Scary Or Die (2012)

JANUARY 30, 2013

GENRE: ANTHOLOGY
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

Another anthology! And, like Barrio Tales, Scary Or Die was shot in Los Angeles and has a segment about racists battling border crossers, only for one of the "illegal aliens" to turn out to be a legal resident and business owner. And they're both from Phase 4. And they both lack any real surprises. But other than that, they're different!

For starters, there are five stories here, giving the film two more chances to impress or disappoint. The first is the border crosser one; a pair of rednecks and one of their girlfriends drive out to a common crossing spot with a pair of guys they've kidnapped (after killing a Spanish store clerk on the way), aiming to kill them and leave them by the border as a warning. Things, of course, go awry, and our awful racists get their just desserts. It's a decent segment (better than the one in Barrio, anyway), but I couldn't help but feel a bit puzzled at its final scene, where a pair of US Border Patrol agents matter of factly discuss the thing that killed our racist folks. It's an intriguing concept, and one they should have explored in more detail, rather than leave it for what basically comes across as a joke.

The second story is the worst; depicting an Asian guy who sees a girl being kidnapped and rescues her. She repays him by inviting him over, and since he's all lonely (his wife has recently passed, it seems), he's more than eager to take her up on it. But surprise! She's a vampire. This is a twist, but a poorly delivered one, and worse, the rest of the story (when, I shit you not, Van Helsing arrives on the scene) takes place off-screen, robbing us of the only thing that might have been entertaining in the entire segment.

The third is an improvement, telling the tale of a hitman of some sort who is trying to dispose a body. It's got a "Tell-Tale Heart" thing going on and one of the few inspired twists in the movie, plus the hitman is played by character actor Christopher Darga, who is an interesting presence not often given a lead role. All of that helps make up for the clunky editing, which shows us the middle of the story first, then flashes back to get us to that point and shows most of the same scene again. This sort of thing is annoying enough in a feature film; it's downright unforgivable in a 15 minute anthology segment. It also lacks proper introductions and setup; I have no idea why he was killing this person, if he was ordered to do it or acting on his own, etc.

The fourth is the best, and also the longest, which is probably why the cover features its central villain: a zombie clown. Our hero is a drug dealer (stay with me) who gets bitten by a clown and then slowly turns into one himself, sort of like a more tragic werewolf movie, or The Fly. So he tracks down the original clown while trying to hide what is happening from his family and the cops (including one played by Darga), all while trying to keep himself from hurting anyone. It runs for about 30 minutes and has the most interesting characters out of all the segments, and the clown makeup is pretty awesome (the white afro is a nice touch), making this an easy winner that probably deserved to be released on its own as a long short film.

Then there's an extra installment that no one needs at all. I am completely at a loss to explain this one; a woman returns from the dead to get back at her boyfriend, and that's it. It's about 5 minutes long and she narrates the entire thing. It has a tie to the wraparound, but they could have thrown that into any of the stories. And it feels so tacked on coming after the longest/best story, so this is just a boneheaded decision on all counts. Especially when the wraparound has zero story at all - basically there's a website with uploaded videos (the segments) and in between them we just see a hand on a mouse scrolling over to click another one. The concept is fine (and is a nice way to explain why the shorts look/feel so different, as the multiple directors have an in-movie justification), but it's entirely weightless. Think of the wraparounds in things like Creepshow or Tales From The Crypt - they're just as memorable as the stories between! Who the hell is going to remember this one, even if they loved every segment - was it worth killing the film's late momentum just to have a (flimsy) tie to it?

In my eyes, they should have just dropped the 2nd and 5th stories, expanded on the 1st and 3rd, and let the wraparound have its own contained little story, since the "I'm watching these movies" approach doesn't quite lend itself to having a connection to one of them anyway. They would have had a really solid anthology on their hands instead of a frustratingly uneven one, though I will meet them halfway on that as it seems there might have been some production issues. In an interview, Michael Emanuel (who seems to be the driving force behind the project) claimed that characters from each segment would intersect with the others (a la Trick 'r Treat), but except for this last bit, that doesn't seem to be the case in the finished product. Darga APPEARS in two segments, but he isn't playing the same character, so that doesn't count. So, maybe some things got messed up/changed and resulted in the movie's wildly disjointed outcome. Either way, it's a decent effort, and at least the two weakest segments are also the shortest - when you suffer, it's brief!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Killing Kind (1973)

JANUARY 29, 2013

GENRE: HERO KILLER
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

Since it was released on DVD a few years back, I can only assume that I queued The Killing Kind up after seeing it in the "Chopping List" in an issue of Fangoria back in 2008, and it's only risen to the surface now (so for those of you who recommended movies in 2010 - sorry! Probably won't come up in the next couple months). Because I have no conscious knowledge of its existence before I saw that it was on the way, and its obscure nature means it's not very likely to have come up as a recommendation. Netflix maybe; their algorithms and such for recommending movies seem to be pretty good - but this was a Blockbuster rental, and they pretty much just recommend Dawn of the Dead for everything.

I'm also not too familiar with director Curtis Harrington; I'm pretty sure the only other of his films that I have seen is Queen of Blood, which was OK but hardly the sort of thing that would make me run over to the computer and seek out every other film he had made. And it's obscure to the world at large, too - on the disc's sole extra, Harrington explains that the distributor did a terrible job, playing it in a couple of cities but keeping no records of where, so they were unable to secure bigger distribution as they would need to know where the film hadn't already played. This is the sort of thing that terrifies me as all those lazy folks move on to streaming and abandon physical media; this film was saved thanks to Dark Sky, but how many other indie horror films (or any genre, really) from that era were met with the same fate but HAVEN'T found their way into permanent preservation? With each new format, more and more movies are lost as is - what about when we don't even HAVE a format? Just some "cloud". Scary.

Anyway, this is a strange little movie that's worth a look for fans of things like Henry or Peeping Tom, or pretty much any of the 2nd features at a proper Grindhouse film festival night at the New Beverly, where the movies tend to be a little slower and harder to pin down. If I were to boil the movie down to a one line summary, it would be "John Savage gets out of prison and gets back at the women who sent him there", but that's highly misleading - there's only two of them (the girl who lied about his role in her attack, and the lawyer who screwed him over) and the 3rd act revolves around the murder of a girl who had nothing to do with it. Indeed, like The Witch Who Came From The Sea, it's just a 70s bummer drama with some light horror elements thrown in to ensure guys like me check it out.

That said, it's interesting that Savage doesn't seem to be trying to suppress his murderous rage all that much - I figured it'd be one of those deals where his victims push him to the breaking point, but he really goes out of his way to kill the girl that got him sent to prison (she was being gang raped and the guys forced him to join - this is our opening scene, by the way), following her in his car, having a chase, and trying repeatedly to run her off the road until he finally succeeds. And the stuff with the lawyer could have been cut entirely since it's the only time the character appears and I'm pretty sure she's never mentioned again - it's like someone realized that the movie needed another kill and hired Ruth Roman for a day or two. This gives the movie a bit of an uneven feel; on one hand he's sort of our hero and is clearly messed up, so you want to feel sorry for him, but he also seems to enjoy killing these women (and a poor rat that he basically places ON a mousetrap, a scene accompanied by a few notes from "Three Blind Mice" to boot) and goes out of his way to do so.

