Lake Mungo (2008)

JANUARY 31, 2010

GENRE: GHOST, MOCKUMENTARY
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

For a while, Lake Mungo seemed like it might buck the trend of found footage type movies and deliver something truly unique and great. For starters, it’s not really found footage, but presented as an actual documentary (not unlike the bulk of Poughkeepsie Tapes, though far more successfully depicted) with talking heads and news footage and all that. Unfortunately, the filmmakers allow too many threads to go unexplained or underdeveloped, resulting in a decent film that squanders its promise and above-average presentation.

Mungo sort of unfolds like a long-form episode of Unsolved Mysteries, with news footage about a missing person (in this case, a teenage girl named Alice) who ultimately turns up dead paving the way for speculation and few answers. But Robert Stack isn’t here to frighten us by shouting “UPDATE!” at the end of the film and let us know that the killer had been caught or whatever. Instead, the movie ends without even some text wrapup (gotta be a first for this type of movie), and instead makes the movie even MORE bafflingly over-complicated.

Some spoilers follow!

See, for the first half hour or so, we are told about how the family of the dead girl has been hearing things, and then the ghost of the girl begins appearing in photographs and home videos and such. These moments aren’t particularly interesting, but the explanation IS - it turns out that the girl’s brother has been faking the photos in order to help his mother get some closure (the photos make her decide to dig up the girl’s body - which was bloated from being in the water for a few days - and get DNA testing to confirm that it really was their daughter). But then they notice that their neighbor was caught in the girl’s room in one of the photos, and a whole new storyline opens up. And this is fine (the plot twists unfold much like in the terrific mini-series The Staircase, where a guy is accused of killing his wife and halfway through you find out that he was married before and that THAT wife also died mysteriously), but unfortunately, writer/director Joel Anderson never really follows through with it. It turns out Alice slept with the neighbor (and his wife, or mother - they never really explain the neighbor’s family genealogy) and videotaped it, so they assume the guy was in the bedroom looking for the tape. I’ll ignore the idea that a guy would be able to sneak into a house where the occupants are already paranoid about ghosts and not be noticed (even with video cameras rolling!), but I’m baffled as to why this plot thread ultimately goes nowhere. They tell us that the family has moved away, and that’s the end of it. Um, did they not leave a forwarding address? Isn’t their disappearance a bit strange?

And then out of nowhere, one of Alice’s friends lets them see some cell phone video she shot on a class trip to the titular locale about 6 months before she died, where she claims she can see Alice digging a hole. Now, the video is so blurry and dark that I can’t even make out people from trees, let alone specific people doing specific things, but again, I’ll go with it. But I think it’s a bit late to finally get to what I assume is the point of the movie, and it turns out she was just burying her OWN phone to hide a video that was on there! It’s like a Russian doll in the form of video footage. Now, THAT video is undeniably creepy and will likely scare the shit out of folks watching the movie at home, but again, we get no clear explanation or answers for any of it, which seems a bit puzzling when the film is ostensibly a documentary. The video isn’t shown to experts, the other girls aren’t questioned about what they saw, etc. They watch the video, come up with a half-assed/halfway decent explanation for it, and then the movie more or less ends.

Well, almost. Just to further complicate matters, we then see the photos that we know were doctored by the brother, only this time we see that Alice’s ghost REALLY WAS in the photo elsewhere! Like he Photoshopped her on the left, but her real ghost was off to the right. What? Why go through the whole Photoshop plot thread if her ghost really was haunting them? And since the video shows that Alice encountered her own ghost (they think it was warning her of her impending death) then why is she sticking around after she dies? See, that is the problem with the movie - it continually raises questions but never gives a straight answer for any of them, and overcomplicates what should be a simple and subtle story. Ghosts both real and staged, premonitions, shady psychics (I haven’t even mentioned him), sex tapes, possible murders... I wouldn’t have been surprised if they started tossing aliens or something into the mix. “Upon careful re-examination of the photo, I can see what is, without a doubt, a Triceratops.” It reminded me a bit of 24, where each episode is fine on its own, but when you think about the overall arc, those plot twists simply make zero sense when combined with the other episodes. Lake Mungo is similar with scenes - sure, it’s a great twist to discover that the photos were faked, but not so much when you discover that he didn’t need to fake the photos in the first place.

On the plus side, again, it’s well made, and the faux news footage is so good I began questioning whether or not the story WAS based in reality. The actors are good, another thing that can sink this type of movie (they say “Uh....” a lot and sometimes trip over their words - like real people do and actors PLAYING “real” people always forget to do*). And even with its multiple plot branches keeping the movie from having a focus, the basic story (family coping with their loss) resonates in a way few faux docs manage. It’s the rare film that falters simply because it ends when you think that more resolution is on its way; the director’s credit came up and my mental grade for the film dropped a few notches.

Hopefully the DVD will have some deleted scenes and/or a commentary that can clear some matters up. As it stands, it’s a technically well made film (I am definitely interested to see what Anderson does next), but one that is somehow both over-plotted and vague. There are a few creepy moments (Alice’s cell phone video gave me the willies, not unlike that kid’s birthday video from Signs) and nothing particularly gruesome or explicit, making it a must-rent for teenage girls having a sleepover near Halloween-time, but otherwise, I’d suggest holding out (still!) for Poughkeepsie Tapes.

What say you?

*I later discovered that the film was largely improvised, so these might be genuine “flubs” and not actor’s choices. Also, this means that it’s possible that some of these go nowhere plot threads were improvised and Anderson left them in for whatever reason.


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Prime Evil (1988)

JANUARY 30, 2010

GENRE: CULT, RELIGIOUS
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Some folks on Twitter tried warning me away from watching Prime Evil, and I should have listened to them. It’s got a few fun scenes here and there, but it’s overall a mindless bore of a film, and for the life of me I cannot understand why director Roberta Findlay or the screenwriters thought anyone would be interested in this particular non-story.

I know there are more to see, and I’m sure I’m wrong, but I’ll say it anyway - this has to be the boringest Devil movie ever made. It’s about this cult looking to please Satan, but Satan isn’t really in the movie. We see this little puppet at the very end that I guess is supposed to be the Dark Lord, but he just sits there doing nothing until he gets stabbed. And he’s never in a shot with anyone or anything else, so I can’t tell how big he’s supposed to do. It’s no End of Days is what I’m saying.

Don't sell your soul to this... thing.

And the cult is half-assed too, their leader needs a virgin sacrifice, but all the guy will get is 13 years of immortality. Only 13 years? He doesn’t look that old (he DOES look like a hybrid of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham though), so why he’d go through all this trouble just to get 13 years of immortality is a bit puzzling. Unless he’s like a skydiver or something, where he is often in life-threatening situations. Then I can see him wanting a little insurance.

