I'm winding up my impressions of Horror Hound Weekend today with a look at Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010, directed by Eli Craig), a film that is mysteriously without North American distribution a year after making its debut at Sundance in 2010. This is a riff on the rural massacre movie, in which unwitting college students (or other photogenic young people) wander into the woods to be eviscerated by rural degenerates. This archetype is pretty old, dating back to the Sawney Bean legend, but it was given full life in the Southern Gothic literature or Flannery O'Connor and James Dickey, who give regionalism a hint of derangement and resentment.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I got an email yesterday from Rachel over at The Girl with the White Parasol informing me that I had been tagged for a Stylish Blogger Award. The rules are that I have to give with seven "stylish" facts about myself and tag seven more bloggers.
Lately, I've been sprucing up my style, as witnessed in this picture from this past weekend, so what the hell, eh?
Rachel kept to movie facts about herself, so I'll follow suit (mostly).
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
This post was originally published on the Wild Claw Blood Radio blog.
The best thing about Beast Within (2008, directed by Wolf Wolff and Ohmuthi, AKA ) is that it's NOT a remake of the rapey 1982 Philippe Mora movie of the same name. That doesn't mean that it's not derivative, because it is. This is what I call a "one from column A" movie. Its great flash of insight is to wonder what would happen if the birds in Hitchcock's movie were carrying the pathogen for a zombie epidemic. At least it's not so shamelessly unimaginative that it leans on the crutch of a familiar name, but you've seen this all before.
Monday, March 28, 2011
The big screening on day two of HHW was Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, which I'll talk about in a separate posting. Immediately prior to that screening was a preview of a movie called A Wish for the Dead (2011, directed by Nathan Thomas Milliner), which, like Lethal Obsession, is a microbudget film from Indiana. We saw a ten minute clip and based on that clip, I'm on board for the full movie. It's obvious almost from the first frame that the filmmakers know what they're doing, and they do it well. The film's web site describes the plot like so:
"After weeks of sitting in the hospital by his dying wife’s side. John is desperate for answers. So when a mysterious man appears promising her salvation with a simple wish he jumps at the chance. Little does he know the terrible price attached to this simple gift. "
It's a terrific premise and I'll be interested to see how it plays out, but the clip they showed at Horror Hound doesn't give any indications of this scenario. It stands up pretty well as a short film, in which a girl, bullied online, kills herself in her bathtub only to wake up in the morgue. And she's not alone. This has the gutwrenching zombie action down pat, and even with its lo fi DV production values, the camera is in the right place for every shot, every cut is well considered and effective, and the make-up effects are mostly convincing. There's some dicey acting--there always is in films from this sector--but dialogue is mercifully minimal here. What you get in this ten minute clip is a better and more horrifying zombie movie than many full length zombie movies (I'm looking at you, Italy). I hope the rest of the movie is at the same level. Even if it isn't, the preview clip was worth watching all by itself.
I apologize for the helter skelter nature of these posts, but the weekend was kind of a jumble for me. This will, unfortunately, be the pattern of my reporting.
The first day of the show, I sat in on a screening of a microbudget indie called Lethal Obsession (2010, directed by Jason Hignite and Chris Jay), a slasher film in which the victims are all women who work as cam girls. The murders all happen on-camera. The killer is a masked figure of indeterminate gender. The prime suspects are the customers who are logged on to the feed during the murders and the woman who owns the site. The structure of the film gives the filmmakers an excuse, a la old school exploiters like Stripped to Kill, to give the audience a peepshow experience, but rather than climaxing with, well, a climax, we get a murder scene. This prompted me to turn to one of my friends during the movie and say, "This is like porn without the money shot." Indeed, that's exactly what it feels like. The level of performance is like a porn movie, the structure of scenes is like a porn movie, and the production values are like a porn movie. It doesn't get off to a good start, either, because it suffers almost immediately from that bane of all microbudget movies: bad sound. The sound quality tends to obscure whatever virtues the film might have.
But then again, maybe not.
