Cat People (1942)

OCTOBER 31, 2011


For the first time since 2007, I watched a genuine classic on Halloween, though ironically it was also the most horror-lite movie of the month (besides Red State anyway). I had missed Cat People when TCM aired pretty much all of Val Lewton’s productions a few years back, and it wasn’t until I got a copy (with the sequel!) in a gift bag at Screamfest that I remembered “Oh yeah, I still haven’t seen this classic horror movie”. So now I can finally see the sequel AND the remake! And understand some Bowie songs.

Anyway, no dissent here – I dug the movie as much as everyone else who has put it in all those top 50 horror movies of all time lists and what have you. I think I prefer Bedlam over this one, but it’s still great, even if its horror elements are (like Bedlam’s) quite light compared to his others. It’s not until the final 30 minutes that you could even consider it a horror film, as until that point it’s pretty much just a sad drama about a man torn between his frigid wife and his coworker who is openly in love with him. The only hint we get about the wife’s problem comes early on, when she walks into a pet store and all of the “residents” freak out.

But when the suspense/scare scenes show up, they’re worth the wait. And – score one for understanding context and the history of the genre – this was apparently the first horror movie to have a fake scare based on similar noises. Sub-heroine Alice (played by Jane Randolph, with whom I was instantly smitten – how was she not a bigger star?) is being stalked by Irena (Simone Simon), and suddenly things get quiet. She turns around, and we expect Irena to pop out, but instead the loud sound we hear is actually a bus that has pulled up to where she is standing. Obviously I didn’t jump out of my seat like the audiences did back in 1942 (on Christmas, no less!), but I did enjoy finding out that this was the first fake scare of its type, and in fact the technique is referred to as a “Newton bus”, something that I’m sure actual director Jacques Tourneur finds quite annoying.

I actually preferred one of the others though, inside a pool. Not only does Ms. Randolph wear a swimsuit throughout the scene (and finally play a scene without one of her ugly ass hats), but I’ve seen a zillion women hurriedly walking through a deserted city street trying to evade a pursuer – it’s much less often I see one in the middle of a pool, knowing she’s in danger and unable to move quickly. Plus I figured she’d be a goner, and having already escaped once, this time there’d be no escape. Good little setpiece, that.

I was also tickled by the fact that the hero – named Oliver Reed, oddly enough – is kind of a dick. I couldn’t really feel too bad for him marrying Irena without ever having even kissed her – that’s psychotic. But he made his bed, and thus the fact that he instantly starts spending nights alone with Alice when she’s clearly into him is a bit douchey. Worse, he tells her about Irena’s problems with being intimate (ouch), and at one point, when the three of them are at a museum, basically tells Irena to get lost so he and Alice can enjoy the artwork without “boring” her. Yikes.

Interestingly, this subplot tied a bit into what I was saying yesterday about the Code, in a movie that also featured human/animal hybrids. As Irena can’t be kissed lest her “feline” side come out (so she says – the movie leaves it ambiguous), they actually work the lack of physical contact among the actors into the plot. And since the divorce never goes through as far as I know, Alice and Oliver are never physical and thus committing themselves to hell by smooching. The inability to show any real violence also allowed Lewton/Tourneur to keep the movie’s mystery a bit more ambiguous – had they been allowed to show someone getting clawed by a catwoman, they would have shown it, I’m sure – but since they couldn’t, they apparently figured that turning it into a debate point would be the best route to take (even when Irena is dead at the end, we’re never shown any specific evidence that she’s really part cat).

The disc has a trailer that makes it look more like a typical horror movie of the day, as well as a commentary by Greg Mank, who, like most film historians doing commentaries on movies that they weren’t actually involved with, tends to merely narrate the film while reciting the IMDb pages of everyone who shows up on-screen. He doesn’t seem to offer much insight or discuss the film’s greater importance in cinema history – even when he brings up the remake, he merely points out that the Alice character in that one had a nude scene. He edits in a few snippets of a phone interview with Simon, but she's hard to understand and basically just talks about how wonderful everyone was, so it doesn't really amount to much. I guess if you don’t have an internet connection then it’s worth a listen; otherwise just go on Wikipedia and access the bios of the people you want to learn more about, and spare yourself a dry summary of the film’s events in the process.

Screenwriter Dewitt Bodeen and the central cast (even Simon) returned for The Curse Of The Cat People, which I’ll probably check out next week. I think it’s the only sequel that Lewton made, and with Robert Wise at the helm I expect an above average production, but I haven’t heard too much about it. So you guys tell me – should I put it off for a while, or see it ASAP?

What say you?


Island Of Lost Souls (1932)

OCTOBER 30, 2011


I can always count on the New Beverly to provide an HMAD entry or two in October, as their love of classic cinema (i.e. not the stuff I show like Shocker) and the unavoidable horror-heavy programming that most repertory theaters have during the month means they'll be showing stuff from the 30s-50s that I've never seen. Additionally, today's movie was going to be the decidedly non-classic Just Before Dawn, which was the final movie for the Aero's horrorthon, but that didn't happen*, and so I found myself plunked down in my favorite seat for Island Of Lost Souls, the first adaptation of "The Island Of Dr. Moreau".

Surprisingly there have only been three official adaptations of the novel, and considering how the last one turned out, I doubt another will be along anytime soon. I haven't seen the 70s one, but this one is much better than the "Brando has an ice bucket hat" version, at least as a piece of filmed entertainment. I have not read the book and thus cannot speak to how faithful either version is to its source material, but whereas the 1996 film was an incoherent, ridiculously miscast movie with obvious tinkering throughout, this one is wonderfully straightforward and enjoyable, with great performances and the inherent charm of old-school horror films.

Interestingly, it's the things that separate it from many of the other horror films of the era that drew my attention. While Richard Arlen as Parker and Arthur Hohl as Montgomery give the sort of vague/basic (but solid) alpha male performances typical of the day, where you can basically swap their roles and it wouldn't make any difference, Charles Laughton as Moreau gives a terrifically understated performance, rare for a villain. He's not a very proactive guy - even when the others are trying to escape he just sort of hangs out and watches how it all goes down (knowing that the man-imals will get them anyway) - but there's a quiet menace there all the same. And unlike Brando, he's in it quite a bit; in fact I was surprised how early he showed up, and as he is the villain and this is an old horror movie, you can guess how much is left once he is dispatched (hint: less time than it takes to read this sentence).

I also enjoyed the makeup by Wally Westmore (sadly not even credited on the film itself), though there wasn't a lot of variety in the designs - everything sort of looked like an ape or cat type creature. Where's the Dogman, dammit! But it's solid, occasionally even creepy stuff, particularly near the end when 5-6 of them walk right up to camera in succession, yelling at Moreau. Bela Lugosi plays their leader ("Sayer of the Law"), and he of course gets the most complex makeup, however even though is face is otherwise completely covered those eyes give his identity away. Good ol Bela, I wish he was in the movie more. After his introduction around the halfway point he disappears until the climax, as do the majority of the other man-imals; I assume the makeup process was too time-consuming/complex to do too often?

Another interesting thing about the movie is that it was relatively early in the "talkie" era, so it's almost unnervingly quiet during the scenes where no one is talking. I guess they hadn't quite figured out foley yet, so lots of action bits (a man-imal tackling someone from a tree, for example) play mute, as do minor things like pouring a drink or whatever. There's also not a lot of music - this is one movie where remastering the sound to be in 5.1 or whatever would be a total waste of time.

