the outcome (which did somewhat surprise me) and the aforementioned lack of bullshit that keeps it afloat - if Håfström had tossed in a CGI swirl of black matter to represent the demon or devil, the movie would have lost me completely here. It's like having a really great and unique meal and then they bring you Oreos for dessert.

The movie also abandons a lot of its terrific supporting cast, particularly Ciarán Hinds, who is supposedly an old friend of Hopkins' character but the two never share a scene. And on the other side of the coin, there are too many scenes with Alice Braga, a journalist who Kovak is interested in but of course, he's a priest and she's not an altar b- OK I won't go there but you know what I mean - there's no chance of them hooking up, and she doesn't really add much to the proceedings beyond keeping it from being a sausage fest. Had they written her character out and given more time to Hinds (or even Toby Jones as the priest who sends Kovak to Rome to meet Hinds, who sends him to meet Hopkins... lot of "I want you to see an old friend of mine..." in this movie). I think the movie would be even stronger.

I was surprised to learn that the film was written by Michael Petroni, who was responsible for the silly Sarah Michelle Gellar movie Possession, which also dealt with believing in something without proof, albeit in matters of the heart instead of religion. He also adapted Queen of the Damned, which is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. But to be fair, he was also the creator of Miracles, a short-lived drama with Skeet Ulrich that I quite enjoyed, sort of a religious-tinged X-Files type show. Dude has the very definition of a checkered resume. His script has some great lines (loved Hopkins' "translation" of Kovak's first line of dialogue to the possessed girl), and he draws his characters well - he did good work here. But I'm curious if the Hinds/Jones characters had more to do in the script (Jones is in the States so his absence makes sense, but Hinds literally just sort of exits the movie at one point). Also, it's based on a book by Matt Baglio; if I had time to read I'd go pick it up tomorrow (and I still might, but I know it will sit unread forever).

Speaking of the book, I had to laugh at the nearly back to back conflicting statements in the end credits - first it tells us what the surviving characters are currently doing, and then after the cast crawl, the "this is fiction and any similarity to real persons..." disclaimer pops up. Usually this is at the very end of a title sequence (that way if there's a typo, no one catches it), so the fact that they moved it up practically to the BEGINNING is a pretty good indicator that none of this nonsense is real. I did like, however, that they tied in the Icelandic volcano eruption that killed the travel industry for a while, setting the film in a very recent reality that the other modern touches (Kovak's roommates play Gears of War at one point) didn't really provide.

In a way it's sort of a shame that the film is rated PG-13 instead of R. Not because it lacks violence or any true vulgarities when the demon is being "vulgar", but because it will attract a teen audience that likely won't appreciate the more character-based approach that the film takes (indeed, my screening had some walkouts), and worse, possibly keep adults away because they might THINK it's a movie for teens. Rest assured, it's not as hokey and cliched as the trailer suggests, and while not perfect, is laudable for being the first major horror release in some time that had a touch of class and maturity. It might not be a home run like Warner's other recent big-screen horror films (Orphan, Splice, and the "should have been big-screen" Trick R Treat), but it's a solid triple. Hope some of you folks enjoy it.

What say you?


The Legend Of Hell House (1973)

JANUARY 27, 2011


Most haunted house movies are rated PG or PG-13 (hell The Haunting is G!), so I didn’t think much of it when I saw that The Legend Of Hell House was an all ages affair. HH movies tend to be less violent, and folks are usually too scared (or snooty) to get it on, so as long as they speak with civilized tongues, a non-R rating doesn’t really matter. However, Hell House’s evil is partially based around insane orgies and the sort of debauchery Alistair Crowley might blush at, so maybe they should have just gone in that direction.

I mean, it’s fine to just talk about such things in theory, but Hell House was in dire need of elements that could help distinguish itself from The Haunting. I mean, four folks, one of whom is an unbalanced woman, are staying in a legendarily haunted house trying to uncover its secrets and rid it of its power, and its signature scary action involves pounding on doors. And it’s British. Sound familiar? At least with a bunch of crazy orgies and rituals on display, you could easily tell them apart.

As a result, we’re constantly being told everything instead of being shown it. The “villain” is a guy named Emeric Belasco (played by Michael Gough in an unbilled role), and we’re not only told about his various “pleasures”, but also that he liked to appear imposing, and thus had his own legs amputated and replaced with longer prosthetic ones. Awesome, right? Wouldn’t it be a lot more exciting to watch scenes with HIM instead of ones with the investigators just talking about it in between getting spooked by doors that open by themselves and what not? I’m all for the “what we DON’T see is scarier” approach, but not when we already have a superior film doing the exact same thing. Hell, there’s even a subplot about the main researcher’s wife getting taken over by the house’s power and throwing herself at Roddy McDowall’s character – but sadly nothing comes of it (she even apologizes to her husband – I’m like FOR WHAT?).

However I must consider that I’m not a big haunted house movie fan, and so otherwise, I suppose it’s an entertaining film that HH devotees will probably really dig. The buildup to the house is done quite well – they don’t waste too much time getting there but they DO withhold the opening titles until we see the house – unusual for the period, which rarely had any sort of “prologue”. John Hough’s direction is also somewhat atypical, favoring unusual close-ups and low angled shots. The house’s interior isn’t anything special, looking like pretty much every other British horror movies of the 70s, but the direction makes up for it.

And you gotta love McDowall, who appears as a medium who doesn’t seem interested in doing any medium-ing, but is rather just there to collect the money. Seems he was the only survivor of a previous investigation and thus has a “psychic shield” of sorts keeping the evil of the house from getting to him. His big showdown with the “ghost” is amazing, with Roddy shouting rather weak insults at it and getting tossed around by occasionally visible wires. He’s also got these horrible/awesome fishbowl eyeglasses that just make him even more amusing to watch. Bless that dude.