One of the odd things about the Horror Hound Weekend was the absence of a video room. I'm used to sci fi conventions, so maybe the horror people have different expectations, but every other fan-oriented convention I've been to has had a video room with appropriate entertainments running, grindhouse-like, in an endless stream. The closest Horror Hound came to this was two sessions of film clips. The first, celebrating the centennial of Vincent Price's birth, consisted of trailers for Vincent Price movies. The second consisted of Hammer Horror movies, truncated into ten minute versions. These were all projected with a Super 8 movie projector. This was interesting, because my family had a Super 8 camera and projector when I was growing up and I have a lot of fondness for the kinds of films collectors could buy on a budget. As an adult, I had a 16mm film projector of my own and a small collection of films, including a version of The Wolf Man abridged to about 45 minutes. I bought it at auction from a school district, as I recall. In any event, this is an area of film with which I've had some contact, and watching these two programs made me kind of nostalgic for it.
What struck me hardest about the Super 8mm Hammer films was the fact that you could condense most of them to ten minutes without omitting much of the salient plot points. The guy who was running this show wasn't told the theme beforehand, and didn't have enough Hammer films to fill the time slot, but he DID have a selection of other films to intersperse. Watching a condensed, 10 minute version of The Bride of Frankenstein was instructive, because even though the full film is only an hour and ten minutes long, it resists being condensed in a way that the Hammer films don't. The stuff that was omitted from The Bride was totally essential. The abridgement creates an unavoidable sense of loss. That isn't the case with, say, The Plague of The Zombies or The Vampire Lovers, which were both on the program. Hammer was pretty rigid in their running times, and there are more than a few of their movies that are seriously harmed by being forced into their 90 minute running times (I'm looking at you, Curse of the Werewolf!), but this is the first time that I've entertained the idea that their mandated running times also had the opposite effect. Interesting...
I'm also surprised at how much texture the lower resolution of Super 8 film adds to these movies. Again, it hurt The Bride of Frankenstein, but with the Hammer films, it tended to add a grottiness that suited them, while disguising their essential cheapness. Not that I'm suggesting that anyone dirty up their prints of any movie before releasing them, but it's an interesting effect.
None of this stuff mitigates the fact that Frankenstein Conquers the World is crap any way you cut it, but at 10 minutes long, it becomes some kind of weird dream fugue.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
So I was standing at DVD booth in the dealer's room, chatting with my friend, Anna, about the various movies on display there, when my eye was drawn to Mario Bava's The Whip and the Body. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Have you seen The Whip and the Body?
Me: You totally need to see that. It has Christopher Lee in it, and it's kinky as hell, and the transfer is gorgeous.
Me: Yeah. Is this the VCI edition?
Nice man manning the booth: Yes.
Me (to Anna): This was one of the first discs from VCI that wasn't crap.
Nice man manning the booth: Hi. I'm Chris Rowe. PR director for VCI Entertainment.
Me (probably turning red): This is the VCI booth, isn't it?
Nice man manning the booth: Yep.
Seriously, though, the VCI disc is lovely and the movie is a key film from a major director. I said some admiring things about the disc and we picked up their edition of Dark Night of the Scarecrow. THAT disc is gorgeous, too. Full marks for pulling out all the stops. Highly recommended for fans of the movie.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I'm heading to Horror Hound Weekend in Indianapolis this weekend. I'll be bringing a laptop and I fully intend to blog about the trip. Certainly, I'll blog about meeting Barbara Steele and Jeffrey Combs. I'll also be meeting several friends I only know online. The core of my Dreams in the Bitch House collaborators will be there. As will Dr.AC, my editor for Horror 101. I've never met him in the flesh, as the saying goes, but I DO know that he's an amazing force of nature, uncommonly good looking, and married. Ain't it the way...
Anyway, if any of my readership (hah!) is in Indy for Horror Hound, feel free to say hi. I'll probably be recognizable from either the Ms. 45 t-shirt or the gold and black corset and top hat. Wardrobe subject to change at a whim.
Meanwhile, I applied the roulette principle to Netflix's foreign movies for today's post. The movie it dialed up is Silver Hawk (2004, directed by Jingle Ma), a kung fu superhero movie starring Michelle Yeoh. Netflix's print of the movie has all kinds of problems. The picture is slightly blurred and the aspect ratio is all wrong. The film was also made in two versions, Cantonese and English. Netflix has the English version, and it's got some pretty stilted dialogue and performances. Actually, it's like the bad old days of grey market HK movies.
The story here is set at some non-specified point in the future, in which Yeoh plays international supermodel and businesswoman Lulu Wong, who moonlights as the eponymous superhero, Silver Hawk, defending Polaris City from crime. The new police superintendent is a childhood friend of Lulu's, and he's intent on catching Silver Hawk for the crime of making his cops look bad. Meanwhile, Lulu juggles her personal life, in which her aunt has set her up with a professor who is shortly kidnapped by a gang intent on using his revolutionary technology to brainwash the people using their cell phones.
This is a pretty stock HK actions fantasy. It's a film that feels the absence of Yeoh's Heroic Trio compatriots, Maggie Cheung and the late Anita Mui, but she's certainly capable of holding the screen on her own. The pleasures this movie offers are mainly kinetic. Watching the star kicking ass is always fun. Michelle Yeoh is a terrific actress, too, and she's certainly capable of amazing performances, but she seems to know that this material is kid's stuff. She doesn't really stretch her talents. The other actors are pretty much undone by the language divide. It's that kind of movie. It's fun, but slight. It plays a bit like a kid's movie, which seems right, I guess. It's certainly best approached in that light.
I do like the gag lampooning superhero women in heels, and the first sequence, in which Silver Hawk takes down a panda smuggling outfit has a terrific punchline when the bad guys don't give her any kind of fight, much to her disappointment. But this this film is also slick and anonymous. This is a cold movie in some ways, decorated as it is with post-modern spaces of glass and steel. There's not even a hint of chiaroscuro in the design of the film. The predominant colors are white and silver (natch). While I understand the intent, it also makes the film seem soulless. Like so many HK martial arts films of the new millennium, it lacks the animating force of the best HK films of the glory days.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
This post was originally published on the Wild Claw Blood Radio blog.
Phantasm (1979, directed by Don Coscarelli), is a film that I hadn't seen since it first showed up on cable in, oh, 1980 or so. I remember not really liking it way back then, but I had such dim memories of it that I was eager to revisit it when the roulette wheel spun it my way. I mean it's one of the foundational late-seventies cult movies. I fancy myself a student of the horror genre, so I should probably have an informed opinion, right?
It turns out that I still don't like it, though I'm amused at the way it assembles its story elements at random, occasionally from pop-culture allusions. Post-modernism was all the rage among the young turks of horror in the late seventies. I'm also struck by how much like a childrens' movie it plays.
Monday, March 21, 2011
It occurred to me while I was watching The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) that Jonathan Rosenbaum is totally right about Joe Dante. He IS Steven Spielberg's shadow self, his id, and his conscience all rolled into one. Never has that been more apparent than here, where Spielberg's segment wallows in childhood and childishness, and where Dante's segment, immediately afterward, acts as a scold and rebuke.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
I sometimes go into movies blind. I used to do this all the time back when movies were my business, but I still like to be surprised. It's hard to go into movies blind in the information era, but I managed it with Cold Weather (2010, directed by Aaron Katz). I knew nothing about it, except that it was a mystery. The fact that it was a mystery wasn't readily apparent for the first forty minutes or so of the movie. It stumbles upon its plot in the course of charting the lives of four ordinary twenty-somethings in rainy Portland, Oregon.