I also noticed that the hero never actually kisses his fiance, which I wonder if was something related to the Hays Code. At one point he "kisses" (they literally just put their mouths together and remain entirely motionless) the Panther Woman, who looks like a regular woman except for her claw like hands, so was there a rule saying that he couldn't kiss another woman in the movie? You'd think a dude who was just reunited with the woman he was going to marry would attempt for some tongue action, but they just hug. Good ol' Code; apparently the movie was banned in Britain for a while and only released with an X (their R) 25 years later, partly because of Moreau saying that he felt like God.

Of course, this means that the horror elements are light; we never really see anything of note happen to anyone on-screen; even Moreau's demise is largely off-camera. It's interesting that Montgomery got away at the end though; while he was never a full on villain, he WAS involved, and part of the Code was that evil does not go unpunished (conversely, the overly helpful boat captain got killed for nothing), so those censors must not have been paying attention. On the other hand, it's structured just like every Universal horror movie ever made; the lovers, the villain who is civil to them, the creepy scenes in the woods, and even a climax featuring the villagers wielding torches! I should note that this was actually a Paramount release at the time (and the print still had its logo); it belongs to Universal now as part of a large acquisition they made years ago (same reason the Paramount production of Psycho is now a Universal title).

Island showed with Them!, which I would have loved to have seen in 35mm, but alas tonight was the first time all month I was able to make it to a haunted house. Sadly it was kind of lame (it was just the one house that takes 2 minutes to walk thorough, set up in someone's house in Burbank) but I was happy to be able to do SOMETHING seasonal related this month. I mean, yeah, there were festivals and all night horror fests, but how is watching horror movies any different than the other 11 months of the year for me? You October HMAD-ers all get to "quit" tomorrow - I keep on going!

What say you?

*After two movies, the managers of the Aero told us all that they were getting shut down by the electric company, who had to turn off the entire block for some reason. Apparently they had been fighting with them for 45 minutes and had gotten nowhere, so they told us all to leave and come back next weekend for the rest of the lineup. Which I and several others did, but apparently after another 15 minutes or so the power company relented and kept the power on and the horrorthon resumed. Of course by the time I found this out I was already back home a half hour away and in no mood to drive again (during which time I'd be missing The Pit anyway), so I got screwed. Thanks, Aero. Luckily, I finally saw Tourist Trap in 35mm, which was worth the price of admission alone, but I learned my lesson all the same - never defect from the New Bev!!


Amer (2009)

OCTOBER 29, 2011


More than any film I’ve ever seen, Amer depicted dreams and nightmares as accurately as possible, even though it wasn’t a dream-based movie. As far as I can tell, there are no actual dreams in the movie (that’s not to say it all happened), but yet it’s all presented in a fragmented, stream-of-conscious way; telling a very basic story that makes sense as you experience it, but would be impossible to explain to someone later without sounding like an idiot. “No, it’s really good, it’s about this girl who goes to a salon and sees a kid playing ball so she runs for a while and sees a biker…”

That is a “description” of the middle part of the film, which is also the shortest. The closest I can get to describing Amer would be that it was an anthology of sorts, depicting a woman in three different stages of her life; as a child, as a late teen, and as a young woman. In each story she encounters a different type of “villain” that you’d find in an Argento or Bava film (an old witch in the first, a town filled with leering men in the second, and a black gloved killer in the third), and overall it sort of goes through the stages of one’s sexual awakening – she sees her parents going at it in the first act, realizes she’s hot in the second, and finally… well I’m not sure what the hell’s going on in act three for the most part, but there’s a scene where she takes a bath with some candles, and you can probably figure out what she does then.

In other words, it’s an artsy horror film, something that usually turns me off, but there was something quite compelling about Amer. It was almost like the world’s longest experimental short film; every shot was striking but short, it was very flashy and stylish, and I often wasn’t sure where it was going at any point. It was also remarkably short on dialogue – I’m not exaggerating when I say that there were probably only 30 lines in the entire movie, most of them in the first act and almost none of them delivered directly on camera. However, it did not lack for sound FX – EVERYTHING in this movie had exaggerated sound work, from the whrrrp of a tight leather glove to the bouncing of a soccer ball. If someone was watching Amer in an adjacent room, you might suspect they were just listening to some sort of “Foley 101” CD.

That is, when there wasn’t any music playing. There isn’t much of it, but it’s all sourced from other films, not unlike a Tarantino film or Shutter Island. One piece in particular reminded me of the awesome "Too Risky A Day For A Regatta" from Tentacles, and thus I wasn’t too surprised to discover that it was from the same composer (Stelvio Cipriani), albeit for a different film. It’s something that I’m surprised doesn’t happen more often; while you can’t just toss the Halloween or Nightmare On Elm Street themes into a movie without distracting the hell out of an audience, surely there are enough obscure/awesome horror films (or even non-horror) to draw from rather than compose new music that usually kind of sucks. I mean, apart from Saw, has there been a single great horror theme in the past 10 years that will live on as part of pop culture?

Back to the movie, it almost functions as a stylistic love letter to the “jist” of great Gialli past, sort of like how Doomsday was like a medley of “covers” of the best action scenes in the past 25 years (the Road Warrior climax, the Escape From New York “combat trial”, etc). It never really takes anything directly from any of Argento or Bava’s films that I can think of, but their influence is clear throughout, particularly in the first sequence, which is heavily imbued with shots drenched entirely in single primary colors, sometimes even in sequence (so you’ll see a shot that’s colored entirely blue, then see it again in red). And the primarily daylight set killer scenes in the 3rd act will may you a déjà vu of Tenebre or Four Flies On Gray Velvet, but the “plot” has no relation to those films.

As if to back up my “it’s like a long short film” idea, the only extra on the DVD is a collection of short films that directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have made over the past 10 years, so they are clearly comfortable telling a story in an abbreviated amount of time. Interestingly, they all show off things that were eventually explored in greater depth in Amer; the first short is all sound design (no dialogue whatsoever), the second has a fascination with closeups of eyeballs and keyholes (a major component of the first story in Amer), etc. And they all FEEL like Gialli, sans bothersome things like a storyline that can be summed up in any meaningful way. I wouldn’t have any interest in them on their own without the film as context (at times they make Amer seem like the most conventional movie ever made), but it’s interesting to see their progression as filmmakers while sticking with this same sort of material. I mean, if I made a feature film, even if it was horror, it wouldn’t be anything like the short films I made in college, though I hope I’d still get to cast my good friend Matt in a role.

Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, and it almost defies critique since it’s all style and focused on conjuring up emotions in the viewer, which means some might feel absolutely nothing and just shut it off, whereas it made me want to go outside naked while eating an apple, for some reason (I opted to remain clothed and play Arkham City, however). Some folks go to the museum and look at a Picasso; others might just turn on Amer. Curious to see what the team does next, they certainly have the FEEL of old school Italian horror (despite being French!) down pat – let’s see if they can do a straight up narrative as well.

What say you?


Mothman (2010)

OCTOBER 28, 2011


One of the better early 00s horror films is The Mothman Prophecies, thanks to a better than usual cast (Richard Gere, Will Patton, etc) and a rare “based on a true story” claim that wasn’t bullshit (plus the real story was quite fascinating to me – I even read the book instead of just buying it and never getting around to it). So I had high-ish hopes for Mothman, another movie about the tale courtesy of Sheldon Wilson, who I consider an under-appreciated filmmaker with a talent for making this sort of Syfy stuff actually fun and watchable; Christ, even his Screamers 2 was pretty good.