There’s also a plot thread (the closest the film has to an interesting one) about a nun renouncing her vows (woo, she can fuck!) in order to infiltrate the cult so she can help the cops bring it down. She even has a backstory about being abused by Satanists or something. But after all of this is set up, she more or less disappears for the entire movie, as we focus on the next intended virginal sacrifice, who is the estranged granddaughter of the cult guy. She too has a backstory - her father made money by letting guys take nude photos of her when she was a child. And thus now she is understandably frigid (hence the still-virgin status), but all this serves is to pad the movie out to feature length by including a bunch of scenes where her boyfriend gets blue balls and her whorish, junk food obsessed best friend mocks her for not giving it up.

And there’s also a few (not very good) cops on the trail, and a guy who looks like Fink from Meatballs who runs around the city killing women, though, as is often the case with this movie, I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish. I thought maybe he was looking for virgins, but since one of his victims is a crackhead hooker, either I’m way off or he is. But either way, the movie has way too many characters (none of whom are particularly interesting or likable) and not enough action, which is even more of an issue when you consider that Findlay comes from the porn world. A healthy dose of sleaze would have improved matters greatly, but whether Findlay was trying to show she could do serious work, or they couldn’t afford to film anything interesting, either way it’s a shockingly dull movie.

But a grown man does refer to another as “Fart breath”, so there’s something. And I think Brian Yuzna and co. took a page from the film when they made Silent Night Deadly Night 4, as they feel very similar at times (yes, I finally get to use the phrase “Not as good as Silent Night Deadly Night 4”!). I also liked the balls on the writers to set up a sequel - Cravengham gets away, shouting “You win, this time!” and then sets up shop in another big city (the movie is supposed to be set in Boston I think, due to the “New England” title at the beginning, but it’s clearly New York). But it’s been 22 years, so I think we can all stop holding our breath for Prime Evil II. Shit, Millennium Films wouldn’t even want to remake this fucking thing.

What say you?


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Kill Theory (2009)

JANUARY 29, 2010

GENRE: SLASHER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

The main problem with Kill Theory (formerly Last Resort) isn't that it's not very good, it's that it's not good enough for a theatrical release. Had it just gone DTV like countless other Saw wannabes, I'd probably look at it differently and give it a pass. But when it's in theaters, for the same price as every other movie (well, except for Avatar - easy to be number one when every 5 tickets sold is the equivalent of 8 standard ticket prices), it has to be judged on the same lines, and that is where the film fails to measure up.

Now, I must point out that in, heh, theory, I like what After Dark is doing - giving a theatrical release to films that wouldn't quite fit in the multiplexes if given a traditional rollout. They lack stars, they lack big effects, they're usually smaller in scope... even the most commercial entries in years past still wouldn't be able to compete with Drag Me To Hell or the newest Final Destination or Saw sequels. But ADF should focus on films like Dread (which despite the Clive Barker connection, is a tough sell due to the fact that it doesn't fit into a traditional sub-genre) or ZMD, which is a low budget zombie film (of which there are countless thousands these days) but with the brains all those others usually lack. A film like Kill Theory doesn't offer that originality OR intelligence - it's yet another hybrid movie (Battle Royale meets Saw, set in a generic "parent's lakeside house" to add that slasher feel) with an occasionally excruciating script.

I have to mention writer Kelly Palmer, because he is the only one who gets a credit at the top of the film. Director Chris Moore (loved this guy on Project Greenlight - I hope the DVD has a lengthy making of with him doing his thing), the actors, the producers, etc. - they are only credited at the end, which isn't uncommon (if it were up to me, no film would have opening credits). But for some reason, "Written by Kelly Palmer" appears before the title. All this accomplished for me was thinking that the script would be pretty amazing (it's not like Kelly Palmer is a selling point; I could see a film maybe wanting to point out that it was written by Shakespeare or Stephen King at the top, but this is the only produced script for the lad). Which is hilarious, because the writing in the next two scenes is jaw-droppingly terrible. First we get Don McManus as a shrink, telling his patient (read: us) about the guy's own history. "You were on a mountain, and the rope was about to break, so you cut your friends loose in order to save yourself, and that was three years ago..." I momentarily thought that the film was a spoof of such films, and that they were going to cut to the guy saying "Yeah, no shit. I'm me." Anyway, once McManus has delivered all of the exposition we need (for now), we cut to our group of kids, who are, of course, a largely intolerable lot, obsessed with sex and drinking. And there's all of the usual stereotypes for good measure, right down to the fat guy who doesn't have a bed partner as of yet. It's so much like Friday the 13th 3, I kept wondering where the two stoner characters were.

Things pick up a bit once the shit hits the fan though. First, they kill off the least annoying character first, which is ballsy (and the jump scare is pretty terrific as well), and then our killer provides a videotape where he explains the rules of the game - they have until 6 am to kill all but one of themselves, or he will kill them all. See, our killer is the guy from the beginning, and he wants to prove to his shrink that anyone, not just him, would kill their close friends when their life was on the line. Not really the worst theory, but the largely intolerable characters keeps the film from being as interesting as it could have been. As usual, I could care less if any of them died, so it makes no difference to me whether or not they kill each other or are killed by the bad guy. Had they been presented as good, interesting people (or even better/more disturbing - a family), maybe things would be different. But no - one's trying to steal her friend's boyfriend, one's trailer trash, one cheats on his girlfriend, one sucks at Gears of War... good riddance to the lot of ya, I say.

Back to the bad guy, for some reason his identity is kept from us until the end, when it turns out to be (non spoiler) Kevin Gage. Kevin Gage was not a previously seen character in the film, so why they kept him off-screen during the opening scene and then throughout the course of the film is a bit puzzling. I assume maybe they were trying to make us think that one of our "heroes" was the killer, but this doesn't work for two reasons - one, early on he shoots at them when they are all together, and two - they are all long-term friends from college who have been together for four years, and we know the guy was away for 3 for killing his friends on the mountain. So for that to work, the mountain accident would have had to have occurred in high school, and then he would have had to have waited for four years after getting out to prove his shrink wrong. So yeah, no. There is a slight twist to the end, but again, the lack of giving a shit about any of the characters keeps it from being as interesting and/or downbeat as intended.

But again, it's not a flat out terrible film. Some of the scares work, there is an admirable tension for most of the 2nd act of the film, and the lack of favoring one character over another (even Agnes Bruckner, who is about the closest to a star the film has, isn't really in the film more or less than the others) makes it a bit harder to peg the final girl/guy. The killings are also pretty surprisingly vicious; one guy gets beaten to death with a shovel (and then some), and another one's eyeball meets the business end of a fire poker. Plus these kills aren't necessarily carried out by the person you thought would do them, so it adds another layer of enjoyment.

I was also tickled by a particular painting in the living room of the house where the movie takes place. I don't know if it's original art for the movie, or something they found, but I want it for my house. It's basically a guy using binoculars, looking at "you" the viewer. Behind him, laying down, is a naked woman. It sticks out like a sore thumb, and every time it found its way into a shot I couldn't help but giggle. My art knowledge is a bit ignorant (and by bit I mean, "wholly"), so for all I know it's up there with the "Mona Lisa" or "Starry Night", so if you think you know the painting I am referring to (again, assuming it's not an original created for the film) then please let me know who painted it and at what Target I can buy a cheap reprint of it.

So when the films hit DVD, it will probably be considered one of the better ones, as it's the type of hard R fare that will go over well with the types of people who watch Saw films for the torture scenes and think Rob Zombie's Halloween is better than the original. And for the price of a rental, it provides 90 minutes of mildly enjoyable, low grade entertainment. But it's also the type of movie that would have done fine on its own, without the ADF push (well, theoretical push - as with last year, the awareness of the festival is next to nothing as they didn't bother to spend any money marketing it), which makes me wish that ADF had given its slot to a more original, challenging film.

What say you?

P.S. Side trivia note - my very first phone interview for Bloody Disgusting was with Agnes Bruckner, when she was promoting Blood & Chocolate. When we got to the "what are you doing next?" portion of the interview, she told me she was shooting this film. And that was three years ago, so maybe it DID need ADF to get released.


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Mimic 3: Sentinel (2003)

JANUARY 28, 2010

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

If there was an award for “Most Surprisingly Good Franchise”, I think the Mimic series would definitely net a nomination and possibly the award. The first film was famously troubled during production due to fighting between Del Toro and Dimension, though the finished product, while uneven, was still an original and enjoyable film. Then the first sequel expanded on one of the original’s minor characters and delivered some great death scenes and a pretty decent sequel story to boot. And now Mimic 3: Sentinel (just Mimic Sentinel on the film itself) turns out to be borderline great for its first 45 minutes or so, only to turn a bit too traditional for the finale (though still good). What the hell? Aren’t these movies about giant cockroaches that can impersonate people? How did they make ONE good movie out of that, let alone three?

Well that’s not my job to figure out. My job is to tell you that Mimic 3 is essentially Rear Window, except that the villains are human-sized cockroaches. And when the film sticks to this concept (i.e. takes place almost entirely in the hero’s room, observing both human and monsters from across the street where the action is taking place), it’s wonderful. Director JT Petty, who previously impressed me with (what was actually a followup) The Burrowers, is a far better filmmaker than you would expect to be given a thankless job directing the 2nd DTV sequel to a not-very-successful movie, and it shows. He could have phoned this thing in and cashed his check, but damned if he didn’t make a solid thriller, with colorful characters you actually care about and some exciting setpieces to boot.

Oddly, my favorite attack scene occurs in that less-successful third act, when the Rear Window type stuff is tossed out in favor of more traditional action. After some rather generic exterior scenes and the like, Petty once again returns to the idea of confinement, as our hero hides in a refrigerator and struggles to keep the door shut from a rampaging Judas Breed. The only light is the fridge light, which turns on when the monster momentarily succeeds in getting the door open. Its talons are also puncturing and slashing the shit out of the guy, so his increasingly bloody hands are making it harder for him to get a grip on the inside of the fridge door (the butter and egg trays and such). He is just trying to hold out long enough for his makeshift bomb (oxygen tanks in the oven) to go off and kill the damn thing, and given Petty’s surprising willingness to kill off characters you “know” will be safe, you actually believe that he is in actual danger, something few horror films can pull off with their hero.

I hate to say it, but it’s largely the scenes with Lance Henriksen that keep the film from being a total A winner. He’s fine (he actually has the film’s best line - he sees some Judas about to strike, and simply utters “Well.... fuck.”), but again, they take away the “All from the hero’s POV” aspect. There’s an attack scene about halfway through where the hero watches it all from his camera lens, obscuring from us what is actually happening, and I wish these Lance scenes were the same. Of course, it’s Lance Henriksen and thus it would be kind of a waste to keep him out of focus and in shadows and such, but still, it feels a bit like a missed opportunity.

I was also a bit puzzled by Petty’s tendency to fade to events that were occurring at the same time. Like at one point Lance puts a character into a trunk, and then fades to show her inside trying to get out (two trunk scenes in a row!), rather than just straight cut. There are other instances as well, and it distracted me. I was hoping he’d address it on the commentary, but if he did it must have been when I dozed off (he’s got a soft voice, and also I have been working double shifts and thus not getting much sleep). Otherwise, it’s a good commentary - he is definitely a creative and thoughtful director, and points out several things that never dawned on me (like how the actor holds onto the camera throughout a scene, as if it was his anchor). He also reveals that the apartment building that we are looking at for like half of the movie is actually a giant photograph plastered over the hero’s window. Fooled me!

The other extras are cast auditions (no thanks) and a making of featurette that is largely informative, but there’s a bit about dead dogs that I didn’t find amusing, mainly because they never make it clear that it’s a joke. But it’s largely focused on the production side of things, instead of actors blowing each other, so I dug it. I was surprised that there weren’t any deleted scenes (the movie only runs 75 minutes), as they are the most common offering on Dimension DTV movies, but then again this is above and beyond the usual Dimension DTV movie, so I guess it makes sense. Even if you haven’t seen the others, I highly recommend checking this one out.

I also want to point out that this makes the second “It’s Rear Window With A Monster” movie that I’ve seen that worked far better than I expected, the other being Abominable. I say someone tries to meld the story with a giant monkey next.

What say you?


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Trunk (2009)

JANUARY 27, 2010

GENRE: CRAP, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

I ordinarily shy away from going too much into my personal life here, but just to give some context, on Monday morning my mom called to let me know the family dog had died (liver cancer - luckily it was detected and they were able to put him to sleep before it spread to his other organs and he began to suffer). And yet, somehow Trunk is still the worst part of my week. See, I knew that Buddy would eventually pass someday (he was 91 in dog years), but I didn’t know that I’d ever see a movie as fucking pointless as this.

(And I should note that I had no major problems with the movies I watched on Monday and Tuesday, so this isn’t some sort of “taking my grief out on the movie” thing.)

The best thing I can say about the movie is that it lives up to its title. 95% of the movie takes place in the car, with the girl in the trunk and her captor driving around the same 3 blocks of Los Angeles (seriously dude - way to not arouse suspicion. Can’t you at least get on the 101 and head north for a bit?). I assumed that it would be like Phone Booth, where there’s some buildup before he gets to the booth, and a few cutaways to concerned parties in their homes or offices or whatever. But nope, in fact, these two are the only two people in the entire movie, which I guess is kind of impressive.

But it’s also one of the reasons that the movie fails so miserably. After ten minutes, you’ve seen just about everything this movie offers. The bad guy (George) has installed a two way speaker so that he and the girl (Megan) can converse, and converse they do - for 80 fucking minutes. They argue, they threaten each other, they have phone sex (seriously), and they psycho-analyze each other. Over and over and over... you could leave the movie for a full hour and come back for the "finale" (for lack of a better word) and not miss a single thing. The only diversion in the entire film is when the car is pulled over by a cop, who we never see and is killed almost instantly by George. A good filmmaker would have realized that his “inventive” “let’s stay in the car” motif wasn’t working for a full length feature, and used the diversion to create a bit of a setpiece here and break up the monotony, (which is already considerable despite not even being half over), but nope. It’s over almost as soon as it begins, and the shooting death of a police officer after he has pulled the guy over (and thus more than likely has called in the plate number) seems to have no effect on George’s ability to drive around the downtown Los Angeles area all night.

The abysmal script doesn’t do either actor any favors either. Or maybe they just can’t act, I dunno. All I know is, their fighting exchanges sound more like two 7 year olds fighting in the schoolyard than grown adults (I kept expecting her to shriek “Cut it ouuuuuuuuuut!” or maybe “I’m TELL-INGGGGGGGGG!”). The psycho-analysis stuff is OK every now and then, but neither character ever fesses up to what is real or not (it’s suggested that he was molested by his father, but he never admits to it. He just yells “Shut up you bitch!” and “I’m gonna fuck you!” and stuff like that over and over). And the not one but TWO “phone sex” scenes are about as ridiculous as you can possibly get.

I was also dumbfounded as to what little attempts Megan makes to free herself. She has a variety of objects at her disposal, but yet it takes her until the end of the movie to finally shut the fuck up and try to use them to escape. She FINALLY disables the two way speaker with her nail file and rigs something to keep the trunk from opening (to make him angrier when he tries to get her out, I guess?), something she should have done over an hour ago. And why does he leave her with all of these things, exactly? Ah, who the fuck knows/cares.

The ending is the ass cherry on the piece of shit cake that is this movie though. She manages to subdue him and lock HIM in the trunk, and she then runs off into the night. We then cut to the next morning; the trunk is open and there are some bloody handprints on the rear bumper. And... credits (over a picture of a SAW - as if we weren’t aware of what film they were trying to emulate with their “two people in one location” setup). Did he free himself? Did she come back and kill him? I guess it doesn’t matter. It feels like a sequel setup, but Jesus christ, they couldn't come up with enough of a story to sustain even half of one movie, can they really be thinking of making a followup?

I can offer it mild praise on the technical level. The Red camera is perfectly suited for this sort of thing, and Weisman and DP Ricardo Gale manage to find multiple angles of the trunk to keep it from getting too monotonous. And I’m not sure about the female top 40 songs that pepper the credits but the score is pretty good when it’s used. But again, the script (if there was one - there is no actual writer listed, only a “Conceived by” credit for Weisman) is utterly worthless almost from start to finish, so all the technical merits in the world can’t save this one from being what I hope turns out to be the worst film of the year (I know it's only January, but I'm trying to be optimistic here!).

What say you?



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Satan's Slave (1976)

JANUARY 26, 2010

GENRE: CULT
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

When I was back in Massachusetts for Christmas, I picked up a new set from Mill Creek called "Gorehouse Greats", which was 12 films for 5 bucks (as opposed to the usual 50 films for 20 bucks). I was attracted to it mainly because the films all seemed to be from the 60s and 70s (unlike the primarily 30s/40s junk on the Horror Classics and Tales of Terror sets), which would make it more like the Chilling Classics, a set I have long since exhausted for HMAD purposes. So imagine my delight when I cracked the set open, put in Satan's Slave, and was treated to a pretty good anamorphic transfer! Most of the transfers on their previous sets weren't even worth the average 40 cent price per movie, so this was a very welcome surprise.

Another surprise - the movie was pretty good! I was happy to see that it was directed by Norman J. Warren, who was responsible for Alien Prey, which is one of the best "I never would have seen this if I wasn't doing HMAD" movies I've seen in quite some time. Slave isn't quite as successful, but it's still a fairly engaging, atmospheric British chiller with whopping doses of nudity.

Seriously, in the first 10 minutes we are treated to not one, not two, but THREE pairs of breasts. Shit, I've seen pornos that didn't even offer that much skin variety in their opening moments. Now, I'm not exactly a "WOOO!!! BOOBS!!" type of guy, but I AM a "WOOO! THIS MOVIE HAS NO SHAME!" type of guy, so it set the tone nicely, and I actually began to wonder if I should save my first viewing of the film for the New Beverly, where I could, well, yell "WOOO!! BOOBS!!" along with several dozen other drunks, instead of watching it by myself at work (luckily, my office-mate was gone for the day. Would have been a lot of minimizing going on).

Unfortunately, the plot has to get in the way, so after that the movie calms down some, and spreads out its "visuals" a bit more evenly. Ten minutes of talk, and then another nude scene. Another few minutes of talk, and then a guy plummets to his death (and the dummy they use was apparently made out of cake, so what should be a "oh man, so fake!" turned into a "Mmmm, I think I want to eat that guy's arm."). Other highlights include a woman being (seemingly willingly) penetrated by a wooden cross during a cult ritual, cousins going at it without anyone else (including his dad/her uncle) being concerned, someone impaled on a door 4 years before Friday the 13th came along, and a downer ending. And more nudity here and there, of course.

I was also impressed with the quality of the FX. Apart from cake man, most of them still hold up favorably to the prosthetics work of today. An eye gouging during the climax is mighty impressive, and the assorted other gags (such as a pretty graphic "branding with hot iron" flashback scene) are pretty good as well. It's weird, I was trying to think of FX work that equaled it for the US, and all of the movies that came to mind are from 1980 or later. I think the UK deserves more credit for ushering in the splatter craze.

The only downside to the movie, apart from some occasional draggy parts (again, the inadvertent result of having such a delightfully "action packed" opening - maybe this movie inspired Legion) is that it reminded me of The House of Usher update from a couple years back. Like that film, a lot of Slave is just a girl in a mansion, trying to figure out why her house-mates are so creepy while also falling in love with one. Both films have a lot of scenes where someone should be questioning their situation instead of making doe-eyes at their male relative, and the structure is nearly identical. I wouldn't be surprised if Usher's creators had seen this film and drew some influence from it, though if that is indeed the case, they should have swiped less of the structure and more of the cross-fucking. Of course, either way, the similarities are no fault of Slave's, but rather just another reason why I should watch movies in order, even if they seemingly have no relation. I could have enjoyed Slave even more had I not been occasionally distracted by memories of watching that piece of crap.

At any rate, for a movie that cost me about 50 cents, the transfer and the film itself were quite the bargain. One other movie as good as this on the set and it will be the best DVD investment I've made in years (since 2006, when I picked up the Chilling Classics set, in fact). All hail Mill Creek!

What say you?


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Resurrection (1999)

JANUARY 25, 2010

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, SERIAL KILLER
SOURCE: NETFLIX (INSTANT VIEW)

Well, Resurrection is a serial killer movie from the late 90s, so you should know what to expect: rainy city, two cops on the trail of a sadistic killer who has already completed half of his carefully planned, religion-based spree, a chase at the halfway point... the Se7en influence is as apparent as ever here, but it was its similarity to pair of other horror films from 1999* that really caught my attention.

Those films are The Bone Collector and End of Days, which Universal released within weeks of each other in the fall of that year and were greeted with nearly identical grosses of 66 million dollars (their average gross being 66.6 million! THE DEVIL!!!). Like End of Days, Resurrection has a hero with an unexplained accent teamed with a funny partner who are trying to solve a mystery with (again) religious connections, which is a problem for the hero as the loss of a family member has resulted in him not believing in God anymore, which leads to some terse discussions with a priest, played by someone who is known for far more respectable fare than this (Rod Steiger in Days, David Cronenberg here).

The Bone Collector ones are even more apparent. In both films the killer is collecting parts of the body and leaving cryptic clues for the investigating officers. Both films take place in major US cities (Chicago here, NY for Bone) but are largely filmed in Canada (Toronto/Montreal). Both films feature actor Leland Orser, and both films are instantly undone by the presence of a character actor who has one or two scenes of little importance early in the film, making it pretty obvious that he is the killer. In fact, Orser himself was the killer in Bone, and I am pretty sure I would have put my foot through the wall if the same thing happened here, but it wasn’t him (spoiler: it was Robert Joy this time).

I mean, I dunno, maybe some filmmakers just assume that the audience isn’t wise to cinematic shortcuts and curious casting decisions and won’t notice things like that (the only other alternative is to suggest I’m smarter than most folks - and that would be friggin’ ridiculous. I like Armageddon for Christ’s sakes.). But this makes at LEAST the fourth HMAD serial killer movie that I’ve been able to “solve” just by reading the cast list and noticing how often certain actors appeared in the film’s first act. That’s what made a film like Scream such a joy - they piled on red herrings in a believable way, and mixed the veteran actors (Henry Winkler, Courtney Cox) with the newcomers (Matt Lillard, Jamie Kennedy) in equal fashion. For the most part, the only time you could successfully discredit someone as a suspect was when they died, and if you were to pause the film prior to the party climax and tell me who you thought was the killer, I’m pretty certain that I would be able to buy that theory. Not the case here; even if the actor wasn’t being wasted until his reveal, the only other viable suspect the movie ever provides is, well, Orser, but he gets taken out (loses a leg) before the halfway point. Maybe I could be convinced that Cronenberg was supposed to be a red herring, but he’s at home asleep, Christopher Lambert wakes him up to get some info, and then races to a crime scene where the killer has just attacked someone, so he’s out as a possibility even before Orser is anyway (this scene leads to Orser’s injury).

So it’s derivative and lacking an actual mystery, but it’s still entertaining. Lambert’s always fun to watch, and his repartee with Orser is amusing. There’s a really odd scene where another officer is relating a story to Orser about someone being hit by a bus, and Lambert just hears the final line and thinks it’s the punchline to a joke, so he starts laughing. Then he is made aware of his faux pas and he and Orser giggle about it. Making it even odder is the fact that Lambert’s requisite tragic backstory concerns his son being hit by a car (in a manner that tops Meet Joe Black for unintentional hilarity - the kid is like 10 and he just drives his bike right under a car for no reason), so why he would even laugh at an actual joke about it is beyond me.

And then the end. Holy shit. Remember when Michael Jackson was dangling his kids out a window for no goddamn reason? Well, he may have gotten the idea from this movie, in which our killer is holding a baby over a ledge (upside down no less). Now, either the baby is supposed to be premature, or the prop guy is just a bit confused, but the less-than-normal size of the thing makes it all the more hilarious as he dangles it over the ledge, and then drops it (it’s caught by Lambert) when he is stabbed. They toss in a few ADR gurgles and cries to sell it as real, but it’s largely unsuccessful. Unless they wanted to make me laugh my ass off, then in which case it’s the most successful scene in the film.

Certainly unsuccessful is Russell Mulcahy’s penchant for hyper edits, stretching/skewing of the image, and other “stylish” choices that just annoyed the shit out of me from minute one. What’s wrong with just filming a goddamn scene normally? Why call attention to yourself with all of this nonsense, especially in a plot-heavy film? It’s one thing for something like Irreversible to swirl the camera around and do all this other nonsense, because it’s SUPPOSED to make you feel a bit queasy. But why would Mulcahy want me to feel disoriented while his characters are relaying important plot info?

Well, I guess if you’re a serial killer fan, you can do a lot worse. The cast is above average, and I always like scenes of a cop trying to piece all of his random clues together, of which this movie offers two. It drags a bit in the 3rd act (there’s like a 10 minute “we can only hold him for so many hours - we need more evidence!” non-suspense sequence that does nothing for nobody) and again, it’s pretty easy to identify the killer, but the concept is interesting enough to warrant a pass, and I’ll certainly take it over The Horsemen or Untraceable.

What say you?

*Resurrection was released before either of them, so the coincidences are likely just that. I will point out, however, that Bone Collector was based on a book that had been out for a while, and End of Days was in development for years. Just sayin'.


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Nature's Grave (2008)

JANUARY 24, 2010

GENRE: PREDATOR, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

I didn’t take notes for Nature’s Grave, but I guess I could just use the ones I wrote for Long Weekend and write the exact same review, since Jamie Blanks (and original writer Everett DeRoche) made the exact same movie. Granted, the basic plot doesn’t leave much room for mixing things up (though I suppose they could have put the wife front and center this time around), but Christ, entire dialogue exchanges are repeated verbatim and the film as a whole goes by beat for beat the same as it did in the 1978 version. So my question is: why did they bother?

I’m particularly puzzled since Blanks’ previous film was Storm Warning, which was also about a couple on a camping trip who run afoul of an enemy (albeit a more traditional family of backwoods deviants instead of mother nature). Didn’t he get this sort of thing out of his system? Why would he want to make two movies in a row where any plot synopsis would begin “A couple’s vacation is cut short when...”? And why remake a film and not do anything different? Even the horrid Psycho remake can at least claim that Vince Vaughn had a different interpretation of the character than Anthony Perkins had, but Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan pretty much play their characters the same way: he’s brash and cocky, she is shrill and agoraphobic. Even swapping the sexes (but otherwise retaining the identical script) would have been at least somewhat interesting for a while, but Blanks and DeRoche don’t offer us any such alternate approach. The only major difference I caught came at the very end; instead of just fading out after the truck stops, Blanks inserts some footage of the two of them at their wedding, looking happy and such. It’s a sort of nice touch, but it’s not really relevant either; had they killed each other, it would be a nice bit of irony, but they were killed by mother nature. It would make more sense to show footage of them, I dunno, enjoying a nice day in the city or going to the recycling plant or something.

Needless to say, this means that they don’t take the opportunity to improve on the original’s (minor) flaws, such as the go-nowhere subplot (more like sub-shot) where Peter’s cigarette causes a fire. Once again we see the fire start, and once again it’s never mentioned again. The guys at the bar are once again sort of creepy, but once again we never learn if they were simply trying to keep the visitors from harm by telling them that there was no beach, or if they really had never heard of it (and if not, then how did Peter hear about it? Everyone who goes there dies, right?).

Now, if you’ve never seen either version, then I wouldn’t know which one to recommend. Obviously the original is worthy of more respect, but Blanks does bring some stylistic touches here and there that the original lacked, and Karvan is much easier to bear than Briony Behets was in the original (they have also dropped the fact that she was still cheating on Peter, so she’s not unsympathetic from the start). And obviously things like the eagle attack are less goofy, so there’s something. And since everything is upgraded, we get the creepy image of a GPS trying to find its bearings in the middle of a blank area, which is better than looking at a map and saying “this road’s not on here” or something. So yeah, they have “modernized” the film, but I didn’t feel that the original was dated, so it’s hardly a good enough excuse to bother with such an exact replica.

I dunno. Maybe if it had been years instead of a couple weeks since I saw the original, I would have enjoyed it more, as I wouldn’t have been able to recall everything so easily. I mean, there’s nothing technically BAD about the movie - it’s just literally the exact same movie in pretty much every way that matters. So fuck it, let’s be positive - if you are in the mood to watch a couple of assholes get their just desserts at the hands of the animal kingdom and some trees, then you have two pretty much equally enjoyable options. Go with the one that’s easier to come by and be done with it.

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Scanners (1981)

JANUARY 23, 2010

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

I won’t name names, but I was surprised to hear how many people were more or less in agreeance with me that Scanners isn’t quite the classic I was expecting. I figured I’d get a “You’re an idiot!” or the old standby “But you like Armageddon” when I told folks that I was underwhelmed by it, but many of them replied “Yeah, cool idea, but...” or something along those lines. However, if David Cronenberg were to walk into the room just then and asked what we thought of it, we’d probably all tell him it was amazing. He’s Cronenberg! And he’s at a Mexican joint for some reason. Why spoil his mood?

(However, if he asked what we thought of Crash, I’d tell him it sucked. No way I could pretend to like that fucking thing.)

There are two reasons I was sort of “meh” on it. One - the headsplosion occurs in the first ten minutes, setting up a far more visual and gonzo movie than is actually delivered. Two - as is often the case with Cronenberg, the film lacks humor of any sort, which to me is not the best way to go about your story about dudes who can read minds and then blow up those minds. Some movies can have goofy plots but still work if the director takes it seriously (hell, Cronenberg himself did just that two years later with The Dead Zone), but Scanners’ story is SO goofy that I just kept wishing Dave would just loosen up and have some fun with it.

Back to the headsplosion - there’s a reason why it’s the most famous scene in the film - it’s the only one that’s memorable! Not a lot of folks are like “You know that scene in Scanners where the boring hero guy walks around a doctor’s office for a while?” Hell it’s only been a few hours and I’m already having trouble remembering anything else that stood out. The ending “battle” is pretty cool (I have a weak spot for veins, so seeing them bulge out AND squirting blood was pretty uncomfortable in a good way), but the resulting body-switch is pretty stupid, in my opinion.

I also didn’t dig on the fact that Michael Ironside disappears for most of the movie. The plot kicks into gear when the hero is recruited to take him down, but Ironside is absent for so long he never really feels like a real threat. By the time they DO meet up, the movie had already felt disappointing, and his return/subsequent battle wasn’t enough to save it.

And it’s a shame, because the concept is cool and the structure (save for Ironside’s absence) is fine. Good guy tries to find other scanners to help him, a love interest is worked in, there’s some car chases and an explosion or two, plus an “infiltrate the enemy headquarters” sequence. But it’s all done with Cronenberg’s usual cold, technical approach (not to mention his penchant for distractingly odd names - Braedon, Obrist, Revok, Trevellyan - none of these meet Microsoft Word’s criteria for a correctly spelled name!), and I just didn’t care about anyone on screen. Well, maybe the guy that I thought was Saul Rubinek, because I thought he was Saul Rubinek, but he died pretty quickly. And it wasn’t him anyway.

Incidentally, the reason I finally got around to watching the film in its entirety (I had seen bits and pieces over the years) was because I was invited to join some others for a viewing of Scanners 3: The Takeover the next day. Now, it’s probably not a BETTER film by any normal measure, but it’s certainly more fun. The villain is front and center (if anything, the HERO is the one who disappears for too much of the film), there are a lot of setpieces and unique deaths (it’s almost like a slasher at times, the evil scanner even has a few one-liners), and it doesn’t waste its best moment in the first 10 minutes (though it comes close - a scanner “mishap” causes a guy in a Santa outfit to plummet to his death in front of a little girl). Granted, Cronenberg’s film had more interesting ideas and less of a clich├ęd approach, but damned if the sequel doesn’t fit the bill of what comes to my head when I think of the ideal movie about guys with telepathy trying to kill each other. (I would offer a full review, but as I was with friends we were shooting the shit and mocking it, so I would hardly be able to speak on the film without just listing all the "cool" parts).

What say you?


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Legion (2010)

JANUARY 22, 2010

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I knew nothing about Legion until Comic Con, where the bulk of the elevators we used over the 5 days were adorned with the awesome shot of Paul Bettany with angel wings and assault rifles. I also covered the roundtables, where, amongst other things, one of the female stars kept looking at me while answering other people's questions (and I know for sure that I didn't have any food in my beard - because I checked), AND won me over by saying her favorite movie was Halloween (and stressed that she meant the original). And then the trailer made it look like any number of Carpenter type films (motley group holed up in one locale), with a plot that seemed patched together from Demon Knight, Terminator, and The Prophecy. In short - it held a lot of promise to be a pretty kick ass film.

Sadly it is not. It's got moments of greatness (or at least, really good-ness), but they are stretched out (and largely spoiled by the trailers anyway) far too thin, and in between are some seriously dull and borderline laughable "character" moments that always feel like little more than an attempt to add dimension to the characters so that critics won't bitch that it's just wall to wall action.

But that's exactly what this movie should be! 15 minutes in, we get our first demon-angel-monster thing, and from that point on, the film should be a pretty fast paced romp, slowing down for minor plot/character moments that last no more than five minutes. But I swear to Christ, the movie stops for FORTY GODDAMN MINUTES so that each character can have a heart to heart conversation with one of the other characters. Tyrese talks to Charles Dutton, Paul Bettany talks to Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid talks to Kate Walsh, Adrianne Palicki talks to Black, Tyrese talks to Walsh's daughter, and so on. The only reason that it finally returned to action is because I'm pretty sure writer/director Scott Stewart ran out of possible combinations. Look, I'm all for character development, and any one of these scenes on its own would be fine (or even all of them, save maybe the painfully stupid one between Tyrese and the girl, had they been spread out a bit). But when your movie has Charles Dutton whipping a frying pan at an old woman's head in the first reel, you can't expect an audience to sit patiently for the entire middle portion of your film while everyone airs out their backstories and "meaningful" character flaws. Aren't they in danger? Why are they all just standing around yapping? And why aren't the demon people attacking?

If I had to guess, I would wager that since Stewart comes from an (impressive) effects background, that he was worried he would be accused of "showing off" had the film been a non-stop effects showcase. And since he has planned a trilogy, I also wouldn't be surprised if he was trying to get as much story out of the way now so that he could focus more on action in the next two films. However, both approaches fail him. The effects ARE good, and thus we want more of them, and it's doubtful that the film will connect with enough audiences to get those followups.

And that's a shame, because there is a lot of potential here. Bettany is a great action hero (when he's in it - for a top billed star he doesn't seem to have as much screen time as some of the others, and after his introduction he disappears for about 25 minutes or so), and it's hinted that his character may not be as pure and good as the others would hope. Likewise, the great Kevin Durand (woefully underused) is his equal, and despite being the film's de facto main villain, he doesn't seem to be out for the count yet. And they barely even scratch the surface in regards to the baby that the whole movie centers around; Terminator at least gave us glimpses of what John Connor would do, but Legion never really explains what Palicki's child is supposed to accomplish (or why she was chosen to carry it, for that matter). Most trilogy openers work as a standalone film, but this one is maddeningly left open for followups.

I also enjoyed the supporting cast, though most of them won't be around for the sequel. Stewart does a fine job of putting them all on equal terms, so that you're not sure which ones will die, who will turn (come on, you know there's gotta be a turncoat in the group), and who will save the day. One character's death in particular shocked me; it's someone that always seems to survive a film, and they are dispatched long before the conclusion (and somewhat unceremoniously) as well. And I'm always happy to see Dennis Quaid in something, though they should have just cast Meat Loaf, since Quaid (who is friends with Loaf in real life) is channeling him most of the time anyway. There are also some funny lines here and there, mostly courtesy of Tyrese (when asked where the insect swarm went, he replies "Are you asking me to comment on the nature of a pestilence?" Heh.).

But the cast makes the abundance of generic character development even more frustrating. Most of the actors are guys we love and don't really need a backstory to latch onto in order to care about them. Quaid, for example - the guy's been around forever and has that everyman, salt of the earth quality to him. So why stop the movie to have him yammer on about how he owns the place because he thought there would be a mall opening nearby and that his wife left him because of it and now he carries around a lighter she gave him even though he quit smoking and blah blah blah... we see Quaid, we're on his side. Done. Ironically, the character that gets the least amount of characterization is Palicki, who audiences are least likely to be familiar with (she's on Friday Night Lights, a terrific TV show that no one watches) and yet is pretty much the most important character. If the characters were unique and interesting, it would be one thing, but they're all the generic-est of generic archetypes, so despite all of Stewart's efforts, in the end, after boring me for 40 minutes with their jibber-jabber, the only reason I cared about any of them is because I cared about the actors playing them.

At least it succeeds on a technical level. Again, the effects are pretty great, and the action scenes are easy to follow (sad that this has to be worth mentioning at all, but that's how it is these days) and largely exciting. There's a great sequence where Bettany and the others have to keep a parade of cars from getting to the diner, and it's both exciting and somewhat unique (it's like Michael Bay's version of a tower defense game). There seems to be some missing scenes here and there (Palicki and Black have a fight, and then they are OK with each other a few minutes later - expect many a "this was cut for time" scene on the DVD), but it's otherwise well edited, and the surround mix is terrific. Really, the only legitimate problem with this movie is the bizarrely stunted pace and far too dependent on sequels approach, but unfortunately those are pretty big problems.

(Another big problem - having a killer kid cause havoc and then killing him off-screen. Weaksauce, five yard penalty!)

Part of me wants the film to succeed, so that at least one of those sequels can come to pass and maybe deliver on the promise of the concept. But part of me also wants the film to tank, because maybe (optimism alert!) it would give studios and filmmakers some pause before greenlighting another film that's designed to only tell 1/3 of a story. You look at New Hope, or Scream, or Matrix - those films were all open and shut. There was room to explore the stories, and maybe a few minor questions (really just New Hope there, i.e. why is Vader in that suit), but if they tanked, their fans would still be able to enjoy a more or less complete story. I feel Legion doesn't quite get there, and worse, it wasn't exciting/interesting enough for me to really care if it ever does.

What say you?


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Beast Within (2008)

JANUARY 21, 2010

GENRE: PREDATOR, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

In a way it’s sort of awesome that Beast Within (aka Virus Undead) isn’t just a killer bird movie, because that’s what I was expecting (based on the box art, featuring a scary looking bird, and the blurb saying that it’s “The Birds meets Outbreak”). So when it turned out to actually be a zombie movie of sorts, I was surprised and engaged by the turn of events. But had I known it was a zombie movie, I probably would have been disappointed, since the zombie stuff is largely confined to the final half hour.

It sort of reminded me of Dead Snow a bit, in that it’s actually structured very much like a slasher movie - three friends go off to an isolated house that one of them inherited, and are joined by two lovely young women, and someone is watching them, etc. So I’m like “cool, a killer bird movie with slasher sensibilities!” and then all of a sudden, I’m waiting for killer birds to show up, and BAM! some zombies are biting our heroes and trying to invade the house where they are holed up. Then the birds do show up on top of that. I mean, it’s not a particularly great movie, but the largely successful combination of genres was a nice surprise.

I also liked the surprising depiction of the two female characters (spoilers ahead!) One’s the hero’s old flame, and the other is sort of a slut, and given the slasher feel, you probably assume that the latter will die instantly and the former might be the only one to make it out alive. However, the slutty one turns out to not only last a while, but sort of kick some ass as well, and the would-be heroine plummets to her death during the climax. And the goofy cop, who is set up as a sort of Deputy Dewey comic relief hero, gets killed early on. So not only am I surprised at the type of movie it is, I’m also mildly surprised with how it plays out as well. Excellent.

And it’s fairly well made too, another nice surprise. Yes, we’ve come to the point where seeing a professionally executed movie is a surprise. But it’s Lionsgate’s fault - they distribute such a wide range of DTV movies (and so many of each type), it’s impossible to tell from the cover and synopsis if it’s some guy’s backyard indie, or an import, or a legit movie that they just never released theatrically. This is an import, and it hilariously even makes a big deal out of the fact that it was shot on film on the back of the DVD. Again, this shouldn’t be necessary, but you get so many movies shot on consumer DVD these days, why not point out that the filmmakers had enough pride in their creation to shoot it on something that looked good?

I also loved the score, but I could swear I have heard it before in another movie. It's in the trailer - give it a listen and see if you recognize it. I wanted to say like Midnight Meat Train, but that ain't it. Something on those lines, perhaps? I dunno. Either way I want it as a ringtone.

The only technical gaffe is some bad dubbing, which is only noticeable because it only seems to affect the female characters. Everyone seems to be speaking English (unless the German translation would require almost identical mouth movement), but the female characters, even minor ones, all have that detached sound to their voices. It was a constant distraction for me.

I was also a bit puzzled as to why the film was given the moniker Wolf Wolff’s Beast Within. Mr Wolff was one of two directors (the other being someone named simply Ohmuthi), and he did not produce or write the film at all. Kind of brazen if you ask me. And he doesn’t seem to be any sort of big deal, he has two other films, one of which doesn’t even seem to have been released (what with only 8 votes on the IMDb), and the other isn’t well known in the States, so I doubt it was a marketing ploy from LG. I wonder if Mr. Wolff refers to the film as “Wolf Wolff’s Beast Within”, just like Wes Craven actually refers to Nightmare 7 as “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (I actually heard him say this - I was delightfully baffled). The DVD doesn’t have any extra features to find out (unless you consider 5.1 sound and Spanish subtitles to be extra features, because that’s where you will find them on the DVD menu).

So look, it’s not a great film, but it’s a solidly entertaining one all the same, and I think if you go in blind, or even just going by the DVD cover, you’ll probably enjoy its kitchen sink approach and largely old-school (save for the CGI birds) feel.

What say you?


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Homicidal (1961)

JANUARY 20, 2010

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, REVENGE
SOURCE: NETFLIX (INSTANT VIEW)

Poll: were audiences simply not trying to get the jump on the films they were watching back in the 60s, or were people just stupid back then? The twist in Homicidal is so blatantly obvious that I was actually caught off-guard when I realized it was supposed to be a twist. “Oh, you mean - I’m not supposed to know that thing? Oh, OK. Huh.” I mean, it’s still a fun movie and all, but yikes, I’d be embarrassed if the ending came around and I was like “WHOOOOOOOOOA!”

(Spoilers, obviously)

I dunno though, maybe some folks aren’t paying attention, or don’t notice things like facial structure. And thus, they will indeed be surprised when the end of the film “reveals” that the awkward looking male character who is obviously dubbed and never appears in a scene with his alleged wife, a quite attractive woman, are in fact the same person. Those folks will probably also enjoy the twist in Amusement, another film where the filmmakers prayed that an audience will blindly accept that two characters with different identifying characteristics (hair-styles, glasses, etc) are indeed two different people. I wonder if they also found Fletch confusing. “Who is this guy on roller skates? Why’s he so interested in Fletch’s case?”

But like I said, it’s still fun. As un-surprising as the final twist was, I sure as hell didn’t expect her to freak out and stab a judge 10 minutes into the movie (it’s pretty bloody too). Nor did I think poor Helga would get decapitated on her stair-ascender wheelchair thingie. I also enjoyed the lovably dated references, particularly with money. During a wedding scene, the would-be groom balks at the fact that it’s going to cost 50 bucks (which is the “charge you extra” rate due to the fact that it’s in the middle of the night), and later, a traveling knife sharpener (why not?) charges two dollars to sharpen every knife in the house, but he lucks out as she only wants him to fix the one in her hand. Someone’s eating steak tonight!

I was also tickled by the heroine’s name: Miriam Webster. Now, of all the goddamn names in the world, why would you use that? It’s like the writer went to get a book of baby names for some ideas, but saw the dictionary first and was like “Ah, fuck it.” Hilariously, a guy even says that there are probably “lots of women” with that name in the Southern California area. No, because I don’t think ironic names were that big of a rage in 1961.

1961 is, of course, after 1960, and thus after Psycho. And boy does it show. No one involved pretended that it wasn’t a Psycho cash-in, but some of the steals are a bit too blatant for my taste. The young pretty blond on the run early on, getting paranoid when she sees the police (hilariously, after she calms down and goes on her way, she blows through a stop sign. Way to keep the cops from noticing you!), money, motels... it’s all a touch familiar. There’s even an Arbogast type character who shows up in the film’s second half. And the climax revolves around a dead woman propped in a chair, a cross-dressing killer, and a big old house. Come on Castle, at least TRY to distinguish yourself!

Castle, of course, has his usual gimmicks to give his film its own identity. This one has a 45 second countdown clock in which scared audience members could leave the theater, but they would be called cowards and have to sit in the “Coward’s Corner” in the theater lobby. It has been suggested that anyone actually in the corner was a paid plant (I probably would have done it for the hell of it - especially since I already had the ending figured out) and apparently the movie had some trouble being booked because of the nonsensical logistics involved with managing such a thing, but I think it’s funny. I sure as hell wasn’t taking the movie seriously anyway, so the fourth wall break smack dab in the middle of the friggin’ climax was pretty funny to me.

You may have noticed that I watched the film on Netflix instant. I am aware of the irony - had Castle been alive today, he would probably be disgusted at the idea of people watching low quality versions of any film, let alone his, at home instead of in a theater, since the moviegoing experience was so integral to his appeal. For what it’s worth, it WAS in Netflix HD (which approximates the quality of say, a non-anamorphic DVD zoomed in on an HD set, as opposed to the just barely better than VHS quality of the rest of their movies), but still, seemed wrong to be watching it that way. I’d love to see a week-long festival of his films (PRINTS!), with all of the gimmicks (Tinglers, floating skeletons, life insurance policies, etc) intact. Or as a day-long event at a horror festival. Someone make this happen!!!

What say you?


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