In fact, aside from the possible backlash of recasting his role (for obvious reasons), I would welcome a prequel to the story that showed what happened to his character during that previous investigation, one that could theoretically showcase in detail the stuff that Belasco was up to back when he was alive. Guess it’s kind of late for that, but writer Richard Matheson is still alive/working, so if he was game I’m sure it would be an interesting endeavor. I’m also baffled why this hasn’t been remade when every other classic haunted house movie (House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting, etc) HAS. This is the one that’s flawed! Silly Hollywood.

Final note – if I ever write the HMAD movie, it will be a haunted house tale and be titled “The Haunting Legend of Hell House Of Wax On Haunted Hill”. So don’t steal it. PATENT PENDING.

What say you?


Husk (2010)

JANUARY 26, 2011


Well another year of the After Dark festival is upon us, and this year things are different. Instead of picking up a bunch of orphaned indie films and the occasional import, they actually produced all eight films themselves from what I understand, with ADF guru Courtney Solomon working to help develop the scripts and such. And if Husk is any indication, it’s a step in the right direction, because it’s one of the better films to bear the name.

Granted that is faint praise – most of the movies are either forgettable or downright terrible, with only 1-2 per year really qualifying as GOOD (last year’s Dread, for example). And I liked the concept behind the “festival”, which was to take eight films that would never get a big release and offer them some exposure, allowing a little gem like Mulberry St to get the recognition it likely wouldn’t have been able to have if it was just another DTV indie on the shelves at Blockbuster. But I can’t fault them for trying something new, and at any rate, Husk is an entertaining, largely old school horror flick, regardless of how it came to be part of the festival.

Now, I’ve seen so many bad killer scarecrow movies in my HMAD life, perhaps the movie succeeded for me simply by being better than those, but one cannot deny the facts. For starters, it’s got quite a fast pace – the teens are run off the road in the first two minutes, and one of them is dead shortly after that. Also, they’re not the usual hateful bunch – I actually liked all of them. The movie doesn’t spend a lot of time developing them, but at least they are free of the usual red flags – no one is cheating on their girlfriend/boyfriend, no one’s a jock douchebag, the nerdy guy isn’t endlessly berated by his supposed friends, etc.

I also dug how VICIOUS the scarecrows were. There’s a scene where one is trapped in a car with the ‘crow is trying to get in, and the thing just keeps pounding and smashing the glass and circling around trying to find a better point of access – it’s pretty relentless and awesome. Also, good luck trying to peg who dies first/last – it’s damn near impossible. They’re all introduced more or less on equal ground (no clear alpha male, and there’s only one female), and I didn’t recognize any of them either, so there’s no obvious pecking order. Plus, writer/director Brett Simmons is smart enough to understand that injuries can be just as scary as a death, so when someone encounters a scarecrow, it doesn’t mean they’re dead – I think everyone manages to get away or rescued in the nick of time. With such a compact cast, this could have been a real slow burn, but there’s actually quite a few scare scenes – it just doesn’t always end with someone dead.

The only thing that kind of disappointed me was the rather silly “rules” that one of the heroes figures out (using a chess metaphor) late in the film. You know in video games when the bad guy has some sort of Achilles heel that you have to use to your advantage (like in Resident Evil 5 when Wesker had to recharge or whatever) in order to gain the upper hand (i.e. run away and find ammo/health)? This movie actually has one of those, which keeps the scarecrows from attacking en masse and another factor that if I spelled out you’d probably be wondering why I was saying that the movie was pretty good. Suffice to say, it’s not silly enough to ruin the movie, but it’s close. The final scene is also maddeningly obtuse – there’s a survivor and a scarecrow, and a potential rescuer is running toward them both... and then it ends. I like ambiguity, but this is a bit too far in that direction.

I also could have done without the overly Texas Chain Saw-esque approach/investigation of the farmhouse, which like the Sawyer family’s is filthy, isolated, and stocked with macabre furniture and décor. The two guys walking up to it and calling “Hello?” even recalls Tobe Hooper’s film a bit too closely. Ironically, one thing they SHOULD have copied from that film is the length of the daylight section of the film – it gets dark way too quickly. One thing I love about Chain Saw is that it doesn’t really get dark for about a half hour or so, giving it an odd, lonely feel as the sun very slowly goes down. But here, the sun sets like it does in a Michael Bay movie – it’s light out when the characters set off to go somewhere fairly close (in this case the other side of the cornfield) and by the time they get there it’s somehow pitch black.

Especially considering how good the makeup is on the scarecrows. The masks are suitably creepy – they actually LOOK like scarecrows, not CGI’d monsters. And the nails through the fingers was a nice touch. There isn’t much gore (and Simmons has an odd fascination with showing blood dripping onto the various greenery), but what’s there is good and again, not CGI, at least as far as I can tell (Lionsgate’s online screener quality leaves much to be desired – made Hulu look like a Blu-ray). Much like having the characters not act like complete assholes and not following some sort of tradition when it came time to kill off the protagonists, it’s kind of depressing that a lot of my praise for the film is based on things that should ALWAYS be the case. Husk doesn’t have a good story or any really memorable characters, but it works because it’s the rare modern horror movie that isn’t bogged down with CGI or populated with people that I WANT to die.

The After Dark fest hits this weekend (January 28th) and the movies should be out for a week. Husk is the only one I’ve seen, but if it’s indicative of the quality of the other films, it should be a good year. And kudos to Mr. Simmons for making a lean, no-bullshit, entertaining killer scarecrow movie - the first one I’ve actually enjoyed since 1988’s Scarecrows, in fact.