But for whatever reason they dropped the whole “The Mothman is a premonition of danger” aspect of the story and made it a monster movie version of I Know What You Did Last Summer or whatever, where an accidental death is covered up and then 10 years later our fractured group of friends starts getting picked off one by one. But this being a Syfy movie, it’s not a whodunit mystery; it’s a CGI monster that has a tendency to appear just before a commercial break. At first I thought maybe the “Mothman” name was just a coincidence, but they even go out of their way to tie their story into the real one, explaining that the bridge collapse in 1967 (the one folks now believe that the Mothman was trying to warn them about) was the result of the revenge-seeking Mothman attacking some of his prey while they were on the bridge, resulting in the “collateral damage” death of everyone else.

We see this and two other flashback scenes, all told to our heroes by Frank, a Mothman survivor who gouged out his own eyes in order to keep the Mothman off his back. I like that they give some context for the monster that the town has adapted as a mascot of sorts (like Roswell with aliens), but I assume that these scenes were included not to give the plot some depth, but merely to provide a little more action to keep folks from changing the channel. Since he’s only after the 7 friends, the filmmakers can’t exactly make like Sharktopus and just cut to some poor anonymous bastard being eaten whenever the movie starts to get a little slow. Thus, it’s even odder that one of the deaths is off-screen; though at least Wilson builds a nice moment out of it. Someone is frantically trying to reach said victim, and we see her vibrating cell phone buzz closer and closer to the edge of a bureau. So you think that the phone will fall and break and she’ll never get the warning, but as the phone falls down we see that she’s already dead, lying on the floor next to where it landed. Cool little bit.

In fact it’s not that bad for the most part; even with the rather generic “some secrets don’t stay buried” formula, there’s a lot to appreciate in comparison to the usual Syfy fare. The acting is pretty good across the board, and it’s shot in Louisiana instead of Canada or Romania, so there’s a little bit of flavor to the setting that you don’t usually get (since those other movies try so hard to pass off their foreign locales as North American). And the plot means that it can’t open with a random monster attack like usual, so there’s like 25 minutes before the first Mothman sighting – it’s almost kind of classy!

Most shockingly – the FX are pretty good. The design of the Mothman himself is kind of goofy anyway, so you can’t really fault them for that, but one of this particular version’s “rules” is that the Mothman comes from reflections, so most of the time you see him he’s in a mirror or the aluminum siding of a trailer, and thus the inherent “faded” look of low budget CGI creations actually fits. And even when he ventures into the real world he looks decent compared to the Goblins and Lake Placid 2s of the world. It’s only in the final reel that he starts to resemble a typical Syfy creation (i.e. shitty), but by then I was more bothered by something else.

Since they wipe out most of the “conspirators” early on and rightfully assume no one wants to watch the last two survivors driving around trying to stay away from Mothman for the rest of the movie, suddenly they pull a twist revolving around Frank the old man, and then make things worse by setting Mothman loose at a carnival (Wilson must not have gotten this sort of thing out of his system after Carny), where he no longer follows his own rules. He doesn’t need reflections, he attacks or kills a couple of people at random, etc. It’s an OK enough sequence on its own merits, but it is so far removed from both the tone and even concept of the rest of the movie, it feels like the result of Syfy demanding a more typical “monster gone amok in public” finale, or a screenwriter realizing he had nothing left of his own storyline after 60 pages and thus started tossing in whatever came to his head in order to pad the page count to a more acceptable 90 or so.

I was also puzzled by the little CGI moths that appear from time to time, because it appeared that the actors weren’t reacting to them. At one point heroine Jewel Staite (Kaylee!) is going through the “Hero looks at news clippings and stuff about the legend of the villain” scene, and these little moths start swarming about. However, she doesn’t seem to see them even as they fly around at her 10 o’clock, and even when they land on the book she’s reading, there’s a delay in her reaction, which seems to be more of a response to what she saw in the book, not the moth. It’s like they decided to add them in post after the scene had been shot, just to get the stoned Syfy viewing audience something else to look or laugh at.

Oh and the final minute is so stupid I don’t even want to talk about it. If you’re watching this, just shut it off as soon as the carnival sequence ends. Trust me.

So in some areas it’s an improvement on their usual monster movie fare, but the needless ignorance of the much more interesting real story (and the fact that I know Wilson can do better) left me a little disappointed, and the 3rd act is just a mess no matter how you look at it. Unless you’re some sort of Mothman completionist, just stick with the Gere one. CHAPSTICK!

What say you?


Red State (2011)

OCTOBER 27, 2011


My two “new” filmmaker heroes in high school were Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith (joining guys like Carpenter and Romero that I already idolized), and it’s been interesting to see how they have evolved over the years, especially in 2009, when QT released Inglourious Basterds, which was his best film in years and represented a new maturity for the filmmaker, while Smith put out Zack and Miri Make A Porno, a not very memorable comedy built around the same relationship woes and Star Wars jokes he’s been doing all along. But if he had his way, his own “departure” would have been the one coming out, as Red State was written years ago but his inability to secure financing due to its subject matter resulted in Porno going first.

With that in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if the financing he eventually DID secure was much less than he had in mind and thus had to rewrite his script significantly. For all his talk about it being a disturbing horror movie, it’s remarkably light on horror, to the extent that I wouldn’t even consider it for HMAD if not for the fact that the damn poster refers to it as a horror film (as does its writer/director). It certainly starts off as a religious-tinged take on a “bad things happen to kids who venture out of town” horror movie, complete with a car accident of sorts, but this sort of approach, and the kids themselves, are completely phased out by the time the 2nd act kicks in, when a typical horror movie scene (the villain trying to get rid of a snooping cop) ends in violence and kicks off a lengthy siege film (think Waco).

Given the emphasis on action/violence, I guess it’s a good thing that this is one of the best directed Smith films yet, possibly ever. His scripts were always the main draw, to the extent that movies like Dogma were severely weakened by his inability to stage anything exciting (I loved that script when I read it a year or so before the movie came out; found the movie disappointingly flat). I will also never understand how it is that Kevin “tripod” Smith was chosen to DIRECT an action comedy with Bruce Willis instead of writing one (Cop Out), but in a way those and his other flatly directed films make this one all the more impressive – frenetic camerawork! Decent editing! Hell, even some stylish lighting! Overuse of Snorri-cam aside, it’s one of the better shot low budget “horror” films I’ve seen in quite some time.

Unfortunately the script is the real issue here, which again makes me wonder if he had to rewrite when the dough didn’t come in. He’s revealed on more than one occasion that the original ending was changed, and since it was far more interesting than the one he ended up using, I have to assume that it was changed for budgetary reasons, as it would have involved big FX. Instead, the movie jarringly shifts from the standoff to one of the film’s few survivors talking about what happened after, which in a way is (for the first time in the 90 minute film) trademark Smith: a couple guys in a room talking about doing things that are interesting rather than actually showing it.

It’s also the final example of a problem that plagues the entire movie: a lack of focus. Our three horny youths (baited into the evil church’s clutches for very strained reasons that even the endlessly yammering Michael Parks character can barely defend) should have been the focus throughout the movie, or they should have all been killed at once, Psycho-style, with the focus switching to Parks for the rest of the time. But after spending a while with Parks, (who is terrific; at times Smith's "Oscar qualifying run" of the film almost seemed a worthwhile venture) the focus switches yet again to John Goodman, as an ATF agent who either follows his orders (kill everyone) or feels guilty in alternating scenes, which is just confusing – I kept wondering if I was missing a scene where his change of heart made sense.