But when the focus is on Savage and his mother, I had no issues at all, as these scenes work great (again, as more of a drama than a horror film). She actually unknowingly sets him on his murderous path, as both of them seemingly live to please the other. Yes, it gets a bit icky at times (many a kiss goodnight is on the lips), and will of course invite some comparisons to Psycho, but it actually provides the film with most of its suspense. Will he go after her, too? Will she protect him if she finds out what he did? In a way the movie is just as much Ann Sothern's as Savage's, and the final scenes legit left me feeling pretty sad for her. I also felt bad for poor Cindy Williams, who comes to town to be a model (something Sothern mocks) and takes a liking to Savage since he's the only other person in the house that's not an old lady. So many lives ruined, all because Savage has the weirdest friends in the world (seriously, who forces another guy to rape the girl they're raping? They literally rip his pants off and push him onto/into her).

It's also got one of the freakiest nightmare scenes ever, where Savage dreams of being in a crib (as an adult) as the old ladies in his mother's house wave bottles and rattles in his face. Then there's a cut and the girl he "raped" (the gorgeous Sue Bernard) is in the crib with him, giggling as the old ladies shout SHAME! over and over. It's appropriately unsettling, and if anything the movie could have used more of this sort of stuff. Indeed, apparently there was a bit where he went to a zoo and began identifying with the caged apes (and also spotted Bernard, which triggered him going after her later), but it was cut by one of the producers. It's a shame that Dark Sky couldn't find it for the DVD, but I guess we should be happy they were even able to present the movie in such good shape. Not like us Cathy's Curse fans will ever get the satisfaction.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

The Nest (1988)

JANUARY 28, 2013

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, PREDATOR
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

The most horrifying thing I've ever seen was probably in September of 2011, when I first checked into my room in Austin (for Fantastic Fest) and saw a cockroach at least 2 inches long just sort of chilling on the counter that I was about to drop my bag on before crashing in the bed (it was quite late). Knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep, I went back to the front desk and got a new room, one I ALSO found a (smaller) cockroach in two nights later. To be fair, I stayed there again in 2012 and didn't see a single one, but still, I will forever be weary when I go there (it's the closest hotel to the Alamo that I can afford), and watching The Nest brought those memories back during a few of its quieter scenes.

Indeed, one of the scariest is the very first sequence in the film, where our hero keeps trying to drink some of his coffee and getting interrupted for one reason or another. Of course, a roach is inside the cup, which would invite cinema's earliest "yell at the characters" moment for an audience - usually it takes a while before we're hoping to warn people that are projected on a screen. There are similar "it could happen to you!" bits in the first half hour; little tastes of what was to come, all of which just brought me back to that terrifying encounter that had me sleeping with my pajama pants tucked into my socks and engaging in full(ish) inspections of my room every time I returned to it. I know anyone who has ever lived in an urban/metropolis area thinks I'm a pussy now, and while they're not incorrect, I've lucked out and never really had to deal with them. Mosquitoes were my nemesis growing up!

Anyway, as the film proceeds it gets less and less "normal" scary like that, as the insects are seen in numbers too high for (I hope) anyone to identify with, and (spoiler!) they start to form hybrids with animals and people to create things that look like Goldblum at the end of The Fly (which, being produced one year after that film, was probably not a coincidence - did I mention this was a Roger Corman production?). The monsters are pretty awesome; the puppeteering isn't the best in the world but they look great and came as a surprise, since I thought this would be straight up cockroaches throughout, with maybe a fast-scuttling queen to deal with near the end to serve as a "boss". They even justify the horrible scene where a cat is used as bait by the evil scientist woman - the cat doesn't "die", it mutates with the roaches and becomes a terrifying monster that I wanted to see dead. Still, poor kitty.

Until those show up though, it's a bit of a clunker. The body count is sufficient, but the characters are painfully generic across the board, complete with stock personal demons to deal with - the hero's girl comes back to town and rekindles their relationship, her dad is the asshole town mayor, they don't get along due to her mother's death, etc, etc. There's even a weirdo exterminator guy, the same character one would find in any bug/pest/rat movie ever. So it all feels a bit too rote, and repetitive to boot - there's only so many times we can see a windowsill or counter fill up with roaches before it loses its power, even on my pansy ass.

Even less successful was the movie's attempt at passing itself off as New England. In fact I had no idea that the movie was supposed to be taking place in Maine or something until the director said so on his commentary. It was shot in California and that's what it looked like to me, and since no one says the location I didn't think anything of it. There's one old guy with a Red Sox hat, but that doesn't mean much; I still wear my Sox and Patriots shirts around town here in LA. The novel that the movie was based on takes place near Cape Cod, but there's nothing about it that HAS to be set there (unlike Jaws, which wouldn't work in LA since the warm weather isn't exactly scarce and thus the mayor probably wouldn't be so worried about closing the beaches), so I'm not sure why they were even bothering to try. Speaking of Jaws, I like that they kept things personal - there's no big town event or gathering, so it avoids the usual template. It's actually structured more like a slasher movie than anything, which is kind of cool.

A slasher with SPLOSIONS! As director Terence Winkless explains on his commentary, Corman insisted that the film make use out of some of his all purpose footage of things blowing up real good, so a character suddenly gets in a blue truck and heads toward a bridge, so when the roaches attack he can lose control and then they can cut to the footage that was probably used for some southern-fried action flick originally. Winkless even points out one that he later reused himself, which is charming in a laughable way, and also one of the few things he points out that's NOT one of his family members playing a background extra, so that's good. It's not the most essential track ever, but it's pleasant enough, and he offers up some of Corman's filmmaking tips that sound like common sense but probably aren't followed by 90% of the directors working today, like how much time is wasted asking everyone on the set if they were happy with the take ("If you're happy, move on! If they're not happy, they'll say so!"). I think every director should be required to make a film for Corman before setting off for bigger game, personally. Probably wouldn't see as much waste as what goes on now. He'd probably die of a heart attack on a Brett Ratner production.

Sadly that's the only extra; no interviews or even the trailer are included. But while this DVD/Blu combo release isn't as expansive as Shout's other recent horror releases, the movie is worth a look - Corman's productions would go downhill shortly after this, and the nutty creature designs are a huge asset to an otherwise by the numbers (but enjoyable) pest movie. And the tagline alone is worth supporting the movie: "Roaches have never tasted meat... until now." Hah! Love it.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Mask (1961)

JANUARY 27, 2013

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, WEIRD
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

I've mostly abandoned 3D as of late; apart from Texas Chainsaw 3D (which was a press screening), I haven't seen a film that way in months, opting for the 2D version of things like Wreck It Ralph, The Hobbit, and Hansel & Gretel. Mainly it's because the extra cost doesn't seem that appealing to me, but also I've started getting headaches at a few of them, which didn't used to be the case. But I'm bummed that the print of The Mask that we saw wasn't in 3D, because it was only for a few sequences that make up less than a quarter of the film, and those sequences are pretty much the only reason to watch the flick.