What say you?

P.S. The name Husk kept making me think of the song “Tusk”, which kept making me think of the MST3k medley centered on “Tusk” from the Werewolf episode. I have embedded it below for your enjoyment, and I apologize if my enjoyment of this film was largely aided by my mental enjoyment of that song.


Kiss Me Kill Me (1973)

JANUARY 25, 2011


When re-watching Pieces for my Terror Tuesday column, I realized that it had been three years since I had bought the “Blood Bath” set it was on, and that I still hadn’t watched any of the other movies on it. Kill Baby Kill, of course, I had already seen, so that didn’t count, but I was surprised/dismayed to discover that one of the other films was Devil’s Nightmare, which I had bought (and watched) on a DIFFERENT budget pack about a month ago. So that just left Kiss Me, Kill Me (aka Baby Yaga, Devil Witch), which as far as I know I don’t already own elsewhere (since I will be buying the special edition of Pieces eventually, that would make it the ONLY film on the set I only own once).

Of course, I could own 30 copies of this movie and still have trouble understanding what the hell was going on throughout large chunks of its running time. Best I can figure, it concerns a witch (Yaga) who falls in love with Valentina, a photographer who doesn’t appear to be a lesbian, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Anyway, part of Yaga’s attempts to woo her involve messing with Valentina’s camera, which makes it act like a kind of lame gun as whenever she tries to take a picture with it, the subject is suddenly injured (and in one case killed, I think). Later, there’s a dominatrix doll in her studio... and from then on I couldn’t even begin to try to make sense out of the movie. I don’t even know if Yaga is killed at the end – Valentina sort of pushes her back and she falls through a hole in the floor, and later all they find is a doll head.

Part of the problem is that the movie has dream sequences and hallucinations, but it’s never clear where they start or begin. Our characters appear as Nazis at one point, but whether that’s real or not is up to debate. And that would be fine if the story or characters were interesting enough to put any thought into them once the movie had finished, but that’s not the case here. Valentina is in nearly every frame of the movie but I still couldn’t tell you one thing about her, other than that she’s a photographer and has a boyfriend that looked like a homeless dude.

I can chalk some of my confusion up to the language barrier, admittedly. The dubbing isn’t very good – characters often talk over one another (and they also dub background extras’ murmurs, so a character saying something of minor important is drowned out by the ADR of a guy just talking about his drink or whatever). There is a scene with protesters carrying signs, but they don’t bother to subtitle them or even dub in the sounds of protesters expressing their sentiments, so I don’t even know what they’re upset about, let alone if I should be on their side or not. There’s also an important note later that non-Italian speaking folk aren’t going to be privy to.

It’s also annoyingly artsy at times, such as during a sex scene where instead of any real action, the lovers just stare at each other for a while, intercut with a comic book (the film is based on a comic, I guess) and single black and white frames of their love-making. There’s almost no real violence in the movie, they can at least deliver on the sex! And it resembles a French New Wave film at times; the characters discuss the revolution and comment about cinema and politics amidst awkwardly edited scenes. Hey, anything to avoid explaining what the dominatrix ghost is all about, I guess.

Because of this kitchen sink attitude, it’s at least never really boring. I never knew where the hell the story would be going next, and besides, as the saying goes, a movie that has Nazis, dominatrices, comic books, creepy dolls, minor lesbian undertones, a shootout (that’s actually a soap commercial), protesters, and wacky photo shoots can’t be all together bad. The ladies were easy on the eyes, the score was wonderful (and appeared to influence Carpenter at times, there’s a simple 3 note repeated cue that sounds a lot like the stuff in Halloween when Loomis is telling Brackett all about Michael), and there’s even a monkey at one point. I’d almost recommend putting the movie on mute, cuing up whatever music you like and simply enjoying the visuals.

Sadly I couldn’t even do that much, since the Blood Bath transfer was awful. While Pieces’ was above average for this sort of thing, Kiss Me has the blurriest, low grade transfer I’ve ever seen on a dedicated disc (it’s the only thing on the side of the disc; unlike Mill Creek which puts 2-3 movies per side). Worse, the cropping was abysmal – the movie was only 1.85:1 but the missing information was quite obvious throughout, particularly in the opening credits, with nearly all of the names being cut in half:

Ironic pan & scan?

So I dunno, it’s barely even a horror movie since the witch stuff is too confusing to scare or even become suspenseful – it’s not like she wanted to kill Valentina or even anyone else around, she just used her powers to try to get her in the sack. The movie has a kind of creepy vibe once the doll comes into play, but that’s also when it gets even more confusing. Basically, it’s the type of thing you’d see playing on the TV at some hipster bar, and after seeing 5-10 minutes completely out of context, think “I HAVE to see this thing!” and then get all disappointed when you do.

What say you?


Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

JANUARY 24, 2011


I have put off watching Hellraiser: Hellworld for a couple years now (I watched the 7th film, Deader, in September of 2008!), because it just sounded awful, and while I was never exactly the world’s biggest Hellraiser fan, I didn’t want to tarnish my opinion of the series any further. But now with two more movies on the way, plus a comic co-scripted by Clive Barker himself, I figured I could finally resign myself to see if they somehow managed to make a decent movie out of a scenario that found a group of teens resurrecting Pinhead via a website.

Well, they didn’t. And that’s kind of a shame, because the first scene suggested there COULD be a decent idea in there. The Hellraiser stories have always focused on obsessions and addictions (usually of the sexual manner), and the film opened with the funeral of a guy who died as the result of his obsession with an online computer game. We’ve probably all heard of dudes who died from one cause or another due to extensive Warcraft or Everquest playing, not to mention ruined their social lives and careers in several cases (if you haven’t seen the documentary Second Skin – please do so now, or at least before you spend your time watching DTV Hellraiser sequels), so the idea of focusing on that sort of obsession, albeit with an idea as corny as a Hellraiser-themed MMORPG, might work, or at least sort of fit into the basic themes of the series.