And then there are other characters momentarily given the spotlight as if the movie was entirely about them (such as Kyle Gallner, who is the most anonymous of the trio of youths but is suddenly at the center of the ATF vs. cult war), but all of them are pretty much wasted in the end. Stephen Root in particular is given the potentially meaty role of a closeted homosexual (married to a woman), but once the siege begins he is told to sit in his car, which he does, and then we don’t see him again until (spoiler) he is unceremoniously shot by one of the cult folks, with no more fanfare than any of the anonymous cops who get taken out during this sequence. I appreciate Smith’s willingness to kill off so many of his characters, but he didn’t bother to flesh them out enough to make them worth caring about – your concern for Sheriff Wynan has nothing to do with what he does in the movie, it’s all based on the fact that he’s played by Stephen Root, lovable character actor. And thus while it certainly makes for a nice shock when a certain (different) name actor is shot in the head only a few minutes after his introduction, I couldn’t help but notice that the only reason I cared was because of the significance of the actor playing him; put some random actor in the role, and you will barely even notice he’s dead, let alone care.

I’m also unsure what Smith seems to be saying here beyond “These religious whack-jobs sure are crazy, huh?” Parks’ character of Cooper is clearly modeled on Fred Phelps (though Goodman’s character points out Phelps as a “suer not a doer”, likely to prevent Phelps from suing), but does anyone – even Smith’s rabid fans who seemingly only watch his movies and listen to his podcasts – really need to be told that Phelps and folks like him are assholes? Smith himself delivers the film’s final line, a mere “Shut the fuck up!” to Cooper who is attempting to sermonize (spoiler) from his jail cell, which seems to be the most blunt way of summing up his entire position on these folks, but do we really need a movie about that? It’s like Crash winning Best Picture because it had the stones to point out the pointlessness of being racist. Bold! It might have been interesting to peel back the layers on this sort of guy, but the movie never bothers to make that sort of daring observation – even alone in his cell, we can clearly see that Cooper believes what he’s saying, or otherwise with no one around he might be reading a porno mag or engaging in some other hypocritical behavior.

On occasion, Smith seems to be trying to point out that the Coopers of the world are no worse than horny teenagers or cops who blindly follow orders (the cast list is broken up between “sex” “religion” and “politics”), but he doesn’t follow through – Goodman is the closest the movie gets to presenting a hero (with Cooper as the villain), but his constant flip-flopping makes it impossible to get a read on him at all, let alone decide if he’s just as bad as anyone else. Ultimately he just sort of feels like a cog in the wheel, which adds to the movie’s rather pointless feel. Smith clearly chooses a side on this issue, but when the only way to know for sure is via an ADR line of dialogue that he chose to deliver himself, there’s a major problem with the actual movie.

Back on Project Greenlight 3, when they were doing Feast, my boy Affleck had Smith watch a cut of that movie, and when it came time to give his opinion, Smith started by saying that he doesn’t like horror movies. I can’t imagine his position has changed much in the past few years, so overall the movie serves as another example of why guys who don’t like horror movies shouldn’t be making them. Anyone who dismisses an entire genre as a whole probably doesn’t have an appreciation for what makes them work for those that do, which is probably why nearly everyone (even its defenders) has trouble understanding why Smith keeps calling this a horror movie. I guess the idea of these folks existing is pretty scary, but having them all shot to death or imprisoned seems to suggest that the problem can be taken care of; a real horror movie would have their number growing by the end, with Cooper having the ear of a senator or something, insinuating that things will get worse. Even the original ending would have at least had the vague notion that they were right. Either way, if you’re expecting a horror movie you won’t find it, and if you’re expecting a thought provoking “scary” drama about extremists, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Nice looking movie though. Good job on that one, Kev.

What say you?

P.S. Since his fans tend to come out of the woodwork to defend their hero, I’m guessing a few folks will read this as their first HMAD review. First, hi! Second, I am NOT a Smith hater. I don’t think much of him as a person anymore thanks to his obnoxious Twitter feed (which I was able to follow for about a week before getting tired of seeing him clog my feed – and I follow Weinberg for Christ’s sake!) and constant attention-grabbing theatrics, but I still enjoy and own just about all of his movies, with this being the first one I didn’t see in theaters (not paying 20 bucks to see a movie at the New Bev where I usually see two movies for 1/3 of the price, sorry) since Clerks. Yes, I was one of the 37 people who saw Mallrats in theaters. So flame away, but if you call me a hater or whatever I will delete the comment. I encourage opposing opinions but I have no patience for childish name-calling, especially when it’s not even accurate.


Don't Look In The Cellar (2008)

OCTOBER 26, 2011


If the sort of sub-genre of “Don’t” movies that peppered our drive-ins in the 70s and early 80s is ever going to make a revival, we can’t have movies like Don’t Look In The Cellar trying to kickstart it, as it’s a terrible movie that’s barely even worth my time to review (indeed, there are no external reviews on the IMDb as of this writing), let alone yours to watch. While some could argue that the shot on video homemade productions of today are the equivalent of those low-budget cheapies from the 70s (particularly the similarly titled Don’t Look In The Basement, which was a regional production), those movies at least had the good sense to shoot in locations that fit their damn story.

Even if they had the best mental hospital location in the world, this movie would suck, but it hits new lows by shooting the entire thing in a very un-spooky suburban house somewhere in Los Angeles - which we are supposed to believe is a mental institute. Even if they said it was a mental institute that was turned into a house (as idiotic as that might be), it wouldn’t work – the two buildings share almost no similar qualities beyond the fact that they have four walls. We’ve all been to an institute of some sort (nursing home, regular hospital, etc) – have you ever seen a goddamn cat “tree” (scratching post) by the door or an end table with photos of someone’s family in the living room? Or even a living room period? Hell there’s even a nice single car garage!

Worse, it’s not even that big of a house, rendering the movie entirely incomprehensible as characters routinely “go off” and get killed – but they’re in a house! No murder in the entire movie should have gone unnoticed, as the others would have been at most 30-40 feet away in a different room. In an actual institute, this would make sense – you’re in a different wing, or two floors above, or whatever. Here, if you think about the actual logical placement of characters, the entire cast would have to be deaf and partially blind in order for it to work.

That none of the actors can actually act is another problem; you’ll spend a good chunk of the movie internally debating who among them is the absolute worst. None of them act like human beings either; I was particularly baffled at the girl who literally beats the shit out of her older sister when the latter refuses to let her go to a party (not a mere slap and angry storm off, she throws her around, kicks her, etc), but yet they get along fairly well in the later parts of the movie as they try to “escape” the “hospital” (read: try really hard to pretend that they can’t open the front door; tell the audience but not show them that the windows all have bars).

Of course, someone will come along and say “It’s SUPPOSED to be cheesy!” Sure. The director took the time to hire actors (let’s call them that for argument’s sake), rent equipment (it actually doesn’t look that bad, as these things go; the trailer is not how the movie itself looks), presumably cater the cast and crew, edit it, get it distributed, etc., and INTENTIONALLY shot a movie in what is probably his own house when it’s clearly supposed to be set in an institution. I’m sorry, where exactly is the humor in that? It might work for a sight gag, like in Spice World where they have a cartoon bus do a big stunt when they couldn’t afford to do it for real, but for an entire movie? It’s not even funny on first sight anyway; are we supposed to be laughing all the way through, like when they have a “padded room” that’s clearly just someone’s bedroom with a bunch of tissue paper taped up on the walls?