But don't get me wrong, they're awesome even in 2D. The movie concerns an ancient mask that, when worn, will allow the user to see another realm that no other medium can show you. This realm is filled with tons of 3D-ready stuff like eyeballs and hands flying at you, skull faces appearing in mid air, etc - but also insanely creepy images of folks wearing skin masks as they stalk human prey. It's all very surreal and psychedelic, so the 3D (which is anaglyph but apparently one of the better examples; it reportedly even looks pretty good on TV) would have made it that much more insane and enjoyable. There are three such sequences, each nuttier than the last, and even if you hate the rest of the movie you're bound to get a kick out of these bits, at least.

The rest of the movie is OK, but without the promise of another gonzo mask sequence (which starts with a disembodied voice saying PUT THE MASK ON NOW over and over, which works as goading for the characters as well as an instruction to the audience, whose glasses were in fact shaped like masks)) I doubt it would be much use to anyone. The best non-mask scenes are at the top; a troubled archaeologist kills a girl while under its influence, and then kills himself before things get worse. But before he blows his brains out, he mails the mask to his shrink, who starts down the same path. See, the mask is sort of treated like a drug; with each "hit" it becomes harder to resist, so we meet that other guy at the end of his rope and now we see the shrink go down the same path. Will he be saved, or will it end in another tragedy?

Unfortunately, by the time this question is answered, the movie has lost a lot of its momentum. A detective who features prominently in the first half largely disappears for the second, and part of the climax involves a character who appears out of nowhere and suddenly gets treated as a primary player. It'd be like if Han Solo's first appearance in Star Wars was when he opted not to join the rebels on the Death Star assault. The detective should have taken this character's place, keeping things more compact and focused. It's also got some clumsy (read: unintentionally hilarious) plotting, like when the detective comes to the shrink's office early on asking about the mask's disappearance from the archaeologist's apartment, neither of them seeming to notice the giant, recently mailed box that is sitting on the desk between them. Not to mention padding; at one point the shrink's girlfriend returns the mask to the museum and he goes there looking for it, seemingly inspecting the dinosaur exhibits for it, as if it would be dropped over a Pterodactyl skull or something? These bits of goofiness are seemingly at odds with the film's focus on addiction, murder, etc. - not to mention don't help the general "Someone put the mask on!" feeling that you're likely to have as it plods along to the finale.

The mask itself is pretty awesome; the skull face is a mosaic made of what looks like colored glass squares, and has a working jaw (nice touch), plus it wraps around the sides of the head as well, leaving just the back exposed. If the 3D "glasses" looked like it, I will totally hunt one down on eBay and wear it in place of the normal glasses whenever I load up Friday the 13th Part 3 or whatever at home. And while it had no bearing on the film itself, I liked the history behind it - this was the very first Canadian horror movie, which is pretty awesome when you consider how many of our favorite genre films came from our northern brothers. My Bloody Valentine, Black Christmas, my beloved Cathy's Curse... all of these movies came to be because of the trail blazed by this weird little 3D movie. I may not have loved the film, but damned if I don't respect it.

I do quite love the venue I saw it at though. The Jumpcut Cafe in Studio City is a delightful coffee/sandwich shop that, in addition to the usual selection of coffee/tea and sammies, stocks two of my favorite "foreign" food items: the quesedilla and Thai Iced Tea. And even better - it caters to film buffs! On the walls are posters for things like El Topo and The Stunt Man, plus lobby cards of just about every 60s-80s filmmaker you love, and they host screenings like this fairly regularly (it's also where they had the horror trivia night that I won!). I highly recommend it if you're in the area.

If you get a chance to see this in 3D, please take it - it's one of the more justified uses of the "gimmick" in the medium's history, and since it's only a few sequences you don't have to worry about hurting your eyes (or nose, in the case of those heavy glasses that some theaters use). It's just a bummer that the 2D sequences don't really come to a life of their own; this would make a fine double feature with The Tingler, in that respect - the gimmick more than makes up for the shortcomings of the actual movie.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

End Call (2008)

JANUARY 26, 2013

GENRE: ASIAN, THRILLER
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

If you have the special edition DVD of Memento, you can watch the movie "in order", though I do not recommend it. All it really does is make the movie kind of boring, since the right way builds toward a reveal that you'd now see at the top, and what follows is a pretty routine mystery thriller (with a hero who now just seems absent minded!). And I've never had much interest in seeing Pulp Fiction in order (I'm sure someone's cut it that way), or any other twisty chronological films, but I'd certainly be interested in seeing End Call that way, as its nearly backwards structure doesn't seem to do it any favors.

For the first half hour or so, it goes directly backwards; a month before, a week before that, etc. But then it starts going back and forth (and in between), making it far too difficult to keep straight. Since some of the girls die, you can sort of follow it based on who's around and who they're talking about in the past tense, but there were a few scenes that I simply couldn't place in the timeline with 100% certainty. Plus, the final scene IS the final scene, best as I can tell, making the endeavor even less worthwhile; there's a reveal a scene or two before it (which would have taken place pretty early in the timeline), but they could have just had a standard flashback for this bit and let the rest of the movie play out in order, as far as I can tell.

It's even more confusing when you consider that it's kind of a dull movie, with a low body count and a dearth of scare scenes. At times it feels like a second rate Whispering Corridors sequel, since it focuses on a group of girls with typical teen problems (negligent dad, rivalry with another girl, etc), and even has a lot of scenes take place in school as one girl's main "issue" is that a lecherous teacher has set his sights on her (and, like those, it's confusing as all hell). The key difference is that those movies had rich atmospheres to draw you in, and never let the convoluted story keep the viewer from connecting to the main characters and feeling sorry for them when bad things happened to them. Here, I spent so much time just trying to sort things out in my head that I never had TIME to really get too invested in the protagonists, and in turn didn't care too much when one would die.

Worse, the "rules" make little sense, though perhaps this is a translation error of some sort. The plot is that the girls obtain the Devil's phone number (!) and if they call him at exactly midnight, he will grant them a wish. In exchange, he controls your life for the duration of the call, and also subtracts that time from your lifespan. Is it just me, or are those not very high stakes? A phone call is what, a minute? Oh no, 80 years from now I'll die at 6:27 instead of 6:28! And the "control your life" bit doesn't seem to have much effect at all; the girls are seen making calls and doing nothing else while they're on the line beyond looking confused at the video that pops up (everyone has video phones). Obviously the wishes will be twisted in a Wishmaster-y kind of way, but I failed to grasp the immediate danger posed by making the phone call.

I also failed to grasp some of the (hopefully) minor bits of exposition, because the subtitler really sucked at his job. He gets all the dialogue, but anything revealed on a screen (television, computer, cell phone) or written on a note is left to the non-Japanese speaking audience's imagination. Word of advice to the subtitle guy: if there's a closeup on a guy scratching a word out on a list with four other words (I assume they are names), it's probably important and you should at least let us know which name is being Xed out. Luckily the dates are written numerically and thus needed no translation or else he'd probably skip those too and make it even more confusing.