Alas, the movie has fuck all to do with obsession, or even the game itself (which we barely even see – apparently it’s some sort of cheap 7th Guest like point and click thing). Worse, Pinhead appears a bit more than he did in the previous couple of films, but in his most bastardized form yet, acting like a Jason Voorhees esque slasher more often than not. At one point a kid goes off by himself, stumbles around a while, and then Pinhead actually chops his head off. He also barely speaks beyond the occasional one-liner, many just recalling his more classic lines (“We have such sights to show you...”), which only serve to remind you how far the character/series has fallen.

And once again, the script was actually an original concept re-purposed into a Hellraiser film, because no one learned from the last movie that this wasn’t a good idea. They make some effort to tie it into the mythology – Lance Henriksen’s character is a “collector” of sorts, and thus he owns a bunch of puzzle boxes and chains and even a portrait of L’Merchant. And Chatterer shows up (sort of), so that’s cool. But as the film goes on, it becomes less and less involved with Hellraiser, as if they forgot to finish the process of molding it into a sequel to an unrelated franchise.

As it turns out, the real villain of the film is Lance’s character (well DUH, he’s Lance Henriksen), who is trying to get back at the kids who he believes caused the death of his son. Also (spoiler), most of the movie doesn’t actually happen – it turns out that everything involving Pinhead, the strange party they were invited to via the Hellraiser game, etc, was a hallucination/nightmare. In reality, they were buried alive, and some of them just died for real of more or less natural causes. The only legitimate appearance of Pinhead in the film comes at the very end, when Lance is holed up in a hotel somewhere some time later, and stupidly decides to open the box, which prompts Pinhead to do his thing before the credits roll. Well, whatever, movie.

Again, it’s not the lack of Pinhead I mind – he’s not in the first one much either. It’s that the film has nothing to do with the basic concepts behind the original stories, and worse, it’s simply not that good of a movie period. The kids are the usual generic and largely unlikable lot, the scenario makes almost zero sense, and the villain isn’t threatening. If this was just some random movie called Hellworld, with the Cenobites replaced by anonymous demon types, it would still be a lousy movie - having it be part of a franchise just makes it worse.

Though, to be fair, the twist actually is somewhat interesting, and had the movie been worth a shit prior to that point, it could have been an above average teen slasher (which it often resembles), instead of, almost astonishingly, the weakest Hellraiser movie yet. The idea of a father avenging the death of his child is hardly the worst concept (it worked well for Wilderness), and the production value is above average for these things (if IMDb’s estimates are to be believed, this is actually the most expensive Hellraiser movie of the entire series). But it just doesn’t gel – the hallucinations and dreams within dreams nonsense just make the movie feel padded and needlessly confusing, and I just could never get into it due to the total lack of respect it showed for the series it was supposedly a part of (since when does a Hellraiser movie focus on a bunch of kids?).

On the plus side, Lance seems to be having fun, and Hellworld can boast being the only film in the series to include a pigeon-based jump scare, so there’s something. Gary Tunnicliffe’s FX are, as usual, quite good, and the death scenes, while largely out of place, are well designed – there’s even a “strapped to a chair” mechanism-based kill that I would have accused of being a Saw ripoff if not for the fact that this movie was shot a year before the first film in that series (it was RELEASED shortly before Saw II, however). And with this film Doug Bradley tied Robert Englund’s record for most appearances as a movie killer, so you have to respect his dedication to the role (or at least, the paychecks). There was also a brief appearance of a Chevy Corsica, which longtime readers will know is the make/model of my first car, one I still miss to this day.

As usual, there’s a commentary track by the Neo Art and Logic crew – Tunnicliffe, director Rick Bota, producer/co-writer Joel Soisson, and producer Nick Phillips. And as with the others, it’s a decent track – they’re not above pointing out some flubs or silly moments, and while I hate their mercenary approach to making movies (part of the reason that they molded an unrelated script into a Hellraiser sequel was because they were days from shooting and still didn’t have a script), I can’t deny it’s kind of funny to hear someone say “I stole this shot for Prophecy 5” (especially since I didn’t even know there WAS a Prophecy 5) or point out a prop that they recycled from one of the Mimics. There’s also a making of, but it’s largely worthless –lots of the film’s most annoying character (the one Pinhead beheaded) but no Lance whatsoever, and Doug only appears in candid behind the scenes footage. Skip it. And skip the movie, too, unless you’re some sort of Romanian-American co-production completist.

What say you?


Ed Gein (2000)

JANUARY 23, 2011


After watching Ed Gein, I joked about how there were too many Gein movies, only to discover later that there were actually very few that were specifically about him. Instead, his story has just served as the basis for so many films (Psycho, Texas Chain Saw, even Silence Of The Lambs to some degree), I felt like I already knew the entire story, even though this was actually the first full blown Gein film I had seen. Stupid "inspirations"!

But my point remains valid, I think – Ed Gein’s story simply doesn’t lend itself to a full blown feature, let alone several. He only killed two people, and the more sensational aspects of his story (i.e. cannibalism) were never proven or even really suspected at the time – it just became part of the legend somehow (possibly from Chain Saw). The movie seems to be hinting that this was indeed the case – there are a number of scenes of him cooking, but the C-word is never mentioned. It’s just part of how the movie stretches itself out to feature length while more or less sticking to the facts.