Ever notice that most of the Police Academy movies ended on fairly straightforward action setpieces? You know why? Because jokes wear thin! You can’t build a movie toward yet another scene of Michael Winslow making voices just to piss off GW Bailey. Same principal here, except the climax of the movie takes place in the same damn “mental institute” (house), instead of out in the woods or something that would allow us to latch onto some semblance of reality as the movie reached its conclusion. Instead, anyone with half a brain will still be sighing and wondering why the fuck this institute had such a nice front porch.

See, here’s my problem with movies that are “intentionally bad”. For starters, I think it’s bullshit – I think it’s something a filmmaker says was his intent when he finishes the movie and realizes that it’s a piece of shit and thus tries to save face. But let’s assume that there are guys who gather up their crew and say “OK, we’re going to make a bad movie that everyone will hate, but it’s not going to magically appear and thus you’ll still have to shoot long hours, take time out of your lives to do it, you crew guys will have to light and set up the cameras and such… basically you’ll have to work as hard as you would on a real movie.” So if they say that, my response is “Why?”. What purpose can it possibly serve, in this day and age, to go out of your way to make something that is so dull and terrible?

Because here’s the thing – we have enough bad horror movies that were legit attempts to be good. As much as I disliked Fright Night 3D, the actors gave it their all, the locations were well suited for the material, etc. Hell it even entertains to some degree, ultimately failing due to ill-advised script choices and things of that nature, not across the board incompetence. The genre will always have a fairly embarrassing hit-miss ratio even if you remove horrid excuses for movies such as this. Good movies are in short enough supply as is – we certainly don’t need guys like Dennis Devine intentionally making that ratio worse. Speaking of Devine, I had considered that perhaps he was a high school or college student and perhaps couldn’t legally get permission to shoot anywhere besides his parent’s home, but then I looked him up and discovered that he has been making films for 20 years (this is his 14th feature film).

So screw him, screw Netflix for stocking it, screw whoever designed the artwork that features an actual institute on the cover, and screw anyone else who pisses on my genre with this sort of drivel. The audience for this sort of thing shouldn’t exist anyway, but they do, and they already have enough options to last them forever.

What say you?

P.S. I did like the mask – a burlap sack with a smiley face on it. Too bad they didn’t bother giving him anything else; apart from the mask he’s wearing bland, everyday clothes. At least give him a jumpsuit!


Evil Cat (1987)

OCTOBER 25, 2011


It’s been over a year since I’ve been able to make one of Brian Quinn’s Hong Kong nights at the New Beverly, but in some ways that’s OK, because I am pretty sure that nothing can top Blood Call in terms of sheer batshit inanity anyway, and if it DID, my head might actually explode. Might as well end on a high note and all, right? But as a cat lover, I couldn’t pass up something called Evil Cat (Cantonese: Xiong Mao), and I was surprised to discover that this was actually the most straight (meaning coherent) Hong Kong horror movie he’s shown.

Granted, there were a few puzzling story elements, mostly in the first few scenes when they seemingly try to introduce every character at once even though their scenes don’t really fit together in any meaningful way (like when they cut from some guys on a construction site to a dude watching a magic show in his old age home). But for the most part, it had a comprehensible narrative in which plot twists were actual twists, not just random, out-of-nowhere shifts in the story. Apart from a few (probably mis-translated) lines, I comprehended the entire film! First time ever for one of these.

I was disappointed in the lack of actual cat though. Our villain is a spirit of a cat-like human entity that is possessing folks, so apart from a cat faced “spirit” flying through the air during some of the possession scenes, and its (more hyena-esque) howl during fights, they don’t really live up to the title. Part of why I was so excited to see it was because I feel there is a severe lack of killer cat movies, and figured if anyone could make a good one it would be those wacky 80s Hong Kong filmmakers, but alas.

The movie is still a lot of fun though. Again, there are some nice twists to the plot, a benefit of it being coherent for once, and the “anyone can be possessed” thing allows for a fairly fast pace – whenever someone is “killed”, the spirit just takes another body, limiting the down time. There’s even some surprising gore; at least two people get arms through their chests, and there’s a wonderfully casual decapitation in a big third act scene in which the current “host” more or less re-enacts the massacre from Terminator.

Plus there were the usual translation errors; always a source for unintentional amusement. This one was better than most – not too many typos or out of nowhere lines that had to have been misinterpreted. Most of the issues were just the result of making word for word translations, so words would look like they were in the wrong order or whatever. And you could always get what they meant: “Get rid of me!” obviously should have been “Get away from me!” The only one that really threw me for a loop was “What a bitter satire!”, spoken by a woman who was angry that a would-be john outed her as a prostitute.

One thing that I wish they had done more with was the charm that could prevent the spirit from seeing those who were wearing it. As it was just written on a piece of paper, I was a bit puzzled why they couldn’t just run to Kinko’s and make enough for everyone. Perhaps it was explained more when I ran to the bathroom (I went a few times to throw water in my face – I was determined (and succeeded!) to stay awake for the whole movie), but even if so, the subplot seemed to be forgotten about for chunks at a time. Sort of like Horror At Party Beach when they figure out that sodium can kill the monsters pretty early on, but never bother to use it to fight back until the final reel.

Sadly I missed the first movie, renamed Kung Fu Halloween from another movie, but NOT the “official” Kung Fu Halloween (actual name: Shi Di Zhang Men Chuang Shao Lin, aka Fight For Survival), so no one actually knows its real title. Apparently it was the Raw Force of such fare, and judging from the final 5 minutes (which is all I saw), I don’t expect to argue with that description should I ever see the whole thing. But it’s sad that I can’t just google the fake title and come up with some answers – in fact it’s amazing that these movies exist with so little fanfare over here, and I’m curious what the reaction was like when they were first released. I assume they played on 42nd street and such, but I think it takes being exposed to so much cynically produced Hollywood garbage to fully appreciate these movies. A screenwriter friend of mine was recently told by a studio exec that they’re not even LISTENING to original ideas right now; only remakes/sequels/adaptations. In that sort of environment, even a movie like this, which is relatively straightforward, would never get made anymore, let alone one of the more gonzo entries like Seeding Of A Ghost or Blood Call. Thus, I hope Quinn never runs out of movies to show, and if he does, perhaps he can just start showing them all again, since I missed a bunch. Plus I could watch Blood Call every day and never quite grasp what was happening in it, so a 2nd viewing certainly wouldn’t be an issue for me.

What say you?


DVD Review: Dark Angel (1990)

OCTOBER 25, 2011


AT LONG LAST! I have been bemoaning the lack of I Come In Peace on DVD ever since they started releasing library titles on the format, and… well, I still haven’t gotten it. No, MGM has actually gone back and put the film out on disc (via their “on-demand” service) under its original title: Dark Angel. Personally I think I Come In Peace is the better title, and it’s certainly the one most people know it under by this point (plus no one will confuse it for a stupid Jessica Alba show), but who cares what it’s called? It’s here!

And this isn’t some lame VHS transfer – the film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen TVs, which means that not a single frame of this amazing movie has been compromised. It’s a pretty good transfer too – nothing award worthy, but there’s detail and vivid color that I had long since forgotten about, and the stereo sound makes U-Krew’s “Ugly” sound better than ever. The trailer is also included, and while it spoils way too many of the film’s awesome lines, it does have the best opening voiceover. “It’s Christmas. Someone special’s coming to town. And it’s NOT Santa Claus!”, which followed by an equally hilarious “Jack Cain. A cop who does things his OWN way!”