On the plus side, it offers a couple of great death scenes, particularly the girl who seems to kill herself by walking into a batting cage and getting pelted to death by the fastballs (I got nailed on the HAND by one as a kid and haven't put myself in "harm's way" since, so this one got to me. Yes, I'm a pussy), as well as the fun little reveal where a girl sees her dad brushing his teeth only to discover that both of their toothbrushes are still on the sink (he's using a razor). And there's something wonderfully perverse about a girl falling to her death and taking another one of them out when she lands (with a slo-mo bit where they make eye contact before impact). Sadly, I pretty much described just about all of the movie's "action", which leaves another 85-90 minutes of non-compelling drama and confusing plot points.

One other thing I liked, but it's a SPOILER so skip to the what say you if you want.

I was relieved, however, to discover that it was not the actual Devil having nothing better to do with his time than fuck with Japanese schoolgirls, but a person with a grudge against them. Unless I'm misunderstanding (possible!), there's nothing supernatural about the movie at all, which is a rarity among these J-horror films centered around electronic devices. Sure, I would have liked for this rare exception to have been utilized in a better movie, but I'll take what I can get. And here's a fun bit of trivia: the number they call has a 906 area code, and in the US, that is located in Michigan - which has a township named Hell (the only one in the US, as far as I know - there was one in California but it's been abandoned/demolished; Michigan's boasts 260 or so residents today). But it's not in the same area code, so it's just a random coincidence. Much like most of this movie's plot points, once you get the reveal.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Puppet Masters (1994)

JANUARY 25, 2013

GENRE: ALIEN, POSSESSION
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I try not to blame the screenwriter too often for a bad studio movie, because I've heard enough horror stories over the years to know that the guys whose names are on the "written by" credit aren't always the ones who actually wrote it. Thanks to the WGA's idiotic rules, the guys most responsible for a script might not even get credited at all in some cases, which seems to be the case in The Puppet Masters. Credited co-writer Terry Rossio has a pretty entertaining blog post about the various development issues that resulted in the movie being not that great (though not as bad as he claims). Give it a read!

Having not read the book, I don't know how much is a complete invention of the movie, so all I can compare it to are the other Body Snatchers films, which seems fair since there's no other reason to cast Donald Sutherland in a big budget pod film unless they're acknowledging their cinematic competition. Sadly, it's not as good as any of the official Body Snatcher movies (or The Faculty), but it's a step up from the awful, much-mangled The Invasion with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, so there's something. The key difference is that these aliens don't take the place of the victims, but attach themselves to their back and control them (like, you know, puppets), which means that the victims can be saved.

It also means that the movie/book is over if everyone just takes their damn shirts off, or even if they wear spandex. It's a big stingray looking thing on the back, so there's not a lot of mystery to who's who; there's a decent twist early on with an infected party, but it's TOO early - we know the character will be reverted back to hero before long. Part of the fun of these things is the big reveal that this or that person was a pod person, but here no one is able to keep it under wraps for more than five minutes.

But more problematic than that is the fact that the movie is oddly front-loaded with its best scenes. The initial investigation of the ship, the first test on a slug (led by scientist Will Patton!), a fun bit with character actor Bruce Jarchow as an infected VIP and the following escape/chase sequence ... these are the movie's strongest scenes, and they're all in the first 20 minutes or so. There's also a horrifying suicide scene where a guy gives himself an embolism by smashing an empty saline bag, shooting the air into his bloodstream. But once the aforementioned character is infected, the movie loses steam, and just sort of plods along for a while before the big, generic action movie climax, which involves shootouts and even a goddamn helicopter fight.

The script (or whatever you'd call it, after reading Rossio's account) also makes the curious decision to sideline Donald Sutherland for most of its 2nd half, to the extent where I wondered if I had looked at my cat for a moment and missed his character's death. By the time he finally comes back, any momentum regarding his intentions (there's a bit where he's asked to remove his shirt to prove he's not infected, but before he does, another person is outed and he's never questioned again) has been long lost, and (spoiler) the way they carry out his quickie infection is way too contrived. From the unnecessary closeup on him putting down his cane (the aliens "cure" any such physical defects) to the way too quick way he's infected (some debris falls on him with like 5 people watching, no one sees a giant stingray somehow get under his shirt and infect him?), all the way down to the copout ending where he survives, it's all so perfunctory, merely extending an already long movie by another 10 minutes.

Also (bigger spoiler), what kind of pod movie ends on such a happy note? The infected parties are all cured (only like, 3 named characters die in this movie), our heroes literally walk off into a sunset holding hands, and it seems that the threat has been contained. I don't mind the optimism, but the fact that almost no one of importance died along the way prevents the danger from ever feeling too real. It'd be like if all 8 oil drillers and 6 astronauts returned home at the end of Armageddon (which was on the brain - in addition to Patton, Keith David also appears). Gotta sacrifice some of the big names to make sure we know how high the stakes are; the fact that Sutherland survives is just ridiculous.

On the other hand, it's refreshingly free of CGI; only a couple of brief shots of the slug and the "entrance" to the aliens' HQ suffer from that nonsense. The rest of the time, the slugs are practical beasties that have cool tendrils and tentacles doing their thing, giving the actors an actual object to interact with instead of just gawking at a tennis ball like in any modern alien/monster movie. It's not too gory (not sure why they didn't just make this PG-13; again there's barely any body count, no nudity, and the language is mild), but it's just so nice to see a tangible creation for those key scenes, even moreso when you consider that this was the time when CGI started to take over our monsters. If nothing else, the movie is worth watching just to enjoy Greg Cannom's work.

Can't say much about the Blu-ray though. Being from Mill Creek I wasn't expecting much, but while the image is decent the sound is quite bad; I struggled to make out a lot of the dialogue, particularly Sutherland's in the early scenes. It's on the same disc as Deep Rising, which I'm sure is of more interest to folks (neither film has been released on the format previously), especially since the box art makes it look like a Treat Williams double feature disc, so hopefully the sound is better on that one and you can just look at this as a literal "bonus feature". I mean yeah, it's 5 bucks or whatever and can mainly be found in your frozen foods aisle at the grocery store (I assume; I got it in a Yankee Swap this past Christmas), but come on. Do something right or don't do it at all.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

JANUARY 24, 2013

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I never felt compelled to revisit it, but I was among the few in my circle to enjoy Tommy Wirkola's Dead Snow, and thus was interested to see what he'd do with a considerably larger budget, a cast of actors I mostly like (Jeremy Renner gets less interesting to me with each new movie), and a concept that would lend itself to both horror and action, plus some comedy if he saw fit. Sadly, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn't quite succeed at any of those things, never engaging me for more than a few seconds at a time here and there.

You know how modern shooter games have cut scenes that look like full blown theatrical features (since there's so much CGI in our movies it's hard to tell the difference), and could probably more or less make a feature when strung together? That's pretty much what Hansel & Gretel is. The action scenes are brief and repetitive, and are sandwiched between drawn out conversations about what's going on in its not very complicated plot - it's 75 minutes of the stuff you'd see in between playing and, as it turns out, actually having fun. Not that I expected to be blown away by the characters or the storyline, but it feels like they wrote the "Once upon a time" and the "and they lived happily ever after" parts and forgot about the actual story part.