This begins as a standard indie slice of life piece. We are introduced to Doug and his sister, Gail, at a dinner with their parents. Doug seems kind of rootless. He gave up his studies in forensic science to intern as a chef. He got bored of that, and now sleeps on his sister's couch while he looks for a job. He finds one at a factory that makes sacks of ice. Here, he meets Carlos, who moonlights as a DJ, and with whom Doug shares his love of the Sherlock Holmes books. Doug also has an ex-girlfriend, Rachel, who is in Portland for job training. Carlos becomes smitten with her and asks her out. After a couple of dates, Rachel vanishes. Perhaps inflamed by reading Doug's Holmes books, Carlos convinces Doug to investigate her disappearance. They find out that Rachel wasn't telling the whole truth about why she was in Portland. Her disappearance has sinister motives, which Doug and Carlos pursue, eventually drawing Gail into their band of Scoobies.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
When it came out, John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (1994) was thought to be something of a comeback after several indifferent films. Whatever their relative merits, movies like They Live and Prince of Darkness were a sad comedown from the glories of Carpenter's golden years. The title is evocative and the prospect of Carpenter playing in Lovecraft's wheelhouse was delicious. It still is, though I doubt Carpenter is capable of doing Lovecraft justice anymore. He might not have been capable of it in 1994. The burnout was already beginning to show.
The story here follows insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) as he looks into the disappearance of best-selling horror novelist Sutter Cane. Arcane Books, his publisher, wants to recover the manuscript to Cane's latest novel, In the Mouth of Madness, and teams him with Cane's editor, Linda Styles. Cane is described as a "billion dollar franchise," the best selling writer of the century. Styles tells Trent that Cane's writing has "an effect" on his less stable readers. Together, they trace Cane to the town of Hobbs End, New Hampshire, the heretofore fictional setting of Cane's books. Meanwhile, the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. Trent's own grasp of reality begins to slip after reading some of Cane's books. Cane's fiction, it seems, is becoming a going concern in the real world. Slowly but surely, it becomes clear to Trent that Cane's final novel represents the pending apocalypse.
This is a film over which I've had heated arguments. It's not a film that I like, and I think it represents a bullet in the brain of Carpenter's career as a horror filmmaker.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
This post was originally published on the Wild Claw Blood Radio blog.
The algorithm that randomly picks the movies for these posts? She is a cruel, cruel mistress. Today, she serves up a steaming turd-pile named Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned (2008, directed by Brian Thompson). Let's not mince words. This film sucks. Painfully. Boringly. It sucks so hard, light cannot escape its pull.
Well, maybe I'm exaggerating.
Everything you need to know is right there in the title of the film. Five friends head to a bungalow in the Hamptons to fete one of their own on the eve of his marriage. The house is provided by the uncle of their creepy friend, Gordon, who gets twitchy once the strippers/escorts arrive. With good reason, it seems, because the trio of escorts are demons intent on devouring them all. Best man Sammy is left with the task of defending his friends after forgoing the festivities (what a mensch!). Complicating things is Michelle, the fiance of the eponymous bachelor, who shows up late in the movie. Blah, blah, blah.
If it wasn't explicit from the title, this microbudget quickie is intended to be a bad movie, a la early Troma or certain films by Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wynorski. It even name-checks Lloyd Kaufman, who shows up in a particularly tasteless cameo near the beginning, just so there's no misunderstanding. The trouble with intentionally making a bad movie is that, more often than not, you succeed beyond your wildest expectations. This is borderline unwatchable. It's not even fun. In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit that I don't have the patience for this kind of stuff anymore, which might make me a bad horror fan these days. This film totally isn't made for the likes of me. It's made for an audience of arrested adolescent male douchebags, an audience it dutifully reflects on-screen with its main characters. So there it is.
For a movie about T&A, this is just about the un-sexiest movie I can imagine. I won't comment on our trio of strippers beyond stating that it takes more than a cheap black vinyl mini dress from Hot Topic to make a woman sexy. The men, on the other hand, get no free pass. These guys are repellent, and not because they're physically unattractive. That's a matter of taste, though my own preferences in masculine hotness run to guys who aren't going around shirtless with fishbelly-white beer guts, as most of our "heroes" are doing in the early goings. No, they're unattractive because they're sleazy. One of our "heroes," Paulie, is first seen harassing a girl on a bench as she's reading. Another, Fish, is first glimpsed after a tryst with a transvestite (have I mentioned that this movie has a streak of homophobia that's a mile wide? Well, it does). Our "good guy" best man is the ringleader of the weekend. All three of these guys behave with contempt toward the introverted Gordon (who oozes creepiness, but nevermind that). Only Chuck, the bachelor, is nice to Gordon, but that bank of good will evaporates as soon as he climbs into the saddle with one of the escorts. Have these filmmakers learned nothing from the archetypal bachelor party movie? In which Tom Hanks makes a point of being faithful to Tawny Kitaen against all odds? Apparently not.
I dunno, maybe I'm being unduly harsh toward a defenselessly dreadful movie, but, screw it. It's easy to make excuses for movies from this sector. They're cheap. They can't afford extravagant effects and purpose-built sets. But if Sam Raimi could leverage a micro budget into The Evil Dead, if the makers of The Blair Witch Project could leverage an even smaller micro-budget into actual multiplexes, it's hard for me to cut movies like this one any slack. Of course, those movies had something this one lacks: talent, taste, a commitment to making an actual, by god movie. By contrast, this movie seems more like a bunch of guys screwing around with a camcorder on their weekends.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
At the end of Rango (2010, directed by Gore Verbinski), my moviegoing companion turned to me and asked: "How much of that did I miss because I don't like Westerns." "It's not just Westerns," I told her. This is another in-jokey animated adventure that plays with the abandoned toys of the Western genre, to which it adds a level of grotesquerie not usually included in such movies. None of the characters could be described as "cute." For the most part, that doesn't really mitigate the fact that this is not terribly original. It's not bad, for all that, though, and some of the in-jokes are of a rarefied, non-kid friendly sort. Certainly, even sophisticated children aren't going to recognize the cameo by Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, or the fact that the main character's visual design is at least partially based on the poster art for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with which it shares star Johnny Depp.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
So, I'm listening to Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole on audiobook right now. Ostensibly, it's about a location scout for a pig-farming combine searching out land for pig farms in Oklahoma; kind of a Local Hero narrative, I guess. I'm three discs in, and so far there has been a lot of lovely descriptions of the Oklahoma Panhandle area, some vividly imagined characters, and nary a narrative hook to be found. I'm getting impatient. I can't shake the feeling that Proulx is wasting my time. This stuff might be fine for short fiction, but I don't think you can sustain a novel on it. After three discs of this, I put it aside. If this is what passes for literary fiction right now, I think I'm going to head back to genre fiction for a while. I also need to apologize to Ang Lee for grousing about the way the movie version of Brokeback Mountain kind of dawdled along. Clearly, the source material is at fault.
By contrast, I also have Stephen King's Under the Dome on audiobook right now, too, and after the first three discs of That Old Ace in the Hole, it was a comfortable book to sink back into. (I read the hardback of Under the Dome last year shortly after New Years.) Whatever else Kings failings as a writer might be, hooking the reader is not one of them. The narrative sets its barbs in the reader within the first five minutes (roughly the first half of the first chapter) and yanks her along for the ride. The size of Under the Dome is daunting, but it's surprisingly stripped down. Anything that doesn't further the narrative is thrown over the side. Eventually, the thing develops the forward motion of a freight train. It doesn't let up. The book itself is one of those obvious allegories with which King sometimes indulges himself, this time taking up the notion of a closed ecology after a small Maine town is mysteriously walled off from the rest of the world by an invisible, impenetrable dome. King's dim view of humanity comes to the fore in this, in true Lord of the Flies fashion, and he brings this nastiness to grotesque life. It's almost like reading Seventies-era King, which is high praise from me.
Have I mentioned my book habit before? I've probably been remiss, because I have a book habit that makes my movie habit pale in comparison. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, too. In terms of dead trees, I've been carrying around Artemisia, Anna Banti's fictionalized biography of Artemisia Gentileschi, for the last week. The book is framed as a dialectic between the author and the life of the great artist, one of the very first women in the arts whose name we actually know (in part because she was a genius). This is pretty fanciful, given that very little is known of Artemisia, including the date of her death. We do know that she was raped by one of her art tutors and that she endured a very public trial. For myself, I'm pretty sure that the experience informs paintings like Judith Beheading Holofernes, an image she painted more than once:
Banti doesn't emphasize this, really, though it hangs like a pall over the whole narrative. It's a fascinating depiction, in any event.
My bedside book right now is Ramsey Campbell's Cold Print, a collection of the author's early Lovecraft-inspired stories. Some of the early stories like "The Church on High Street," the story the teenage Campbell first sent to August Derleth, aren't very good, but reading the stories in sequence is a revelation, because it demonstrates the process by which Campbell learned to write. Campbell provides a tour guide to the stories with a comprehensive introduction. The later stories are superb, especially "The Voice of the Beach," which Campbell rightly calls his most Lovecraftian in spite of an almost complete absence of the paraphernalia of Lovecraftiana. Well worth seeking out.
Monday, March 07, 2011
I used to have a thing for Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. I know, right? Me and about twenty million other people. For that matter, "used to" is wrong. I still do. I particularly have a fondness for this incarnation of Mrs. Peel, from 1966, in which she is transformed into the "Queen of Sin:"
Ahem...you can see how that might have imprinted itself on my perverted little mind. Anyway, with all due respect to Patrick Macnee's John Steed, it's Diana Rigg who made The Avengers work. You can totally feel the lack when Steed's partner is Honor Blackman or Linda Thorson or--may the gods of pop culture forgive me--Joanna Lumley instead. The heart of The Avengers was the dance of personalities between Steed and Mrs. Peel. Throw in a leather catsuit and some playful, implied BDSM, and you have the sexiest couple ever to cross the cathode ray tube. Frankly, without Diana Rigg, The Avengers is kind of goofy. Oh, Macnee makes it watchable--his persona was certainly strong enough--but the silliness of its sci fi super spy plots tended to weigh on it.
Thursday, March 03, 2011
This is the nature of genre: there is nothing new under the sun.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about Primal (2010, directed by Josh Reed), in which my friend lamented that it totally looked like a dozen other horror movies she had seen in the last several years. She's right, of course. This is a variant of The Ruins, mixed liberally with every zombie film since 1980 or so. My response to her was that if you want something truly original, horror is probably the wrong genre to go poking around in. There are, what? Maybe five original horror movies? If that?
Primal is yet another entry in the "hot college students get out of their depth" sub-genre, this time at a remote location in Australia where something has been turning people and animals in to marauding monsters since the dawn of time. The long-ago primeval victims left cave paintings as a warning, which, of course, attract college students who have an interest in anthropology. In the area around the paintings, the animals are particularly aggressive, all the way down to the insects. One character is attacked by a rabbit that has horribly mutated teeth. Another goes skinny dipping and emerges from the water covered with leeches. She winds up sick in her tent, with her teeth falling out. Soon, she's a raving nutter, who only wants to kill and eat what she kills. The various characters are bumped off one by one until only the final girl is left.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
I started writing this review last week, but put it aside for other things. Yesterday, my movie networks were lit up with the news that Jane Russell had died at 89. Suddenly, the circumstances of this review turned into a eulogy. Which is all kinds of wrong for a movie as full of life as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, directed by Howard Hawks). Russell appeared in a handful of iconic roles and was notorious for her plunging neckline in Howard Hughes's The Outlaw, but it's in Blondes that she staked her claim to immortality, even in the shadow of Marilyn Monroe.
Has there ever been a sexier musical than Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? Somehow, I doubt it. Better musicals? Maybe. But not sexier. It's a bitches brew of sexual politics, in which our two heroines, Dorothy and Lorelei, are on the make for suitable mates in the best tradition of the Gold Diggers musicals of the 1930s. They are both sexually self-possessed. They know what they like, and they go after it. This would be at home in a pre-Code movie, but in 1953? This is downright revolutionary: simultaneously sexist, retrograde, and of its time and feminist, sex-positive, and forward-looking. It's a movie that completely explodes the male gaze by turning the tables upon it.
Oh, and it's LOADS of fun.