But the movie itself is the real bonus. Not only is it possibly the pinnacle in Dolph Lundgren’s career, Dark Angel is simply an awesome movie in pretty much every way. It’s from 1990, but few films define the 80s as well as this one. You get pretty much every generic action movie plot (revenge for partner killed, mismatched partners, drug dealers, and for the hell of it, aliens) rolled into one, and all the usual plot devices (cop being taken off the case, girlfriend who is sick of the hero’s lack of commitment, etc.) to boot. But through it all, the plot is actually pretty original – an alien drug dealer (!!!) has come “in peace” to Earth, in order to extract endorphins from human beings and mix them with heroin, which creates an incredibly potent drug that he will presumably sell on his homeworld to alien crackheads. There’s also a good alien out to stop him.

Dolph, of course, is the cop. He teams up with Brian Benben (then sort of popular due to Dream On; I recall the audience cheering with laughter when he was first introduced), making it one of the few white/white buddy cop combos as well. Dolph even has his hair dyed black (leftover from The Punisher), so they don’t even have different hair colors. But Dolph is of course, a supercop who plays by his own rules, and Benben is a bureaucratic nebbish who wears a suit and won’t drink on the job. But even this is played against type; instead of the usual messy apartment with pizza boxes lying all around, Dolph’s apartment is pretty ritzy, and he has vintage wine to offer. We never see Benben’s place though, but maybe his was a shithole, to offer another difference.

I also love how the drug dealers in the movie are presented as white collar yuppies. They have a boardroom and everything. Dolph infiltrates their headquarters by setting off their car alarms, which sends them all into a panic. Then the head dealer guy (played by Bernard from Lost!) bemoans how his partner had to fly coach on a recent flight to Rio. Hahaha, awesome.

Speaking of Rio, he’s there because he killed Dolph’s partner (Dolph got distracted by a liquor store robbery, a scenario sort of lifted by Seagal in Out For Justice). And he’s still there at the end. The dead partner turns out be a Macguffin, a rarity in a B-movie like this. However, at the end of the film Dolph suggests they vacation in Rio, so maybe I Also Come In Peace will just be about that, without any alien shit whatsoever.

And of course – the weapon: KILLER CDS! When I was 10 I had no appreciation for the foreshadowing in the first scene, in which a yuppie fiddling with his CD player is “attacked” by an overzealous eject CD button (as a kid I was just mesmerized by the idea of a CD player in the car; I don’t think the family car even had a tape deck at this point). It doesn’t get used much in the film, but when it does, oh man. Has there ever been a more awesome weapon in a movie? It even got ripped off in the game Revolution X.

One last thing I must mention, because someone will bitch if I don’t – the film’s final exchange between the alien and the Dolph. For the final time, the alien says “I come in peace!” (which is all he ever says in the movie; though the other alien seems to have a pretty good grasp on the English language), and Dolph, after loading up the cool-ass alien gun (not the CD one though; which would have been more awesome but lacked an explosion), replies “And you go in pieces, asshole.” It’s the “asshole” that really sells it, but in theaters it was hard to hear because everyone was already cheering and laughing from the first part of the line. But if you think about the greatest one-liners of the type in history, they are all punctuated by profanity: “Smile you son of a bitch.” “Get away from her you bitch!” “Yippie Ki Yay mother fucker!”, etc. Dolph just happened to have one that was awesome even without it.

What say you?


The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

OCTOBER 24, 2011


Following Warner Brothers’ lead, MGM is now making “on demand” DVDs from their library – they won’t be available in stores, and they won’t have any bonus features of note (besides trailers), but you can at long last have a DVD of a movie that has never been available on disc in Region 1. So fans of Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment can rejoice! Not only does the film have its correct title (in the US it was retitled The Creeping Unknown), but it’s a pretty damn nice looking transfer, albeit full frame (the ratio on IMDb is listed as 1.66:1, which means you’re not missing much, if anything – but worth noting).

John Carpenter fans will definitely want to check the film out, as it was a big influence on him and he has tossed in little references to it in his films over the years, even using the pseudonym Martin Quatermass (the alleged brother of this film’s hero) for his Prince of Darkness script. You can also see why he has such a fondness for downer or cynical endings, as Quatermass learns nothing from the events of this movie, even though most of the death and destruction that occurs is basically his fault. He’s also kind of a dick, but unlike Kurt Russell or whatever, he’s just this stocky guy in his 50s, which makes him less “awesome”.

He’s also not even really the star of the movie; we don’t get any more information about him than most of the other characters, and he’s off-screen just as often as on. It’s almost sort of an ensemble, as he’s aided by a couple guys who figure out a lot of stuff for themselves, plus you have the guy turning into a monster, his wife, a reporter or two, a little girl… Additionally, the script doesn’t bother taking anyone out of the direct story at any point; you never have a scene of Quatermass (or anyone else) talking about their life outside of what happens on-screen in this particular movie.

Apparently, that’s a side effect of paring what was a serialized television drama down to an 80 minute movie that tells the same story. Something that once took a half hour now only gets two minutes, so they didn’t really have time for strong characterization or subplots. Or even a buildup to the climax – our tragic villain suddenly turns from a man into a giant plant/crab thing, which we don’t see at all, and it is dispatched almost as soon as it makes its first appearance. We also never see it do much, 90% of the shots of the monster are on a tiny TV screen. Yet they remake The Thing instead.

But I dug the flick. The matter of fact approach was quite different than the usual movies of the era, and they don’t waste time with too much romantic nonsense (basically just some minor stuff with the poor sod turning into a monster and his fretting wife). I also liked the monster a lot – he’s sort of a shapeshifter (like, erm, The Thing), but instead of impersonating humans he kind of absorbs the things he drains, so his hand turns into a cactus, and his monster form is the result of absorbing a couple of different things in a brief period. The guy playing the human is also quite good; it’s almost a shame that he is unceremoniously dropped from the movie (when he turns into the crab thing) as it would have been nice to see him play the “final stand” like Karloff or whoever.

There’s also a bit where one of the cops is at home and gets an urgent call just before dinner, which his wife isn’t too happy about. But instead of making it a generic melodramatic moment, she just dryly mocks his eating habits and what not, and he dishes it right back, making for a very amusing and cute conversation. I also like that he turns down tea, which really sells how critical the situation is. There’s also a wonderful old drunk/homeless lady who reports the monster to the police and is amazed to discover that they believe her (because they had gotten other calls about it), figuring it was another one of her “gin goblins” (I love this term, by the way). Hell even the little girl (in a scene very much influenced by Frankenstein, but with a funnier outcome) is memorable, as she’s actually kind of pushy in her attempts to get this obviously disturbed guy to join her and her doll for a tea party. It might not be the best paced movie, but it’s got personality to spare.

There are two sequels, one of which I saw on VHS back in college when I was attempting to see more older stuff so I could sound smarter in my film classes, but damned if I can remember anything about it. I do remember it was Quatermass And The Pit though, which is the 3rd in the series (and with a different actor as Quatermass), so I’ll have to check out the 2nd film (merely called Quatermass 2) next and then revisit Pit later on down the road. I really like the idea of a series built around an irascible middle aged scientist who doesn’t seem to give a shit about the fact that his ideas can cost lives. Especially if they always result in folks turning into monsters.