Here's the plot: evil witch Muriel (Famke Janssen, as gorgeous as ever - does this woman not age?) needs to kidnap 12 children to complete some ritual. When the movie begins, her and her cohorts have already nabbed 11 of them, and the 12th is taken at the film's halfway point. Everything up until that point is setup: retelling the H&G tale, explaining that the siblings grew up to be asskicking witch hunters (the movie lives up to its title, I'll give it that much) and why they're in the town that the kids have been taken from. Once that kid is taken, the rest of the movie (which runs about 75 minutes without credits) is just Hansel and Gretel going after her, which takes minimal effort since there are only like four sets in the entire movie. Seriously, at one point the siblings manage to find their childhood house while tracking one of the witches, and 20 minutes later they again just happen to stumble across the famed house made of candy from their "origin". They're rarely faced with any major obstacles, the climax has no real buildup, and the few things that can be considered subplots are often wrapped up as quickly as they are introduced. I've read Bazooka Joe comics with more plot complications.

My favorite diversion has to be the movie's most ridiculous idea, which is that Hansel now suffers from diabetes thanks to eating parts of a candy house, and needs to give himself a shot of insulin every day or else he'll die. In a way it's sort of along the same line of thinking as a "Vegan Zombie" ("What if they ate so much candy they got diabetes? Haha!") and thus mildly amusing, but like most things there's no real payoff - during a key fight his little alarm goes off to remind him to take the shot, and thus there's about 12 seconds of "intensity" where he starts to lose his ability to fight, until Gretel saves him and things go on. The witch could have merely gotten a good hit to his temple in until his sister shook him back to his senses for all the effect it has on anything.

And all of that would be OK if the action was at least exciting enough to forgive the threadbare plot or blank slate characters (newspaper clippings during the title sequence tell us more about our heroes than anything in the actual movie), but if anything that's the movie's biggest failing. All of the action scenes are identical; the two of them shoot at a witch in the distance, who deflects their attacks and flies toward them to engage in hand to hand combat, which carries on for 30 seconds until either Hansel or Gretel gets the upper hand and subdues them until the other finishes them off. They all seem to take place in the same patch of woods, and Wirkola doesn't inject much flair into them, either - a few random slo-mo shots here and there are about it. The best part of the movie is when the leads actually split up for a bit, because it at least holds the promise of a change up to the action, but this section is pretty action-free except for when Gretel is attacked by some local assholes and saved by Edward, a troll played by Derek Mears. Edward is by far the movie's best invention; a sympathetic giant who doesn't want to serve the evil witches anymore (why is never explained, of course, he just DOES). And it's not a CGI abomination, either - Mears is wearing a full animatronic suit over his already considerable frame. I'm sure they want a franchise out of this, but I'm only interested in an Edward spinoff.

The climax also comes out of nowhere and comes with crushing disappointment, as Muriel assembles all of the witches in the area, and we get a peek at a far more interesting world than the one we've seen in the previous 65 minutes. All sorts of cool witch designs and assorted monster types are assembled here, like a Clive Barker gallery come to life, but they don't get to do anything! They're introduced, and then we're off to the final battle between our heroes and Muriel. Since we haven't met any of the kids there's no stakes to their predicament beyond "they're kids" and even with the R rating we know they'll all be fine, so like everything else, the movie just goes through the necessary motions until it's over.

Speaking of the R, it certainly earns it, though it doesn't seem to fit the movie. When Gretel drops an F bomb or Edward makes pulp out of a guy's head, it feels like a relic from a much more raunchy and violent version of the script. Most of the tone seems inspired by Van Helsing (great point of reference, Paramount), so it'd be like if Hugh Jackman suddenly castrated a local and then Kate Beckinsale made good on a promise for him to fuck himself. Every single R rated bit that came along, I thought "Oh yeah, this is R" - it never felt organic to the movie they were making. If you read the credits, you'll see that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are producers - that certainly hints at a movie that this might have been at one point, before the 20 other producers had their say (beware a movie with FOUR vanity logos at the top).

It's not the worst movie out there (what's up, Haunted House?), but it just seems like one of those movies where they had a good script (or at least a good treatment) and by the time everyone had their say there was no personality left to it. The R rating is at odds with the film's rather juvenile plot, and neither Renner or Gemma Arterton seem to be putting much effort into things either. Peter Stormare, along with Janssen and Mears, are colorful and provide the film's best bits, but not enough to warrant the ticket price alone (and in Stormare's case you can literally go next door and see him in something with a little more personality: The Last Stand). Wait for the inevitable extended cut on Blu-ray.

What say you?

P.S. It's available in 3D, but I opted for 2D because I couldn't figure out if the movie was shot that way or converted later (I read articles claiming both). Apart from some of the big sweeping establishing shots and a few brief action shots, I don't think I missed out on much seeing it flat.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Barrio Tales (2012)

JANUARY 24, 2013

GENRE: ANTHOLOGY
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

Just as the news came in that S-V/H/S had been picked up by Magnolia (who put out the original as well), I was watching Barrio Tales, another horror anthology in what is becoming a bit of a trend (is someone listening to me?); I saw more than twice as many anthology films in 2012 as I did in 2011, in fact. My article explains why I think it should be a more attractive prospect for studios, but all of them are indie productions like this - there's still a long way to go before we can expect to see such fare in the multiplexes.

Anyway, Barrio is decent, but it lacks the element of surprise (well, to me anyway - maybe you'd be surprised by its story turns. In that case, don't read the review! I honestly can't tell if any of the things were supposed to be surprises). It's pretty easy to see where each one of its stories (and the wraparound) are going, which is a big faux pas in this particular sub-genre. Inspired twists or just plain out of nowhere revelations are not only common, they're encouraged! Let's face it, the number of amazing characters in these films is a pretty short list, which is why it's common to get popular actors in those roles - it gives them a boost of depth and sympathy that the short format doesn't allow for. We don't like Laurie in Trick R Treat because she's interesting or has an identifiable character motivation - we like her because she's Anna Paquin. This being a low budget production with unknown actors (no offense to any of them), it doesn't have that benefit, so they should be making up for it by blowing our minds or giving us something completely new.

Alas, they're all pretty standard tales, albeit given some Mexican flavor and a touch of humor. The first one is your basic "wronged person seeks revenge on the assholes that hurt them" tale, focusing on a maid who is employed by an absentee pair of rich folks and harassed by their jerk son and his equally dickish friends. There's a slight variation, in that it's her grandmother who gets the revenge via voodoo, but that just makes the outcome even less satisfying. These kids are quite possibly the biggest bunch of pricks in a movie ever, to the extent that pretty much any comeuppance wouldn't have been satisfying - but at least if it was done by a ghost/zombie/whatever of the girl, it'd be slightly more cathartic than her grandmother (who we've never seen before) doing it from hundreds of miles away. And it's pretty simple, one guy just sort of chokes to death and that's the grimmest one! These guys should have been torn asunder like Frank in Hellraiser!