It’s funny, I read Gein’s Wikipedia page after watching the movie, and if the site had been around back in 2000 when the movie was made, I would have suspected that the screenwriter had done the same, as the movie hits pretty much every single fact given on the page without really exploring it. The real Gein worked as a babysitter sometimes – the film opens with Gein watching two kids. Ed had human skulls that he claimed he got from his cousin overseas – the movie has Gein say exactly that, and then they are never mentioned again. And so on. I’m all for sticking to the facts, but that only works for someone who had a story with telling. Bundy, Manson, Zodiac, etc – there’s a lot of ground to cover there. Ed was a weird guy who killed someone, got caught a day or two later, and they found out he had killed someone else three years prior... and that’s it.

If anything, they probably should have gone the Psycho IV route and spent a lot of time with Gein as a kid. Not that he (like Norman) killed folks as a teen, but his younger life isn’t as well documented, and spending more time with him and his mother in more normal times might make his later actions (you know, digging up her grave and what not) slightly more interesting. But the movie jumps around in time, showing mainly the lurid highlights and skipping most of the “boring” times.

It doesn’t help that Steve Railsback is one of those actors who could easily pass for OLDER than his actual age, not younger. I actually had trouble placing the time period more than once, because he often looked as old if not older than the woman playing his mother, and they didn’t do much to make him look younger either. I know he was the “draw” since he played Manson nearly 25 years prior, but again, they should have taken a page from Psycho IV and had a younger actor playing the role in flashbacks, cutting in with present day scenes with Railsback.

They also toss in a number of nightmare or daydream type scenes (including one where he invites the annoying waitress over and poisons her – which turns out to be a more effective and interesting version of her death than the one that actually happens later), making the story even harder to penetrate at times. At one point he even reads a Nazi book (!) while a naked Ilsa type watches (!!!), one of many things that, again, just seems to be there in order to make the movie slightly more interesting without going too far into made-up land. The third act, detailing the murder he was actually arrested for, is largely presented in a normal way, which is a blessing since it allows the movie to save some face instead of being a total head scratcher, but these these scenes also include him hallucinating his mother giving him orders, which will just (ironically) remind you of Psycho, a far superior film. Never a good thing to risk copying a classic, even if the facts “belong” to your story more than theirs!

Also my handwriting is getting worse. One of my notes says what appears to be “GVB”. The fuck?

On the plus side, Railsback is quite good in the role, even managing to make Gein sympathetic during the scenes where he awkwardly tries to ask a woman out, or when he is “talking” to his mother. And while the filmmakers’ attempts to pass off California as Wisconsin (no mountains in that area, fellas), the period setting is fairly solid, and not just with the props and old cars, the people genuinely LOOK like 1950s folk (helps that Railsback is one of the few recognizable actors), so kudos to the casting/costume personnel on that one. And fans of F13’s Final Chapter will enjoy the house seen during the climax – it’s the one where the Jarvis family lived in that film (the stairs/den area look exactly the same). Plus, even if the facts aren’t particularly exciting, at least they did their research instead of just making shit up like Mike Feifer and Ulli Lommel do. A not very good serial killer movie that sticks to the facts is better than a not very good serial killer movie that doesn’t, right? At least you’ll learn something.

What say you?


Crush (2009)

JANUARY 22, 2011


The only bit of trivia on the IMDb for Crush is that it's considered an "Ozploitation" movie, which is not only terrible trivia but it also seems to be fairly incorrect, as there's nothing particularly Australian about the film, nor is it exploitative in any way - the sex scenes are fairly tame, and there's only one kill in the entire film and it's something akin to a CSI death. And no didgeridoo.

It's also not particularly good, coming off like a lame TV movie thriller than anything else. It's basically like Fatal Attraction (or more fittingly, Swimfan), with Julian, our "hero", cheating on his girlfriend in record time, and then regretting it when the girl turns out to be psycho. What makes it different and thus less possibly worthy of a copyright claim is that the girl is actually a ghost! Points for originality I guess, but the problem is that she's a really terrible poltergeist - her big move is to make a toilet overflow, which freaks out Julian's girlfriend. Later, the ghostess uses her powers to send an email to the girlfriend, confessing the affair. Ooooh.

There are two twists, one of which I called from the start. When the family that owns the house (Julian is house-sitting) is leaving, the father mentions that their niece might stop by to use the pool, but doesn't give him the girl's name when asked (they're driving away and presumably didn't hear him). Right away I was tipped off - there's no reason for this sort of exchange unless the girl he meets isn't the niece. And then my suspicion was confirmed when the girl appeared, and Julian began the conversation by saying "Are you the niece?" - no she damn well is not.

So about 50 minutes in we find out (spoiler) that she's not the niece, but a drug addict who broke into the home looking to rob the place and ended up falling down the stairs and dying. And this was OK, it took a bit too long to get to since it was obvious she wasn't the niece from the start, but whatever. But then, if I'm understanding correctly, we also learn that pretty much every scene with her thus far has been a dream? That's the sort of shit that doesn't fly with me. Plus it reeks of something that was made up on the spot instead of something that was an idea right from the start - this dude has pretty boring dreams. It's also a bit too deus ex machina-y, as it's just a lazy way to cover up all of the red herrings, such as the fact that there was a photo of her on the mantle (dream!).

The only saving grace of the "dream" reveal is that there was nothing particularly exciting or intriguing up until that point anyway, so it's not like they wrote off some amazing scare scenes or fascinating plot points by doing it. A bunch of boring stuff was a dream, fine. However, the rest of the movie isn't much better - they have a little run around the house yelling and smacking each other around sequence, and finally his friends and girlfriend show up, but her supernatural powers are preventing them from getting inside. And then Julian falls down the stairs (JUST LIKE SHE DID!) and dies. The end.

So basically, dream or not, nothing happens in this movie. I mean, why have the two annoying male friend characters at all if not for fodder? Why not allow the two women to have a real face off? A guy dreams about cheating on his girlfriend, which brings a ghost into the real world, and she kills him. That's every plot point. The characters aren't particularly likable or sympathetic, the suspense is nil, and since 90% of the movie takes place inside the (admittedly gorgeous) house, it's not even a visual treat, which is odd for an Australian film. There's a subplot about him having both a Tae Kwon Do match AND a big architecture assignment, both of which he blows due to his "affair", but it's hardly compelling, and the former just seems to be there in order to provide the film with a logical reason to keep Christopher Egan shirtless as much as possible (practicing and such), as well as pack the film with rock songs for training/fighting scenes, including TWO uses of Papa Roach's "Last Resort", which is about three too many for a film made in 2009 (though I enjoyed hearing Something For Kate pop up - good band).

Papa Roach isn't the only thing that gets overused - footage that we just saw has a nasty habit of resurfacing over and over, as if we needed constant reminders of what passed for a plot point. Nothing is too minute for us to learn twice - the way the security system worked, the various conversations that he and the ghost girl had, etc. It's only 80 minutes long as is, but I'm guessing if you strip away credits and the Saw-wannabe flashbacks, it would be more like 65.

I'm just sort of confused who this movie was made for. The dude is topless way more than the girl, but I can't see females really finding much enjoyment in a movie where the guy is kind of a jerk but the female is the villain. It's too tame/teen-y for adults to find much use for it, yet the R rating would keep the younger crowds from accessing it (theoretically). What's the opposite of having your cake and eating it too? That's what Crush is.

What say you?


Bad Blood (Coisa Ruim) (2006)

JANUARY 21, 2011


Sometimes after watching a movie I only have 2-3 notes, and that's bad for when I write the review. Not that I need to consult my notes nonstop when writing (my memory may suck, but it's not THAT bad), but it means that the movie didn't grab or affect me, good or bad. Bad Blood (Portuguese: Coisa Ruim) is one such film; it wasn't bad, but nothing stuck out about it either - it was just sort of THERE (the Portuguese people do not agree - it won Best Picture at their Golden Globes).

My notes aren't even particularly enlightening either, one just says "No dub", which has nothing to do with the movie but is just referring to the fact that the DVD did not have a dubbed option (yet it had three different Portuguese tracks in various surround formats). While I prefer the original language, obviously, sometimes it's nice to have the option, especially for a talky movie like this. I swear, entire scenes would go by without my ever getting a chance to really look at the image, because I'd be focused on the bottom of the screen for the entire time. Few horror films can be accused of being too talky, which is why I don't usually care that there's no dubbed option.

The other note is "blurry", which refers to directors Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra's habit of filming things out of focus, particularly establishing shots and the like. I suspect it's some sort of visual metaphor for the story itself, which is also a bit obscured and "blurry" at times. The movie is about a middle aged couple, their three children, and infant grandchild moving into an ancestral home in a town where most people leave - our heroes are looked at it with suspicion for being the rare family to move IN. All well and good, but some things concerning the various "horror movie" elements are never explained and/or glossed over, particularly the subplot (for lack of a better word) about the older brother's attitude toward his unwed sister, who has a child but never speaks about the father. There is a suggestion that the child may actually be his (ewww), but they never follow through on it either way - it's left up to our imagination.

I also don't get why there are some standard haunted house movie moments in a tale of demonic possession. Very early in the film, the younger brother goes to check on the baby since he/we can hear it crying, but as he opens the door the camera pans down to reveal that the child is sound asleep, pacifier still intact. It's a great creepy moment, but it doesn't have any place in the film once we realize that the older brother is possessed, which is causing... uh, something. That's never really made clear; the "exorcism" scene just sort of comes out of nowhere and ends just as quickly - even Ti West would find this movie lacking in the "buildup/payoff" ratio.

However, I did enjoy watching the film, in that I wasn't bored, didn't fall asleep, etc. The performances across the board were great, and the characters came across as very real. I particularly liked when the mother looked over the older son's shoulder as he did his schoolwork, and he pointed out her feigning interest despite not understanding what it was - reminded me of my own mom, watching some godawful horror movie with me and somehow managing to not yell "Why do you WATCH this crap?". And there's a lot of debate about superstition and faith, which I always enjoy as I myself struggle with these concepts from time to time, and it's certainly more interesting than the usual conversations I hear in horror films (which tend to be about the sexual history of its characters, or lack thereof, and/or the extent one wishes to "party").

The thing is, I wasn't exactly expecting a gorefest, so the fact that it favored atmosphere and characterization over trailer-worthy thrills didn't disappoint me - the movie had me up until the shrug of a climax. I mentioned Ti West; what made House of the Devil work for me was the tension straining, the identifiable situation (I've babysat precisely two more times than I have moved into creepy old estates in Portugal where my only friend was a priest), and the brilliant "You're not the babysitter?" moment that bought the movie some time. Bad Blood, on the other hand, doesn't have that kind of moment, so once you realize that the conclusion wasn't worth the wait, not only makes it a bit of a letdown, but also would make it hard to recommend - I can't exactly say "Just stick with it, the ending's awesome!" like I would for other movies that were a bit on the slow side. On the other hand, it's very much the type of movie I wish folks were making more often - horror films that are more concerned with dramatic elements, and thus I'd encourage folks to watch it on the basis that it's not run of the mill in any way. I'm torn!!!

The DVD offers a half hour making of that covers the usual ground, though both of the directors (one handles technical matters while the other works with the actors) discuss how they sort of wanted to make a horror movie but weren't sure what KIND of horror movie to do, and how they wouldn't give much information to the actors during the casting process. This might explain some of the movie's vagueness, but it's also kind of troubling that the 30 minute making of covers all bases about a 97 minute film that leaves so much to the imagination.

What say you?


Screamtime (1983)

JANUARY 20, 2011


Well this is an oddity – Screamtime is an anthology of three British stories with a baffling New York set wraparound. Most anthology wraparounds either tie into one of the stories somehow (like in Tales From The Hood) OR has a comic or book or some sort of device for the stories being told. Screamtime actually has both, and proves that more is less in the process, since the movie as a whole probably would have been better without any wraparound at all.

Continental difference aside, the tone of the wraparounds is sort of sleazy; our “heroes” rob a video store located in the heart of old 42nd street (the theater next door is playing Taboo II for Pete’s sake), then head to some girl’s house to watch them, a girl who is frequently nude. And at the end of the movie they’re all killed by the puppets from the first story, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever since that’s the only story without any supernatural elements built into it. But the stories themselves, while not without some goofiness, are 70s-esque atmospheric tales, the sort of stuff that populated Dead Of Night.

Anyway, the stories sadly decrease in quality as they go. The directors/writers should have known that topping killer Punch and Judy puppets would be hard and saved it for the end, but alas. It’s the usual tale of an old guy getting revenge on the younger folks who are cruel to him, but with the added bonus of him doing all of the killings with his puppets. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Judy beat a woman to death with a 2x4 while laughing creepy puppet laughs, as the saying goes. And even though it’s kind of obvious he’s the one doing the killings, I like that they keep him out of frame even AFTER it’s revealed to the audience that it is indeed him. He also suffers one of the most hilarious deaths I’ve ever seen, swinging at his victim, missing, and toppling into a trash compactor.

Let me digress for a moment here. Back in 2002 my girlfriend suckered me into joining her for something called Bread & Puppet, which took place in upstate Vermont. Basically, it’s a bunch of artsy folks making giant puppets and putting on a bunch of politically charged “skits” (is there a word for something that’s like a skit but doesn’t contain any apparent humor?), and then at the end you get a piece of bread. I shit you not, that’s what it is (there’s no other food on the premises). It’s also one of those “free but donations are appreciated” deals. I was all for following the “free” part of that scenario, but she wanted to donate, so we gave them ten bucks – and the lady taking the money practically POUTED. I believe her response was “Well if that’s all you got...” Go fuck yourself, hippie! Anyway, ever since I’ve been weary of the puppeteer mafia, so part of my enjoyment of this entry was seeing a puppeteer (who is hated by his family) getting his just desserts.

Back on track, the second one wasn’t very good but it had a great twist, salvaging it. There’s an unhappy couple who just moved into a house, and the wife keeps seeing people in their yard and has visions of people being murdered in the middle of the night, which makes the husband get more and more sick of her nonsense since he can’t see them. She even hires a medium to give the house a look, a woman who routinely talks to ghosts, and even she claims the woman is crazy. Finally she suffers a breakdown and the husband has to sell the house to a new family, and then (spoiler) we realize that she wasn’t seeing ghosts – she was having premonitions, as her visions were of the new family, who are about to be killed by a recently escaped murderer. Granted, it doesn’t really make any sense – if she wasn’t having the premonitions she wouldn’t have had to move away and let the family in, which led to their deaths – but oh well, it’s still better than the usual “these were the people who lived here BEFORE you” explanation. A simple preposition change and viola! Cool story. Nice throat slashing near the end too.

The third one should have been the best, since it concerns evil garden gnomes, but it’s sadly the weakest. They throw in a random ancestor ghost chick who has the power to tear dudes’ clothes off with her mind, which sounds awesome but just comes out of nowhere and adds to the main problem - the gnomes don’t get enough action. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a longer story (a full movie?) or what, but it was really unfocused and confusing to boot. And padded! There’s a bit early on where the main guy’s brother calls him to tell him about the gardener job, and instead of just saying “yes” and getting on with it, he turns it down, talks to his boss, then calls his brother back (and we even have to watch someone else answer the phone and call the brother over) and takes the job after all. Less time with your internal struggle about the job that you obviously have to take or else there’s no movie, more time with killer lawn gnomes (or ghost chicks who can tear off your clothes with her mind), please.

But, whatever, it’s still an entertaining enough watch. I was never really bored, and none of the tales were “typical” anthology entries. I was also tickled by the odd concept of having the stories be movies that the wraparound characters were watching – how short are these things? And who robs a video store? You can’t afford 99 cents? It’s also funny how the guy in the wraparound sneers about the British accents (he claims that’s how he can “tell” it’s a British movie), because he has a typical New York accent. Being a Bostonian, I think you all sound wicked fahkin dumb, kid.

Of some interest (beyond the fact that the movie was completed in 1983 and not released until 1986), director “Al Beresford” is actually Michael Armstrong, who wrote (under a different pseudonym!) and directed the notorious Mark Of The Devil, which I still haven’t gotten around to seeing despite keen interest (Udo Kier as a witch hunter? SOLD). He also hasn’t directed a film since Screamtime. Way to go out on a high note, dude.

What say you?


The Swarm (1978)

JANUARY 19, 2011


Upon reading that The Swarm was about to expire from Netflix Instant’s lineup (which it hasn’t, as of this writing – bad intel?), I finally decided to spend the two and a half goddamn hours watching it, armed with the knowledge that it’s the only film Michael Caine (Jaws 4, On Deadly Ground, Get Carter remake) is embarrassed to have appeared in, and that director Irwin Allen wouldn’t even talk about it in interviews.

Well, unsurprisingly, it’s bad, but HOW bad seems to be a bit of a gray area. For whatever reason, the film is only available in a 155 minute form, whereas the theatrical version ran just under two hours. Adding nearly 40 minutes to a bad film seems to be some sort of “fuck you” to audiences, as if to say “Look, if you want to watch THE SWARM, you might as well watch every single frame that exists of the damn thing, because you deserve it.” So what might have been a merely silly slice of 70s disaster fare becomes a full blown endurance test; boring me to tears and thus rendering even its highlights incapable of saving the film – that extra 40 minutes kept me from laughing at a ridiculous train crash at the end of the film’s “second act”, goddammit!

As I tweeted while watching, nearly every minute of the film seems like something that could have been cut for pacing. Granted, I’m the last person in the world who should be complaining about things being excessively long and in need of an edit, but come on! There’s a subplot about a “love triangle” between Olivia De Havilland, Ben Johnson, and Fred MacMurray, and it ends when all three of them are killed in a train crash that results from the bees swarming the locomotive, which makes the conductor flail about like a jackass, knocking levers aside and such. Now, all disaster movies have subplots, but they usually have two important criteria that these folks lack. One is a strong connection to the other folks in the movie. Like the two musicians on the boat in 2012 – one of them was the father of someone we were following on the mainland (I forget who), so it fit. But I can’t even recall any of these three MEETING Caine or the other main characters, so who the hell cares? The other criteria would be that one of them survives and joins up with the others. Like in ID4 – we spend the whole movie following Randy Quaid and his kids, and it seems pointless, but then Quaid’s the guy who takes out the alien at the end and saves President Pullman, so it all fit together. Not here. They’re all dead and that’s the end of it. So, hilarious sight of Ben Johnson flying out of a window aside, they could have just deleted every scene with these three and there wouldn’t be any difference to the movie whatsoever. The love triangle isn’t even resolved! Maybe if Johnson sacrificed himself so her and MacMurray could survive it would be worth the effort, but nope.

Especially since their scenes take away from Caine’s screentime. Caine is amazing in the movie, angrily shouting nearly every single line of dialogue he has, yet acting rather calmly whenever shit is going down. Like when him and Katharine Ross arrive at a lab, supposedly while the proverbial clock is ticking. They go inside, and there’s an escalator – and they just ride it up instead of climbing as they go. I also loved the end, when they blow up all the bees via oil slicks in the ocean (very eco-friendly movie, The Swarm) – the explosion is roughly 50 feet away but he just nonchalantly turns to Ross and talks to her. However, he can’t even explain what he plans to do next without shouting. “There will be no air drop until we know exactly what we are dropping, and where, and how! Excuse me!!!” I mean, do you really need to yell about the obvious logistical problems that might arise from having an air drop without knowing what or where to drop it?

I had to laugh when someone claimed he was tired from his “overwhelming” efforts to stop the bee menace, since he doesn’t do a goddamn thing until about 100 minutes into the movie, when he rides along in a helicopter and they dump white pellets over some of the bees. Until that point he’s either yelling at the General, eating sunflower seeds with Henry Fonda, or hitting on Ross (and hard – he even brings her along on a thankless “mission” for no reason other than to spend time with her). Then again maybe there’s a lot of stuff we just didn’t see; at one point someone says that the movie has taken place over a few weeks when I thought it was more like 2-3 days.

It also doesn’t deliver any great death scenes for its big stars. Richard Widmark just sort of chokes and dies while fighting the bees, Cameron Mitchell and Lee Grant simply disappear from the movie, Fonda injects himself with venom (in the name of science!) and basically just has a heart attack, etc. No one sacrifices themselves in a glorious manner, and there’s no human villain to get his just desserts by the bees. It DOES, however have little to no problem with killing children; the first big attack is on a family that’s having a picnic, the parents die instantly but the kid lives for a while, more or less causes the outbreak by firebombing the hive in retaliation, and dies later of the stings. Then there’s an annoying little bastard who fucks with MacMurray as he waits to hit on de Havilland, and later we see him lying dead in the street. All hail the lack of tact in the 70s!

Speaking of which, they are African bees, and usually they are referred to as African bees or just plain bees. However, Widmark abbreviates the other way at one point, happily declaring that “By tomorrow there will be no more Africans!” Yikes.

Oh, and people hallucinate giant bees from time to time. I haven’t the slightest idea what the hell this was about, but it leads to some hilarious moments, such as when the kid is hallucinating one, and we see it too, while Caine sits there and tells him that there’s no giant bee there. And Ross sees one in his eye at one point – whoever made this call was definitely smoking something; I kept expecting the movie to dive headfirst into Manitou territory.

Later, I learned that the film actually got an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. This was roughly 8 minutes after the film concluded and I couldn’t recall what one single outfit looked like, which leads me to believe that 1978 was sorely lacking in period pieces (it lost to Death On the Nile, for the record). This was also the year that Foul Play got a nomination for Best Original Song, making it the first and last Chevy Chase film that earned an Oscar nomination. Weird year.

If I ever became rich and retired early, and also lost my hands and thus couldn’t play video games, I would entertain the notion of watching the theatrical version of The Swarm, just to see if the re-excised footage helped the pace enough to make it at least a TOLERABLE lame movie. But this cut is exclusively for sadists and/or Caine completists. Also, worth pointing out I guess – the Netflix version is cropped slightly from 2.35 to 1.85:1, so you’re either seeing less Swarm or less Caine, depending on how you look at a glass of water. But it’s strange, because the DVD is 2.35:1, which means Netflix inexplicably cropped it themselves? What gives, big Red?

What say you?

P.S. I was more entertained by the following trivia than anything in the film itself: “Michael Caine stated in an interview that during filming he thought the little yellow spots left by the bees on his clothing was honey so he began to eat it, unaware he was eating bee poop.”


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