I just hope I don’t need this service to watch them. While the transfer is nice and the packaging sufficient, the disc will apparently only play on real DVD players, not DVD-rom drives (I didn’t try it in my portable; I assume it will work there though). Granted, the number of people who only have a DVD player via their computer is probably a very low percentage, but it’s still somewhat obnoxious. It’s also a bit ironic; the only way to obtain these discs is through a computer, but you can’t play it on one? I assume it’s some sort of way to ensure that the discs aren’t copied, but it still seems quite lame to me. So, just a heads up in case you miss the fine print.

What say you?


Screamfest 2011: And All The Rest...

OCTOBER 24, 2011


Well, another Screamfest has come to a close, and thus here I am with a recap of the movies that I saw but didn't write full reviews for. As with most festivals, most of these movies do not have distribution yet in the US, so there's not much point to writing mixed reviews (often with unavoidable spoilers) for movies that you guys won't get to see until said reviews are "buried" in the deep storied past of HMAD (indeed, some of LAST year's movies still haven't been picked up). So enjoy these mini-reviews, because that's all you're going to get!

And I start things off with a movie I already reviewed. Way to stay on point, BC. While my feelings on the movie haven't changed, I just want to point out that Screamfest/Mann's projected the movie at its correct 1.85:1 ratio, which not only made the viewing less distracting, but also improved the 3D presentation substantially. As a convert it will never be a top-tier 3D movie, but at least there was some depth to the images that was barely noticeable before. Once again, this proves why reviewing the 3D for a movie is somewhat pointless, as it will look different depending on whether or not the projectionist actually knows what he is doing.

As with (fellow Aussie) Lake Mungo, The Tunnel is a "found footage" movie that actually resembles a real documentary, with news clips, talking head interviews, etc. And like Mungo, it's pretty good, but has some crippling blunders holding it back. For starters, the survivors keep butting in with their present day recollections, making this seem something like a horror movie version of the show I Shouldn't Be Alive. You'll be caught up in their plight as they make their way around the dark, labyrinthine tunnels of the subway system, and then one of them will remind you that he/she survived by offering "It was so dark, we had to use the camera to make our way through!" or whatever. And that's the other thing - they spend too much time explaining things like recording sound, which comes off as padding. But once they get into the tunnels and things go bad, it's a terrifically tense experience, and even with the present day narration there's still some question as to who lives and dies as a disclaimer at the top points out that some people refused to be interviewed. Also, I loved that they put the cast and crew names at the top of the film, very rare for this sort of movie. Almost like they're saying right off the bat "No, you idiots, this isn't a real thing," in response to the schmucks who think Paranormal or Blair Witch are real.

Filmmakers should NEVER compare their movie to a great one before it begins. I was only mildly interested in Rosewood Lane before I sat down to watch it, but then director Victor Salva got up there and told everyone (paraphrase) "This is my Halloween". So I'm expecting a movie that's short on plot but long on terrific suspense and characters I like, but instead I got the opposite: a talky (yet still underdeveloped), structurally clunky horror film that sort of fits the "Blank From Hell" genre as Rose McGowan is terrorized by the local paperboy. For a movie named after the street it takes place, they never bother to show anyone else on the street dealing with the kid, focusing entirely on McGowan and her plastic surgery battled appearance, which the filmmakers occasionally attempt to hide by putting a Barbara Walters-style soft-focus over her face. There's one good scare early on in her basement, but otherwise its not scary in the slightest, and the ridiculous plotting often recalled My Soul To Take, with characters saying/doing things that simply do not resemble human behavior at all. It looked great (the budget was well under a million) and featured fun turns by greats like Ray Wise and Lin Shaye, but the wonky script just never came together in a satisfying way (a major character's fate is left entirely unexplained, for starters).

This showed at Fantastic Fest but I skipped it knowing I'd see it at Screamfest anyway, and I didn't hear too many raves there. And I can see why - it's a fun concept with game performances by the three leads (plus a hilarious turn from Joel David Moore as some poor sap who gets mixed up in the others' "game"), but it just doesn't have enough meat on its bones to sustain its entire runtime. This could have been an amazing 20-25 min "short", but as a feature it just grows a bit tiresome to watch these folks beat the shit out of each other for an entire movie (it's basically the fight scene from Mr and Mrs. Smith stretched to 90 minutes). Also, I'm not sure if it was a convert or native 3D (seemed native), but either way they overdid the depth effects, making everything look way too far apart and stretched. A car's hood appears to be 20 feet long, characters in close proximity look like there's 10 feet of space between them, and even things like human heads seem to be elongated. Not sure if this was a projection error or just a low budget production trying to look more "awesome" so it could compete in the marketplace, but either way it added nothing to the experience. My advice - wait for DVD and keep the fast forward button handy.

Amazing end credits and one particularly handsome zombie are really the only reason to see this one :) (Now on VOD! DVD on November 29th!)

If you, like me, felt that Motel Hell didn't offer enough Pighead Killer, Madison County should scratch that particular itch. Not much new in terms of story or pacing (Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its numerous copycats were clear influences), but it's a well made survival slasher, with some really great reveals (the film's killer has a tendency to subtly sneak into the backgrounds of shots) and a wonderfully gonzo final kill. And while I wasn't exactly crying at any of their deaths, the kids are fairly likable, and more importantly, the script admirably keeps them on equal footing - the order in which they die should surprise you. This was also the only screening of the festival that sold out (prompting an encore!), so grats to these young filmmakers!

With a tighter script this could have been a winner, but it's too damn loose - after an hour or so I still had no idea what the movie was ABOUT. Basically inverting the Buffy movie (a snobbish type discovers he is the chosen one meant to revive the vampire race, or something), the hero (co-writer Martin Yurkovic) is like a slightly more adjusted Stefon from SNL, which provides the bulk of the movie's fairly frequent laughs. But there's just no meat to it - Carmen isn't even turned for over a half hour, and then he just spends the rest of the movie using his powers to get back at people who annoyed him earlier that week, such as the bitchy waitress at the diner or a play director who refused to cast him. At the heart of the film is the friendship between Carmen and Tracey (Dreama Walker), and the 3rd act more or less revolves around whether he will follow his new vampire pals or stick by his best friend, which is fine - but don't start the movie off with stuff about ancient races and wars and such when this is all you care about exploring. Also, don't have a damn rape scene in the middle of a horror comedy that's so heavily skewed toward the comedic side of the equation!

What could have been an interesting long-form short instead gets the feature length treatment, and thus becomes a repetitive exercise that allows the audience to figure out what's going on long before the heroine does. There's a few good performances here, and it's always good to see Gregg Henry (in an extended cameo), but the concept is too thin to sustain the length. Bonus points for turning what I thought was just a low budget handicap (involving a particular vocal recording) into a plot point, however.

This is a frequently hilarious black comedy about a slasher who seems to be taking revenge on the folks who tortured him back in high school. But it's also an indie drama/comedy about an introverted man who discovers he has an 11 year old daughter that wants to reconnect. The mix doesn't always work (the kills are fairly front loaded - wish they were spaced out more), but it's certainly one of the more unique horror comedies in recent years, and features a terrifically funny turn by Barry Bostwick as the laidback (but still clever) sheriff tasked with solving the murder case. In fact everyone in the movie is pretty great; Kevin Corrigan as the hero (killer?) is as great as always, and Ariel Gade as the daughter gives one of the best child performances I've seen in quite some time. Certainly not for everyone, but I was charmed by it.