The second is the most overtly goofy, which means it's also the best. Some neighborhood kids are obsessed with this taco track, and its owner "Uncle" Tio who is awesome and remembers everyone's preferred orders and gives stuff on the house and such. But what's the secret to his delicious tacos??? You don't need to have seen Soylent Green to guess, and it's a pity they delay this reveal until the halfway point or so, since it could have been fun to just focus on Tio going about his business, instead of presenting it from one of the neighborhood kids' point of view as they solve this non-mystery. It doesn't help that we get the most obvious giveaway in the history of cinema, when a character goes out of his way to point out his class ring (accompanied by a closeup), so we know someone's going to find that ring inside a taco later on. Come on guys, we're all smarter than this.

The third is interesting; sort of a sped-up version of that movie Undocumented where a couple of red-blooded Americans (read: extreme racists) catch a bunch of Mexicans who are sneaking across the border, bring them to their compound, and proceed to torture/kill them. This is the weakest of the segments, the villains are too cartoonish and the heroes too ill-defined to care much about any of it, and the attempts at a mythology of sorts (on both sides) fall flat. But it moves along, and like all the segments is well made and acted, and thankfully avoids too much soapboxing as it devolves into general entertainment, mimicking any Hostel type movie where folks escape their tormentors and become just as violent in the process.

The wraparound is too brief to care much about; two kids who sneak across the border to buy drugs run afoul of the guy telling them the stories as they wait for the dealer to show up. Like the stories themselves, you can see where it's going from the start, but it never makes sense on any level. There's a bit in one of the stories where we see a newspaper headline about a pop star dying, which I thought would tie into the wraparound (or one of the other stories at least) somehow, but nothing comes of it. Perhaps I just had Tales From The Hood on the brain (which DOES tie a story into the bookends, quite cleverly) because the movie steals one of that film's jokes (the "refried beans" bit). But I can be generous and call it an homage to another minority-centric anthology horror film, I guess.

Not much more to say, really. I wasn't too bored, it was professionally made, and the acting was above average for this sort of thing. And even though I'm sick of the "film damage" filter, it had some pretty sweet credit sequences, so it's all good. If you're starved for some anthology action, you can certainly do worse. Order up some tacos first though; human meat or not this movie made me damn hungry.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

After Dusk They Come (2009)

JANUARY 23, 2013

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

I should start tagging the movies where the production history is far more interesting than what is on-screen. I've certainly seen worse movies than After Dusk They Come, but nothing in it was as intriguing as its FAQ on the IMDb page (where it goes under the title The Forgotten Ones), which explains that the movie was shot in 2006 (!), and apparently considered for release in the After Dark Horrorfest (remember those?), only to be shelved because the producers thought it was bad.

But it gets funnier. Not wanting such an amazing story go to waste, the producers reworked the script a bit and tried again with a new cast and crew a couple years later. That movie, which has the exact same plot (a group of 20somethings crash their boat and end up on an island of cannibal mutants), was released as The Lost Tribe about 2-3 years ago, and I've been asked to review it a few times by HMAD reader August Benassi, who I hope will just count this one since I only have 70 movies left and it'd be silly to watch the same damn movie. How this one got a new name for DVD is left to our imaginations, but since they put Twilight star Kellan Lutz on the cover instead of actual star Jewel Staite, I assume they wanted some sort of tie since "dusk" and "twilight" are similar concepts in terms of "time of the day" (the back of the DVD makes this connection more obvious, going all out with "As TWILIGHT sets, an epic battle begins!". Good work, guy!

Shockingly, none of this is mentioned on the DVD's sole bonus feature, a brief making of that's mostly about the rainy conditions and how cool the guys playing the creatures are. But these sort of things tend to have barebones DVDs, so I'm actually kind of surprised it had that much. The movie itself is basically a combined ripoff of The Descent and Predator, with Staite in the Sarah (or Arnold) role. Indeed, Lionsgate even put trailers for both Descent films at the top of the disc, despite being several years old at this point, because if you somehow missed them and liked this movie, you'd definitely want to check them out. As in Neil Marshall's classic, a group of friends are off on an adventure when they become trapped, and then their scary situation turns worse when a bunch of humanoid creatures start picking them off one by one. Except, here's the thing - Marshall's film was scary even before the monsters showed up, whereas this one is merely serviceable. Our characters aren't the most likable lot in the world, and their various romantic issues (one won't commit! one is jealous of another couple! etc) aren't nearly as interesting as the Sarah/Juno/dead husband triangle. So it's not terrible, but you'll be looking at your watch waiting for the monsters to show up.

And then they do, and things seem like they're going to get pretty awesome, but (SPOILER) writer/director Jorg Ihle inexplicably kills off the entire cast save Staite over a period of about 7 minutes, leaving just Staite alone to battle the monsters. So not only do we not get the personal through-line that Descent had (where Sarah gets revenge on Juno AND her escape plan in one swoop of a pickaxe), but we don't have much of ANYTHING, either. Staite's not going to die, and she doesn't find a human inhabitant or anything, so the final 25 minutes or so are just her running around, trying to avoid being eaten. This is where the Predator stuff comes in (in addition to the jungle setting, though big chunks are set in a dark cave a la Descent), since that one similarly left it down to Arnold and the Predator for a reel or so. But watching Arnold kick ass is not the same as seeing Kaylee run around trying to avoid doing that. And when she DOES fight back, it's too little too late. It's kind of interesting that the final half hour of the movie doesn't have a single line of dialogue (save for some radio chatter in the final minute), but it doesn't exactly serve the movie in any meaningful way, and it certainly doesn't do it any favors to not keep Lutz or her boyfriend around longer to give us SOME sense of suspense. Predator's an action flick, so it can get away with it as long as the fights are coming - not so much with a horror movie, especially one that's cribbing so heavily from a classic like The Descent.

But had Ihle given us a kill or two sooner, and saved another for the final 10 minutes, he'd have a pretty good movie here. Staite is a very likable performer who I don't see often enough, and playing a character much different than her Firefly one. And it's fun seeing Lutz play the thankless "male lead's pal" role (he's also not as bulked up as he is now, being two years before he came a Cullen), and for a while it seemed like he'd earn his placement on the box art since he was doing most of the action hero stuff (Staite's boyfriend doesn't do shit). And the design on the creatures is pretty good, and both their actions and their kills are delivered with a minimum of CGI, so that's a relief. And the delay even helped a bit - had this come out I'd just hate on it for being a cheap Descent knockoff, but after 6 years of torture/found footage/slasher remakes, I actually just wondered: why HASN'T Descent been ripped off more often? It was a critically acclaimed horror film that actually made decent money (even more impressive since it was an import), grossing 26 million in the middle of summer with no stars and an R rating. So shouldn't I have seen a dozen of these sort of things by now?

But nope, "Descent ripoffs" is not a big sub-genre, and this one went through so much trouble to get to store shelves that I doubt it'll make much of an impact. Indeed, it's so old that it was actually shot on film! At first I thought I was seeing things when I saw a few specks on an establishing shot, but sure enough, this was made by folks who actually gave a shit about delivering a quality image with life to it, before so many people who DIDN'T care led all the film companies to basically quit making the stuff. Such a nice trip down memory lane...

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Roommate (2008)

JANUARY 22, 2013

GENRE: ASIAN, GHOST (or PSYCHOLOGICAL)
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

Kudos to Blockbuster for sending the version of The Roommate that I wanted and not the awful 2011 teen thriller. This one is a 2008 Japanese film that seems to have gone completely under the radar - hell with the lack of a remake like all of the others, no one even seems to know it exists at all. The IMDb page is as sparse as the entries for those batshit Hong Kong movies that Brian Quinn shows every now and then at the New Beverly, but those are pre-IMDb films! This is only from 2008 (2010 according to IMDb) and they don't even have the screenwriter or the full cast.

They also don't have any reviews at all, including "user reviews" which usually amount to complete gibberish when they're not plants by the film's creators or producers. I'm not sure why; it was released by Cinema Epoch, whose far from the most obscure distributor I've encountered, and while it's obviously a low budget production, it doesn't look any worse than the Ju-On films, which it often resembles. And it's not even listed on Amazon, so how the hell did I even find it?

Anyway, it's not too bad, though you need to take its big revelation with a big ol' grain of salt since I'm pretty sure it doesn't hold up to scrutiny, but for what it's worth it works well, and the movie as a whole isn't impenetrable as some of the others in the genre. A Tale Of Two Sisters, for example - I literally couldn't even figure out what to write about that one, but I'm pretty sure I got everything here. Then again, it's also a pretty minimalist movie - two leads, three or four supporting characters, and pretty much just one location are all we get over its scant 72 minute runtime. They don't give you time to be confused!

The plot is also pretty low-key; basically these two ladies live together and apparently have a romantic relationship, but one of them keeps seeing a typical looking J-horror ghost in the corners and hallways when the other is out (they have different work schedules, so it seems one of them is always home alone). Also, that supporting cast keeps disappearing or turning up dead, so our job is to figure out if the one seeing the ghost is crazy and killing everyone herself, or if it's the roommate doing it. 15 minutes shorter and it would just be an anthology series episode, and indeed they probably could have made a few trims and done that.

Especially when the beginning of the movie shows the end, a "tradition" I'll never completely understand. While some movies pull this sort of thing off beautifully, most just kill some of the suspense and are seemingly just padding things out a bit. In this case, it's not TOO bad in either department, since the "flash forward" is only about a minute and the context is obscured, but we still know that one character will still be alive at that point, when the bulk of the movie's scares involve her being terrorized. I mean yeah, if it's Mission Impossible III we know Tom Cruise isn't going to die so who cares if they show that part right at the top, but this would be like showing one of his expendable teammates alive at the end before going back and showing a bunch of action scenes where their life was in danger. Doesn't quite jive.

Luckily, the two women are interesting enough to make up for the slight lack of genuine horror (at least until its final 15 minutes, when shit hits the fan). It's rare to see this sort of relationship in ANY horror film, and having just watched a rather lousy one, this was something of a relief. Both actresses are quite good, and even though the one that sees the ghost has to spend a lot of the movie in hysterics, she never gets annoying. Likewise, the other one has to be a bit cold and even something of a "bitch" at times, but remains someone to root for (perhaps knowing the outcome helped a bit here, now that I think about it). In either case it could have been a disaster, leaving the audience not caring about either of them (or worse, wishing they were dead), but they pull it off. I find sympathizing with the characters in a lot of J-horror films to be a pretty big hurdle, since the movies are often so convoluted that it's hard to get a firm grasp on their protagonists, so it's nice to see one buck the trend.

The DVD has some trailers and a pretty useless making of that amounts to 20 minutes of people hanging out on set and making idle chit chat with one another. It's also set to some dreadful synth music, so it's best to just skip it unless you're in love with one of the performers and want to spend a little more time with them, since the movie is so short. It's also not anamorphic, a problem made worse by the fact that the subtitles dip below the frame, so if you zoom in you'd be cutting them in half. For a disc from 1999, fine, but come on! They don't even sell regular TVs anymore - there is no excuse in the world for a 4x3 transfer. In short - the movie's good but the disc itself is not; hopefully they'll put it on Netflix Instant or something someday.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Deadly Blessing (1981)

JANUARY 21, 2013

GENRE: SLASHER, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

At first I felt bad for skipping Deadly Blessing for all these HMAD-ified years, as it's the only theatrical feature from Wes Craven that I hadn't seen (besides Music of the Heart, which I contemplated reviewing as a horror movie to amuse myself), but on the commentary he claims that he couldn't even find a copy for himself to prepare for its recording, so I guess I have a good excuse. Thanks to Shout Factory, it's now back on shelves, in a pretty terrific special edition Blu-ray to boot as part of their Scream Factory line.

So was it worth the wait? Yes and no. It's got a few terrific setpieces, but the movie as a whole doesn't quite gel together as well as his best films. It's also fairly backloaded; ask anyone what their favorite scenes are and just about all of them would be in the film's final half hour - Sharon Stone's extended barn sequence at around the 45 minute mark is the only exception. As with Shocker, it takes a while to get everything in place to reach the point that people will say the movie is about - Stone's character isn't even introduced until the 20 minute mark, and there's a good hour or so before the three female leads are being terrorized by whoever seems to want them dead or at least out of their house.

It's also got a somewhat clunky slasher angle (spoilers for 30 year old movie ahead!). Someone/something kills the would-be male lead early on, and all signs point to the Hittites, a farming community that is even more extreme about being anti-technology than the Amish (also: they are encouraged to marry cousins). Among their number is Michael Berryman, who is of course the prime suspect since he had an altercation with the dead guy just a few hours before... but then he is killed as well. It's a good surprise, but it also sort of kills the mystery way too early. The Hittite community is too tight to suspect any of their members, so it has to be... well, I won't spoil that, but there's only one other option at this point, and no one else of note is introduced. I guess we could suspect the brother of the guy who died at the beginning, who rejects his father (Ernest Borgnine!) and the Hittite ways, but I never considered it.

But once it gets going, it's pretty solid. Craven gets a lot of mileage out of things anyone's afraid of: snakes, spiders, scarecrows... hell, he even manages to get a jump scare out of a bunch of chickens. And even though I pegged the villain (SPOILER AGAIN!), I didn't count on them having an accomplice, nor did I (or presumably, any rational thinking person in the world) see that accomplice's own little secret coming. It's a slow burn on a plot level, but also on an insanity one - even Stone's character (a heroine) starts going crazy by the end, to the point where heroine Maren Jensen has to defend herself from the villains AND her best pal. Add in the completely bonkers final scare (apparently inspired by Carrie and Friday the 13th, but not a dream in this case) and you have a movie that hides its true identity as a batshit near-classic, like a girlfriend that you date for three years before realizing she's cool with roping her best friend into the bedroom. Let us know up front!

Another surprise was how great the movie looked. I enjoy Hills Have Eyes, but it and Last House (which I don't enjoy) are hardly easy on the eyes, so I wasn't expecting such a 180 on his next feature (well, if we don't count the TV movie Summer of Fear, which is referenced here). But it's actually quite lovely to look at; as I've said before it takes effort to make Texas look bad (even when subbing for Pennsylvania!), and Shout's typically strong transfer elevates it even further. Of course, maybe the high def is a bit TOO good - Borgnine's fake beard was probably best seen on VHS - but it's not like Star Trek TOS in high def, where you can see every mistake in Nimoy's makeup.

Shout has also provided a healthy supply of bonus features - more than they even list on the back of the DVD! The biggest draw is the new commentary by Craven, moderated by Sean Clark, which isn't always very screen specific, but rarely falls silent as Craven discusses how he got involved, working with the actors (he hints more than once that Stone was a bit of a pain in the ass), an accident that put Borgnine out of commission for a while, etc. He also explains that the ending was a late addition that he wasn't happy with, which should surprise no one. In addition to the track are four interviews, that run about an hour all together. No Stone, sadly, but Berryman, co-star Susan Buckner (who looks a lot like Anna Gunn in the film), creature designer John Naulin, and finally Glenn Benest and Matthew Barr, who wrote the original script. Theirs is by far the most interesting, as they aren't too pouty about Craven's changes and have some great anecdotes from the shooting, as well as their thoughts on the stupid final twist. Berryman's is notable for being the only guy on the set who seemed to be OK with Stone (though he alludes to her fighting with one of the other girls, an issue not explained elsewhere), and both his and Buckner's include thoughts on some of their other films, for a little extra value. The usual collection of TV spots and photo galleries round things out for close to three hours' worth of bonus material (including the commentary), much more than the back of the disc lets on as it only mentions the commentary and "interview".

While not up to his classics, Wes certainly has worse entries in his filmography, and it's interesting to see him playing with a few of his common themes (dreams, tyrannical fathers) long before Nightmare On Elm Street, Shocker, etc. That said, I can't believe there aren't any booby traps in the movie! No wonder he didn't own a copy himself, this must be like an illegitimate child in his eyes.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Zombie Stripper Apocalypse (2010)

JANUARY 20, 2013

GENRE: ASIAN, COMEDIC, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

I love being completely surprised, though it's still more than a tad misleading that Zombie Stripper Apocalypse's DVD case makes no mention of the fact that it's actually a redubbed mockery of a film called Big Tits Zombie (BTZ from now on). Yes, you might think I got the titles reversed there, but it's true: in a manner not unlike What's Up Tiger Lily?, the folks tasked with dubbing Zombie Stripper Apocalypse (ZSA) made up their own dialogue, often mocking the film and breaking the 4th wall.

And it actually works, for the most part. Since the original BTZ (which also goes by Big Tits Dragon, just to make this more confusing) is what my pal Evan would call a "Robo Fart Ninja Zombie" movie, it's a pretty ridiculous film to begin with, making it pretty easy to lampoon. Indeed, at times I wondered if they WERE even changing the dialogue, as what was on-screen couldn't possibly have made any sense with the original scripted lines anyway. I poked around a bit and it seems that this is the full version of the movie (a merciful 73 minutes), so it's not like they re-edited it to suit their needs, like the MST3k guys often did (mainly for commercials on the show; no idea why This Island Earth got so gutted for the movie). I guess it's possible that some of the lines remained intact just to keep the "plot" more or less intact, but it's not like there's a strong foundation to the humor - whoever was behind this (no credits for the "American" version are given) was clearly just doing whatever he thought was funny at that second.

Thus, it's a bit uneven, and even somewhat confusing at times, like when the movie starts with a lengthy "flash-forward" of the climactic battle with the undead (yup, padding in a 73 minute movie that includes two credit sequences; Charles Band would be proud). When the scene replays near the end, the jokes are a mix between the same ones we heard before AND comments about how we already saw the scene, which is like breaking the 4th wall with one hand and repairing it with the other. The writing also frequently gets ahead of itself - at one point we see an establishing shot of one of the film's primary locations, with new voiceover commenting on a continuity flub that we're going to see in a few seconds. So it's like hearing the punchline before the setup, killing the laugh in favor of this reaction: "What are they talking about? (3 second pause). Oh, that hand is on the floor now."

I also wasn't sure about the tendency to have the director comment on the action, as if he was just off camera barking orders or complaining about bad acting or whatever. Not that his comments were unfunny ("They bet me I couldn't make a full movie in three hours, let's prove them wrong!"), but they're infrequent, and again fall into that confusing area where some seem to be "live" as if he said them while filming, and others seem to be him making comments as he watches the final version. Plus, since he's sort of becoming a character in the process, it makes it odd (almost somewhat fishy) that he's not credited - it's not like Tiger Lily hid the fact that Woody Allen was the guy behind it, and it was his first movie!

But when it works, it's actually pretty hilarious if you're in the right mood. Making fun of even the best of these movies is akin shooting fish in a barrel, but this one is particularly dreadful (apparently on purpose), with visible wires during the FX scenes, terrible acting across the board, and (my favorite) plastic covering on nearly every surface and piece of furniture despite the fact that nearly all of the blood is CGI and thus wouldn't be able to wreck anything. If I'm understanding correctly, there are a group of strippers who are sent to a spa in order to make a little more money (unknowingly being prostituted; not sure if this is an invention of the redub or part of the original), where they find a Necronomicon and unleash an army of colorful zombies. There's actually not a lot of action (even less if you consider a big chunk of it is a repeat), and most of the movie finds the girls standing around bickering, which provides plenty of fodder for the redub folks.

Even some of the confusing jokes floored me, like when a character has to kill her zombie sister. As she walks away, the dead one (I think?) suddenly breaks into a long speech about fishing with their father, which is a word for word copy of Walking Dead's much ridiculed scene between Andrea and Amy. The fact that neither of them appear to be talking in the scene did little to kill my amusement at this very random and obscure joke, and it's a shame the movie didn't opt for more of this sort of stuff. Sure, it's probably going to go over a few heads, and takes a little more legwork than having a character talk about her vagina again (a hefty percentage of the jokes concern their not-so-private areas) since someone had to go online and copy the quote down, but it was worth the effort.

And despite the fact that they didn't need to be, some of the jokes are rather inspired, particularly near the end when a giant demon appears. A lot of these movies have out of nowhere "boss" monsters that seem to have been lifted from another story entirely, but only in this one can that be exactly the case. In the original version, he's a department manager from Hell, but as the dubbers explain, he's supposed to be shooting an ogre porn at the same location, and one of the zombie film's actresses was hired for THAT film, not theirs (explaining her random character motivations). Later, the one surviving girl returns to her boss, questioning HIS confusing motives, which again probably didn't make any sense even with the right dialogue. Clever commentary on a particularly story-challenged sub-genre AND lots of boobie jokes? How can you not love it?

The disc's only extra is scene selection, adding to the mystery of how this came together, and leaving me with so many unanswered questions. Who is behind this? Does original writer/director Takao Nakano know that his film has been lampooned? Is it possible to buy this version anywhere (Best Buy and Amazon don't even have it listed; the latter DOES have the original Big Tits Zombie one though), or is it just a rental for Blockbuster? And most importantly: did I make the damn thing up? While looking for answers to the other questions, I found very few (very vague) reviews, and one where the writer didn't seem to be aware that the film was redubbed with different dialogue. I also discovered that there IS a version that provides the original language (with correct English subtitles), along with this dub and the option to watch in its original 3D, under the correct title. So if I had to guess, the team hired to dub the film was given lots of creative license, and it was "so good" that it's getting its own release (with a more store friendly title) that completely hides the original film's existence? What a goddamn wacky endeavor this whole thing is.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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