And that's it! Rites of Spring and Cassadaga were made by friends of mine so I'm not discussing them at length (I enjoyed them both, particularly Cassadaga's blend of an Asian horror type ghost tale and a Giallo), I missed Kalevet (Rabies) due to another commitment, and I've seen both Livid and Innkeepers at other festivals. Everything else got a full review.

I also watched the shorts, but wasn't really wowed by many of them. The two best I saw were ones I had seen before (All Men Are Called Robert and Incubator), and there were a couple others I enjoyed (Hail Satan, Singularity, Roid Rage, Patient Zero), but nothing blew me away like last year's Legend Of Beaver Dam. I will say that I was happy to see much less of an emphasis on twist endings, however - most were just straight (short) narratives, and just about all of them looked just as professional as the features. One was even on 35mm! I also liked that they had good slots this year; not only did many of the features have shorts attached, but they put one block in the prime Friday 8pm position, as opposed to the early Saturday/Sunday slots they usually get (which makes them easier to skip, especially if you plan on watching all of the features that follow). Good call!

Overall, I think it was one of the most consistent lineups yet. Nothing was a full blown stinker (even Stormhouse had its moments, and was certainly entertaining to watch with friends), and the filmmakers were providing the festival with professional formats, which meant everything looked great (previous years have had a couple of movies on lo-res DVDs, which looked like shit). I also enjoyed the closing night awards ceremony, which saw one of my favorites (Crawl) showered with awards for best actress, director, and cinematography (was baffled by The Tunnel's win for best special effects though - you barely saw the creature!). And as always, it was good to see some folks I don't get to see much during the year, and make a few new friends in the process. I also had a lot of milk shakes, so that's always good (for my taste buds, not my health).

See you next year!


The Howling Reborn (2011)

OCTOBER 23, 2011


Movies like The Howling: Reborn are why I think the MPAA should allow filmmakers to choose their own rating within reason. Obviously something like A Serbian Film should be restricted (and thus if its director asked for a PG-13 he would be vetoed), but in this case the director shot the film for a PG-13, limited the profanity to a single “fuck”, and offered no nudity (to a ridiculous degree; a woman dies naked but somehow manages to cover her breasts with her arm). Yet he got the R, and apparently didn’t bother to fight it, so you have this movie that’s going to (theoretically) limit its intended audience while annoying those who expect a typically R rated werewolf movie.

And it’s not PG-13 in the “it doesn’t deserve an R” way like Insidious – it’s specifically aimed at teens. I know folks have and will continue to make comparisons to Twilight, but it actually seems more like that Percy Jackson movie or something like Harry Potter, with a nerdy kid finding out about his heritage and learning to be his own man or whatever. The Twilight angle is largely based on the fact that there’s a love story at its core, but that hardly seems specific to Twilight for me, and there’s no rival monster or anything.

Like Twilight, however, it’s just not aimed at me, so I can’t really hate on it too much. If I was still in grade or high school I’d probably dig it, even though by then I was already watching Italian zombie movies and such. The worst thing about it is that it’s not particularly engaging; even teens would probably be bored by the lack of werewolf action in the first hour. It’s a strangely “small” movie – there’s less than a dozen actual characters in the entire thing, most of whom are already dispatched by the time the third act kicks in. Worse, that entire 35-40 minute chunk of the film takes place in the locked up school, with nothing at stake – it’s our hero and his girlfriend against the four evil werewolves. Guess how it turns out? He has a best buddy; they really should have kept him around longer in order to provide some semblance of tension.

The movie also suffers from a rather silly plotting decision that requires an actress to play two characters, a device that has never worked in a movie, ever. I wasn’t even aware it was supposed to be a twist until I heard it on the audio commentary, with the director and actress laughably saying that they think it works great. Um, no. People aren’t stupid – when you see a woman with a bad wig and sunglasses, you know she’s in disguise instantly, and the fact that the actress is the only recognizable person in the movie (to my eyes anyway) makes the approach even sillier. We’re also supposed to believe that a mere hair color is enough for a man to not recognize her as his (thought dead) wife, which is just asinine. At first I thought maybe this was a plot point from the novel by Gary Brandner (as in a novel you wouldn’t have the very obvious visual clue), but then I discovered that despite the credits specifying that it’s based on Brandner’s second “Howling” novel, it has absolutely no relation to it whatsoever.

Otherwise, it’s fine. The wolf FX are almost all practical, saving CG mostly for terrible compositing (the background of the graduation scene looks like a graphic from the 2nd Resident Evil game), and even if it’s all at the end, seeing two wolves whaling on each other is always awesome. There’s a fun little bit concerning a silver trophy that our hero won; a fun way to combine a character beat (that he’s unexceptional) with an obvious plot necessity (silver – duh). And there’s a genuine surprise with regards to one character’s “secret” that I didn’t see coming, so that’s good. I also like that it all took place over about 24 hours or so (not counting the opening flashback); possibly because of the Harry Potter vibe I was getting. In those things I’m always wondering what they DO on a day to day basis; the threat is always known right at the start of the year, but they don’t take care of it until May. Get proactive, Potter!

And since I’m an old grump and not the target 14 year old audience, I can’t even get worked up about the covers of classic rock songs that pepper the movie. I know they can’t afford the real ones for the most part (Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” must have been cheap!), so I’ll take a decent version of Peter Gabriel’s “Book of Love” over some shit emo-indie song. I was baffled by the terrible cover of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” though – there’s got to be 50 covers of that by now, why the hell did you go with the worst one I’ve heard?

Anchor Bay has provided a terrific looking blu-ray; the sound mix was average but the picture looked spectacular, with strong detail and perfect black levels. The accompanying making-of also looked quite good – I’ve seen seeing a lot of standard def bonus features lately, which is obnoxious (especially for me as I prefer to watch bonus features at work; if I’m gonna sit on my couch watching something on a Blu-ray disc instead of playing Arkham City, it better be in high def!), though the piece itself wasn’t particularly interesting. All of the usual bases are covered, but director Joe Nimziki is embarrassingly in denial about some of his movie’s shortcomings, praising the (terrible) compositing and saying that the French actor who was supposed to be American did a pretty good job hiding his accent (he most certainly did not).

His unearned enthusiasm also comes across in the commentary, where he is joined by Lindsey Shaw, who plays the love interest. Neither seem to be aware that their movie is kind of boring, nor has anyone broken the news that the film had gotten an R rating, rendering many of their comments rather pointless (“This is our one F-word, we can only have one in a PG-13 so I saved it for this moment.”). Shaw also seems to think the word “Lycanthrope” is a tongue-twister of some sort, which will just make any werewolf fan roll his eyes, assuming he/she had even gotten that far in the disc anyway. One interesting tidbit is that he had planned for Dee Wallace to make a cameo as the school nurse, but it didn’t work out. He also makes sure to point out that the script was written long before "Twilight" (the book) even came out, though to that I just have to wonder if he was so worried about it, why didn’t they just use the plot of the 30 year old book that the movie credits as serving as its basis? No one could have argued that. Well, some idiots would, now they can have the benefit of the doubt.

For a series that has remained dormant for over 15 years, this is hardly a tour de force comeback, and the total lack of relation to any previous entries makes me wonder why they even bothered securing the franchise name – it hardly means anything to the target audience anyway, and anyone who DOES really dig this series (I am not one of them, I’m not even too crazy about Joe Dante’s original) will hate it for the lack of connection and focus on a younger audience anyway. But those younger folks might enjoy it, and if they ARE Twi-fans, then they might be seeing their first practical werewolf! Very exciting.

What say you?


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget