Eaten Alive

AUGUST 31, 2012


I have a buddy who claims that Tobe Hooper has never made a bad film, which is contrary to what most sane people think (which would be that he's only made a couple that were any good). As of this writing, he has yet to reply to my Facebook wall post asking him to explain how Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap, and pretty much every combination of two English words you can imagine - it has more titles than an Italian zombie flick) could be considered good by any reasonable measure.

I mean, sure, it has a certain batshit charm that would probably make it a hoot to watch with a crowd, but that's also how I'd describe The Room, and fuck anyone who claims that's not a bad movie. To be fair, Hooper says he was at odds with his producers throughout production on this one, and as legend has it, walked off before filming was completed (and thus presumably had no presence in post-production), so you can't chalk all of this film's faults up to him. The fact that it was his followup to Texas Chainsaw Massacre also probably put some unfair expectations on this one, not unlike Carpenter's Halloween followup, The Fog, which has only started getting the respect it deserves in the past 5-6 years.

But even factoring that in, this is just a mess. Horribly disjointed and populated exclusively with assholes and degenerates (William Finley is one of the more normal characters - let that sink in), there is precious little to enjoy here. Most of my amusement was generated by realizations, such as the fact that the movie turns into a Manos remake during its second act. Not even joking - a bickering couple with a quiet girl gets lost and stops at the main locale, where the girl's dog is killed almost instantly and the family is terrorized by the owner of the place. Sound familiar? That the production value and professionalism on display here is only slightly above that of Manos just makes the similarities even more apparent.

I also chuckled at the irony, as I was watching this to wash away the stink of Texas Chainsaw 4, which I covered for my Badass Digest column this week - I figured an old-school Hooper flick would even things out. Not only did this not help (it's better, of course, but barely), but I got an unexpected reminder of the flick, as both of them were apparently an influence on Rob Zombie when he made House of 1000 Corpses. There's a subplot here about a dad coming to the place looking for his daughter that was killed earlier, and it plays out almost exactly like it does in Zombie's film. Plus the main location is the sort of backwoods "tourist trap" that the characters in Corpses would have visited, so the similarities can't be coincidence.

But I could forgive all (OK, some) of that if the movie ever generated any suspense at all, and that's where it fails most miserably. The opening kill is a decent enough surprise if you're expecting the girl to be the hero (yeah, it's not only a reprise of Chainsaw and Manos, but Psycho as well), but too much of the back half revolves around the little girl, who is trapped under the house and under threat of the crocodile that the owner keeps in a swamp. Sorry, but even though the girl is Kyle Richards, whose sister Kim played the ill-fated vanilla twist enthusiast in the previous year's Assault on Precinct 13, there's no way in hell I believe that she's going to get chomped, rendering all of this stuff a waste of time. And since everyone else is kind of despicable or just plain weird, there isn't any real concern when they're in the vicinity of the croc's jaws, either. Go ahead and kill them all so we can get home early.

It's also poorly made, so even if Hooper didn't shoot all of it, it's not really much of an excuse since all of it kind of looks like ass. Despite having something like 7x the money at his disposal, it actually looks cheaper than Chainsaw. The production design is lousy, the lighting often murky, etc. There are some scenes that are tinted red, which looks cool but means nothing, and just sort of adds to the film's erratic feel instead of sticking out as an actual stylistic choice. It's also gory, which is a shame in a weird way as Chainsaw was so effective and scary without any real gore at all, but here we get blood spurting out of necks and such, adding to the movie's overall crudeness and further making me wonder if Steven Spielberg didn't actually direct Chainsaw as well (OK that's a cheap shot, but come on, it's a FUNNY cheap shot). I was charmed to later learn that the movie was shot at the Raleigh Studios on Melrose - not only was I right across the street from it earlier today (it's across the street from Greendale Community College, where I wish I could enroll for night classes), but it's also where the Shriekfest Film Festival occurs every year. Having seen a lot of similarly shoddy, inept movies there, it was sort of endearing to think that one was actually made on the premises.

Despite all of that, it's not even his worst movie. I'd take it over Spontaneous Combustion or The Mangler, and his Masters of Horror episode Dance of the Dead (which also had Robert Englund, who plays an asshole hick here) is still one of the absolute worst things I've ever seen in my life. I'd even entertain watching it at the New Beverly or something, where its many, many lapses in logic and amateurish production would provide a lot of entertainment thanks to the infectious energy of a bewildered crowd. But by myself on a computer monitor? Yikes.

What say you?


One-Eyed Monster (2008)

AUGUST 30, 2012


I forget where I read it, but some article about the making of Men In Black has stuck with me for 15 years now, concerning Tommy Lee Jones' acting. Barry Sonnenfeld told him that the straighter he played the role, the funnier he would be, and he's right. While Will Smith's mugging gets tired/dated, Jones is still hilarious, keeping that movie worth watching all these years (and inferior sequels) later. Thankfully, someone on One-Eyed Monster had the same idea, and while the joke wears thin by the halfway point or so, I was impressed enough by that point to forgive them.

And that joke is this: the monster in the movie is Ron Jeremy's detached penis, which is scurrying about and killing the crew of a porno movie being shot in an isolated cabin. It's the sort of idea that might not even last the length of an SNL skit, but the fact that most of the cast plays it straight actually sustains it longer than it has any right to do so. Plus, it's actually pretty amusing; the Jason Graham character in particular has a wonderful attitude about the whole thing - he acts as if this is not completely unusual, and has a great deadpan face as he discusses plans to kill the killer cock.

They also get a lot of mileage out of mocking the adult film business in general, like when a girl who has been in 150 films is referred to as "just a beginner". One character has designed a robotic vagina that can simulate any celebrities' orifices, and needs someone to test it, resulting in this terrific exchange:

Science guy: "Just stick your dick in there."
Porn actor: "No way, I'm not fucking with my livelihood!"
Graham: "You DO fuck with your livelihood."


But the biggest laughs surround Jeremy's legacy in the genre, like when an older gentleman who appears to be a clueless movie fan admits he lost a bet with his mother about the length of Jeremy's penis. And the science guy theorizes that the reason the meteor/alien/whatever has infected Jeremy is because "50% of what we beam into space via satellite is porn, and Ron appears in 50% of them!". See, the alien wants to reproduce, and who better than the man who has had more sexual encounters than probably any other living male? And again, all of this is played completely straight, no different than the people in a slasher trying to explain why the killer is after them. It really works.

But, I mean, it's a killer dick movie. After a while, the jokes run thin, and they start to noticeably grasp at straws, like when the thing goes up another guy's butt and possesses him for like 40 seconds. As soon as someone says "He's being controlled", the "subplot" ends, never to be mentioned again. Amber Benson's character also more or less betrays the others at one point (she has a thing for Ron), but it has no real effect on anything other than to provide an excuse to cut to her making strange faces throughout the film. Scenes are drawn out, Charles Napier's character tells a complicated backstory that even for a movie about a killer cock is a bit far-fetched (he has seen this sort of thing before - and just HAPPENS to be in the area when it happens again?). I think they might have fared a bit better by keeping the thing a "secret" for a while, letting it off a few of them one by one before anyone noticed something was amiss, but they're caught up roughly 5 minutes after it first appears, which accounts for some of the wheel spinning.

Also, and I can't believe I'm about to say this, but we don't see the dick enough. I 100% appreciate that it's a practical effect, and I assume it wasn't easy to puppeteer, but nearly every "action" or scare scene is just a bunch of folks looking around the room at random, or maybe a POV shot. At one point we see that it has burrowed a hole through someone's head - er, how? It's a round, fleshy thing! I want to see how this thing works! I mean, any viewer would already have resigned themselves to watching a movie about a killer penis, so why are they holding back? That said, I was actually surprised at how chaste the movie was. There's only one scene with nudity, I think (which has a great punchline), and most of the deaths are off-screen. Here I was almost afraid to watch the thing thinking it would be more porn than horror, and as it turns out any random Friday the 13th movie is closer to X-rated.

The movie has a lot of bonus features, most of which are worth a look. There's a fun collection of outtakes where the guy lists different celebrities he wants to simulate with the machine, and some amusing character moments in deleted scenes that were cut for time. The "Penis Wrangler" featurette, like the movie, goes longer than its thin premise requires, pretending that that fake penises and the men who sculpt/control them have been part of Hollywood for decades ("This was for Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," someone says, holding up a giant black phallus, "but the scene was cut."). Cute idea, should have been cut in half. Same goes for the chat with Jeremy and fellow porn icon Veronica Hart, as they discuss how the business has changed over the years, where they think it's going, etc. They keep talking over each other, repeating themselves... it's sort of like listening to two drunks at a bar arguing about the President or something. Except they probably won't reflect on the time they both sucked on one of their own dicks (a skill Jeremy has, apparently).

Then there's the commentary by director Adam Fields and his brothers Jordan and Scott, which is even more surprisingly serious than the movie. They point out its flaws (including, as expected, having to extend scenes beyond reason just to make a feature runtime), shooting issues, etc. One of them is actually quite critical, which I guess you can chalk up to typical brotherly rivalry or whatever, but either way it's not as enjoyable to listen to as you might think, considering the subject matter. And one of them (Jordan, I think) says that he dislikes Shawshank Redemption, so that bummed me out as I was certain that no one in the world disliked that movie. I've heard worse tracks, but it doesn't seem like they're all that into it, so perhaps they should have opted for select scene commentary instead of doing the whole movie.

So here's a benefit of doing HMAD - this is not the first killer penis movie I've seen, as Frank Henenlotter's Bad Biology has a third act focusing on a similar "monster". Thus, when I tell you this is the best killer cock movie I've ever seen, I'm not being a wiseass - it's a legitimate compliment! I've seen worse!

What say you?


Apocalypse Of The Dead (2009)

AUGUST 29, 2012


I took an unusually large number of notes during Apocalypse Of The Dead, but unfortunately they're mostly negative in nature. It's a serviceable enough time-killer (at 100 minutes, perhaps too MUCH time) if you're not too discerning for low budget zombie films, but crippled by woeful direction/editing, a not very exciting climax, and some badly placed references to Dawn Of The Dead.

I really don't get that last one. With Ken Foree in the lead role of a zombie movie, of course Dawn will come to mind, but the time to make the overt references is in the first 10 minutes. Get them out of the way, because you almost have to acknowledge his legacy, and then focus on YOUR movie, hoping that the audience follows suit. Instead, 79 minutes into their movie, at a point where the pacing just ground to a halt, a character suggests holing up in a shopping mall, to which Foree says is not a good idea, as "they WILL get in!". And then they twist the knife, having him more or less deliver his "No more room in Hell" speech from that film (and its remake). Sure, remind us of a perfect zombie when you just fucked yours up.

What did they do wrong, you ask? They leave the location where they've been holed up for the past 45 minutes! The movie is sort of like Assault On Precinct 13 with zombies, as Foree and Kristina Klebe are a pair of agents transporting a prisoner when the zombie outbreak begins, so they have to barricade themselves in a building and work with the prisoner to survive, and it more or less works for a while. But with 20 minutes to go they leave, opting to set the finale in an abandoned trainyard, blowing the rising tension that they had built up in the other locale. And it's not a very exciting finale, as a character shows up with a bag of weapons to save the day, no one of note dies, and it feels too tacked on. If they were constantly on the move throughout the movie, it would be fine, but if you're doing Precinct 13, you don't leave the Precinct! Unless you're doing the remake, for some reason.

The direction and editing also leaves much to be desired. I'll forgive the terrible dubbing (the lips match the words, but everyone sounds like they were recorded in a booth), but I can't do the same for a sequence where Foree and the prisoner are shouting for a door to be opened from the other side, and then suddenly they're running down the hall with another guy. Yeah, we can fill in the blanks - this guy heard them, ran over and opened the door, but why build a moment out of him NOT opening it if you're not going to show him hearing them, or explain where he was to not hear them right away? Just cut the "suspense" out, or be competent enough to have a cutaway of the guy opening the door at least. There's also a bit where one guy is on the right side of the screen firing toward the left, and the next shot is of another hero shooting from left to right - making it look like they are actually just shooting at each other instead of zombies. This is basic, first-year film school stuff, and similar things occur far too often to shrug it off.

It was also annoying to see shaki-cam footage haphazardly cut together with awkward, completely still medium shots of the actors, often garishly lit by the DP. The editing was making this thing disjointed enough, but the direction makes it worse by making the movie look like two separate productions jammed together. And I'll never get why you'd want to overlight a horror movie - we WANT it a bit dark! Let's get some shadows up in this bitch! And none of them could bother telling the actors to pronounce "Bottin" correctly, as it's the name of one of the agents (the other is "Savini"), but they pronounce it "Bought-in" instead of "Bow-teen". If you're going to honor a guy by naming a character after him, maybe make sure you're saying it right.

Along the way some good ideas are wasted; things that could have been used in more deserving movies. I particularly liked the idea of a girl being stoned on mushrooms and running right into the zombies assuming it was part of her trip (though I'm sure this has been used elsewhere before), and there's a fun little moment at the end where Klebe says she is out of bullets, which allows the noble prisoner to go free, only for us (but not her partner) to discover she actually wasn't (awww, she likes him). I was also charmed by the nutty religious character, who would rant in "nut with a sandwich board" speak in between blowing zombies away with his huge arsenal - it's a bummer he spends most of the movie on his own instead of joining up with the characters.

I also have to give them props for the FX, which favor practical fake heads and blood over CGI. There's a great bit where a head is sliced in half like lettuce, a couple of decapitations... all good stuff. The zombie makeup is unfortunately very stock (grayish/blue skin, whitened out eyes), but I'll take what they offer over well designed zombies who are consistently dispatched with swirls of pixels instead of anything I can touch. And there are a few zombie children who are mercilessly gunned down, so that's always a plus.

If they had cut the thing down to 80 minutes (there's too much setup, and too many extraneous characters) and had a better editor, this would have been a (very) minor gem in the never-dying landscape of "Of The Dead" movies (of which this covers two titles - it was originally called Zone Of The Dead and retains that moniker in the closing credits). But the sloppiness kept me from ever getting fully engaged; every time I started getting into it, there would be another amateurish moment to take me right back out. Maybe they'll get me on the next one.

What say you?


Area 407 (2012)

AUGUST 28, 2012


My buddy Scott Weinberg has been ranting about Area 407 (formerly Tape 407, which makes less sense) for a while now, but we don't see eye to eye on too many of these things (he really liked Grave Encounters, for example, whereas I found it fairly generic), so I was hoping I'd see it differently. But while I think I liked it a little more than him, for simplicity's sake he's right - the flick is too grating and lazy to really set itself apart in a positive way.

The main problem is the wholly obnoxious girl behind the camera. While it's kind of novel to mix adults and children in one of these things, and it's even sort of realistic that she'd be annoying, no one apparently told "writer"/directors Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin that a little goes a long way. As the film begins her and her older sister are boarding a flight to Los Angeles, and she is filming every single person on the plane as she makes her way to her seat, commenting on their clothes or luggage - and not a single one of them tells her to fuck off! Have they never actually been on a plane before (especially one to LA)? She wouldn't get past three rows without someone telling her to put it away before they break it. No, on this magical plane everyone is charmed by this little girl shoving a camera in their face as they're about to take a confusingly late night flight on New Year's Eve (who flies overnight on New Year's? Especially going west?).

Finally, after 15 minutes of her nonstop chatter, the plane begins to crash. I was hoping she'd be killed and someone else would pick up the camera (which would be ballsy and kind of awesome), but she just scrapes her arm up in this horrific crash that tears the plane in half. There are about 8 or 9 survivors, and after 15 minutes of arguing, a monster starts picking them off. It's not until the final seconds of the movie that we finally get a real look at the thing, and to be fair it's insanely awesome (hopefully no one's spoiled its nature yet, if you plan to watch the movie anyway - the trailer more or less gives it away, however), but it could be the poster child for the phrase "Too Little, Too Late", as we've suffered far too much for this rather batshit reveal to make up for the rest.

See, you might have noticed that I put "writers" in quotes above - the movie was actually improvised by its actors (and shot in 5 days), and it shows. I like how the movie was mostly shot in long takes - an experiment that would probably really kick ass with more competent actors. These folks, while not terrible (I've certainly seen worse performers - Poughkeepsie Tapes, anyone?), are not the best improvisers in the world, as they repeatedly flub their own made up lines and say the same things over and over. No found footage movie has ever been known for its crackerjack dialogue and complex characters, but even by the genre's low bar in this department, it's pretty bad.

It also suffers repeatedly from my biggest pet peeve in found footage movies: people filming reactions instead of the thing that is putting them in danger. Far too often the person operating the camera is thinking in terms of cinema instead of character, and thus they defeat the purpose of using this particularly format. So they hear someone screaming off in the distance, plus the roar of the monster, and the girl with the camera gets reactions of the other survivors, because she's apparently not so scared about everything that's happened that she'd forget to make this tape visually interesting for later viewing. It's even more obnoxious than the "Why are they still filming?" question, because that one you just sort of have to go with (and in night-set movies like this, the answer is "To keep the light on so they can see") - repeated offenses of this just mean that the filmmakers don't understand their chosen format. Blair Witch Project quite often didn't film its "money shots" with much flair, and for my money it's still the best of the lot.

So it's probably more of an accident that they get a few things right. It won't make anyone forget about Lost or The Grey, but the plane crash is pretty well done for a low budget POV movie, and the resulting wreckage is equally impressive (though the plane seems to have changed models). The closing scene is also pretty grim, providing a good shock moment before the aforementioned full reveal of the monster. And if you're a horror geek, you can appreciate that they shot the film at the Veluzat Ranch, same place as Friday the 13th Part 3 (another gimmick movie!) and House Of 1000 Corpses. And if you're like me and like to try to figure out who the Air Marshal is whenever you fly, they make it a little more difficult by having theirs sit in the plane's back row. For years I've assumed they were near the front, so they could, you know, protect the cockpit in a timely manner, but these guys seem to think it's just as likely that they will be in the very back, protecting the bathrooms and drink cart when it's not in service.

(Yes, I had to work another complaint into the "on the other hand" paragraph.)

With so many found footage movies out there, even I have trouble keeping up with them all, so I assume most people won't be bothering with this one anyway. But just in case you stumble across it, I think you can do better. As with slasher films, it's a sub-genre with more misses than hits, but the key difference is that it lends itself to more creativity. Unfortunately, that creativity is scarcely on display here, and I can't in good conscience recommend you suffer through all the bickering and stumbled dialogue to get to that pretty wonderful final 30 seconds.

What say you?


Stevie (2008)

AUGUST 27, 2012


I had a nice conversation with someone yesterday who asked what I've learned after 5.5 years of daily horror movie watching (besides realizing I'm kind of weird), and I realized while watching Stevie that I left out one thing - watching too many movies of a type can kind of kill their chances of being successful. I can too easily see the tricks and attempts at misdirection now, so I was sadly able to call this one's twist pretty early.

But is this just my enhanced movie detective skills at work, or was the movie just sloppy? Certainly I'm still able to get fooled - I didn't see Saw VI's twist coming, for example, and that's part of a series that is built around twists, i.e. I'm always actively looking to figure it out. But here I wasn't even trying to figure out any sort of surprise ending - the movie just gave away a crucial bit of info too early on, I think. At first it seems like a Killer Kid movie, with things happening that might be the actions of the protagonist's new adopted child, but then like a half hour or so into the film, we see something that has to be a ghost (a word writing itself on a fogged mirror), and thus the question is: who's the ghost?

At the same time, throughout the film we've been seeing flashbacks to a car accident involving the mother (Catherine McCormack), but without any clue as to what they have to do with what's happening in the present day. One could assume that perhaps it left her unable to have children (hence the adoption), but there's no reason to make that as a reveal. So what's the only other option? Obviously (to me) (and SPOILER) she was pregnant at the time, and the ghost is that of her child, killed as a result of the accident. This information is finally delivered with five minutes left in the film, putting me nearly a full hour ahead of the film.

And it's a shame, because I think that's a pretty good twist, and a few edits could have made it more successful (or at least, perhaps I wouldn't have figured it out so soon). The car accident could have been shown in full at the top, followed by a "Three Years Later" card when we go to the present day and stay there until the very end, rather than the constant back and forth (think the scene where Bruce got shot in Sixth Sense). The foggy mirror scare could have been removed as well, as it's not particularly scary and tips off the true nature of what's happening (i.e. that it's NOT a demented little girl) long before it's necessary to do so.

On the other hand, there is a plot point that I quite liked and don't see too often - by the end of the second act, the mom actually believes the little girl when she says her "imaginary friend" (the title character) is doing these things, rather than remain in stubborn disbelief until the climax. Unfortunately everyone else just thinks the mom is going crazy, which is what causes the drama for the rest. Being a television movie, there isn't a lot of action or violence (I don't think Stevie causes any actual harm in the movie), so it's good that they made up for the slow pace by at least going outside the box a bit.

Otherwise, I just amused myself with the movie's peculiar setting - they shot in Barcelona, but it's supposed to be Canada? And our heroes are from California, but everyone has Spanish accents (except for McCormack, who is British), so it's just really odd. The little girl in particular is clearly not as comfortable with the English language, so I don't know why they didn't just have everyone speak Spanish and either dub McCormack later or hire a Spanish actress of equal or greater value (it's not like she's a huge star, no offense to her).

I also enjoyed the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin, best known (to me) for being the DP on Shocker. He's a big fan of slowly pushing the camera in while tilting it to the right or left around 30 degrees, and it gives the film an extra dose of energy that it really needs, as not much is ever really happening. The script relies too heavily on what should be 1st act scares all the way through - do we really need (at least) TWO scenes where magnetic letters on the refrigerator are used to form the word "GOODBYE"? Isabel's gigantic new dollhouse also gets enough screentime to qualify for 3rd or 4th billing. Come on, Stevie - mix it up a bit!

I know this was a TV movie, but I'm not sure where it aired. I assume the Lifetime channel, which is a perfect fit for its low-key chills and emphasis on drama and family issues (both of the protagonists are workaholics!) over the horror elements. And for that, it's fine, but otherwise I suggest Don't Go To Sleep, another TV movie which covers similar territory, or Shock, if ghost/kid combos are your thing (Ghost Son is another option).

What say you?


Haunted High (2012)

AUGUST 26, 2012


I like that the Syfy Original Movie brand is expanding into other sub-genres, instead of the usual monster movies. Haunted High is a full on haunted house movie (just in a school), with an old curse that needs to be undone and all that - not a single monster or real world predator (i.e. a shark) to be seen! This comes just a few weeks after the supernatural slasher Boogeyman, and I'm sure they have a found footage thing in the works, because everyone does.

But the novelty alone isn't enough to make the movie good, and Haunted High unfortunately has some issues that kept it from being a (relative) slam dunk for the channel. The biggest is the peculiar dividing of the film's cast, separating them into at least four groups and taking forever to have the survivors band together (at which point they more or less separate again anyway). There's little rhyme or reason to the pacing as a result, and time doesn't seem to flow correctly - one group is trying to hack into a computer, and then they'll cut to the other groups in sequence, only to return to the hacker group still in the process of trying to access the files they want. It's been 15 minutes - you're a shitty hacker if you haven't proceeded!

Thus, the movie feels too episodic, like they just added in characters to pad out the run time. That almost HAS to be true for Charisma Carpenter's character, a teacher who never interacts with any other cast member, wanders around a hallway for a bit, and is then killed, never to be mentioned again. If this was the opening scene, fine - it would work for a Scream style twist. But it's around the 20 minute mark, rendering the scene entirely superfluous. Same goes for the school band, as only one of them is left by the time the various groups meet up, and nothing about their scenes was worth breaking up whatever minor tension the others could have achieved with some focus.

The tone is also strange, in that I couldn't tell who they were making the movie for. The teen-heavy cast and juvenile plotting/gags seemed more fitting for an ABC Family type horror film - the hackers are trying to change their grades like this was a wacky 80s comedy, and one of the scares involves the frogs in the science lab coming back to life and jumping around without hurting anyone. But then the deaths will be kind of gruesome - Carpenter is cut in half, another girl's head explodes, etc. Combined with the awkward structure, it just makes the movie feel like a disjointed mess.

Another odd thing involves how to stop the ghosts. They know that they need to melt some gold coins that the young hero obtained from his grandfather, but for some reason they hold off on that and focus first on a gold ring that also needs to be destroyed (and yes, someone makes a LOTR joke to prevent a smart-ass reviewer from being able to do so), which is much harder to get at, let alone destroy. Seems to me that it would make more sense to get rid of the coins first (as they are in the heroes' possession) and then all they have to worry about is the ring. Just like a test - you answer all the easy ones and then spend your time focusing on the difficult ones. And they're all students running around a school so that metaphor should be even more apparent.

But if you're a fan of Con Air you should be somewhat satisfied, as the film's adult hero is played by Danny "Johnny-23" Trejo, and the villain is MC "Swamp Thing" Gainey. It's not exactly a resume highlight for either man; Trejo spends the first half trapped in a closet, and Gainey is forced to deliver puns that even Dr. Giggles would wince at (all school based, so it's like "Please report to the Principal's office for dismemberment!" or something, followed by maniacal laughter). But both of them seem to be enjoying themselves, and the climax has their ghosts struggling (Trejo without a shirt on, for some reason), so it's nice to see them together as their Con Air characters didn't interact much.

And to be fair, the FX are decent, the bulk of the cast is decimated (I was quite surprised at one death in particular), and again, it's something a bit different for the channel. There were also a minimum of commercial breaks in the first half (only one in the first 40 minutes or so), which helped minimize the disjointedness - the movie was interrupting itself enough, no need for Syfy to exacerbate it by reminding us to watch Paranormal Witness and sign up for every 11 minutes like usual. Hopefully they'll keep trying to go outside their comfort zone; I'm sure they'll get it right eventually.

What say you?


Snowbeast (2011)

AUGUST 25, 2012


According to the IMDb, Snowbeast is actually a remake of the 1977 Jaws ripoff of the same name, but other than a Yeti villain (kind of unavoidable with that title) it's completely different. There's a nearby ski resort, where the first victims are killed, but the main characters almost never set foot in that area, nor is there any sort of "Winter Wonderland" festival or whatever that is at stake after the local police realize that they have an Abominable Snowman problem.

Nor is it as exciting, which is a bummer since the "original" was hardly a roller coaster ride. Despite the ski resort full of potential victims a few miles away, most of the movie takes place in hero John Schneider's cabin, where he, his daughter, and the other two members of his team (wildlife research - the specifics don't matter because this concept's only purpose in the narrative is to give them an excuse to have tranq guns and surveillance equipment) sit around, watching their cameras and occasionally find an excuse to leave for a while. It's like a TV show where they get rid of one set to make a new one and thus keep having the characters return there throughout the season for no real reason (notice how many times the Community team went to Troy and Abed's apartment in season 3 - and how we never saw Jeff's oft-seen S2 apartment as a result). I could see if it were a siege type movie (or something like Abominable), but it's not until the film's 3rd act that Snowbeast attacks the place.

It's also quite slow for a Syfy flick, with less than 10 kills in the whole movie. One is actually kind of shocking (actually two if you don't pay attention to the credits), but they are paced poorly - their order should have been reversed for maximum impact. A dumb plot point also keeps Schneider off-screen for too much of the 3rd act, as they try to make us think he might have been killed. No, he's John Schneider, so unless this is Smallville, we know he'll be OK - stop wasting our time with conversations where his daughter ponders life without him. This also keeps the movie's converging motives at bay, as by the halfway point there's no one left but the nature team. Most of these things work best when people with conflicting motives have to team up: a scientist who wants to study, a hunter who wants to kill, etc. Hell, I don't think the sheriff and Schneider even share a scene.

The sheriff, by the way, is played by Jason London. Granted, he's the better London, but come on! Is this what we've been reduced to for our horror movie sheriffs? William Sadler, Lance Henriksen, Will Patton... these are the guys who should be protecting our movie towns from Yetis and the like. Not Randall Pink Floyd. London is "unfortunately" blessed with looking younger than he is (he's damn near 40), so even though he's technically old enough to be in this position, he just doesn't exude much authority. In fact that's probably why he and Schneider didn't interact much - the audience would probably be confused as to which one of them was in charge.

On the plus side, the monster was depicted via a guy in a suit, with CGI kept to a shocking minimum (his red eye I think was the only glaring effect). Sure, the script's lack of action kept it from being used much, but at least those rare kill scenes looked good. And... uh... actually that's it. The movie was watchable, I guess, but it was just so lackluster and slow-paced that I'm hard-pressed to think of anything specific to single out as a good thing. The dialogue was well-recorded? The snow was appropriately white? I really got nothing here.

In fact I had a sneaking suspicion that this one would be a snoozer from the opening scene, which showed two snowboarders doing their thing for a while before Snowbeast came along. You've seen the sort of sequence a million times, but what sets this one apart is that the guys aren't really doing anything exciting on their boards. They hit a few small jumps, but don't do any tricks while midair, and one guy falls on his ass the one time he attempts something a little more advanced. The whole point of these scenes is to set up the potential threat of the monster ("These guys are in peak physical shape and able to maneuver, but were no match for Snowbeast!"), but these guys are just as likely to have been killed by a random mugger or maybe an angry dog. One also pulls out his phone to show us that there's no service, which is odd considering that they're the obvious opening kill-bait and thus their cell service is of no consequence (and, again, the ski resort isn't a primary location).

I looked at the filmographies of director Brian Brough and screenwriter Brittany Wiscombe after the movie, and wasn't surprised to see that horror wasn't their forte. Most of their films (they seemingly only work together) sound like Hallmark or Lifetime original movies (one is about two sisters trying to save the family candle business!), so I have no idea what possessed them to try horror. Apart from the suit, they seemingly have no idea what fans look for in these things, as they focus on the teenaged daughter's uninteresting drama (she was kicked out of school for fighting another girl over a boy's affections, she's bored in the cabin, she doesn't get along with her dad, zzzzz) instead of anything that could be considered suspense or excitement. Not that character development is bad (in fact it's quite good), but it has to pay off in some way - which this movie fails to do. Hell, as awful as it is, at least Lost World paid off the stupid gymnastics backstory. I'm actually kind of shocked Syfy picked this up to air for one of their Saturday movies - I can't imagine too many viewers made it all the way through.

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: Halloween 4/5

AUGUST 25, 2012


As I've already written up reviews of both Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers, you can check those out for my in-depth thoughts on the films. This review is mainly for the new Blu-ray releases from Anchor Bay, which are getting us that much closer to having the entire series available in the format (the last of the series to hit Blu, Halloween II and III, are being released next month courtesy of Shout! Factory). Please note - if you've somehow still missed these films, there are spoilers ahead (particularly for H5)

Halloween 4, of course, is the superior of the two entries. The seasonal atmosphere, brilliantly established in the opening titles, has rarely been better in the series, and even though the mask is a source of debate, I've always liked how blank it was. Later entries gave it too much character, so even though the hair is all wrong I think they're the only post-Carpenter sequel to get the purposely expressionless look right. And it's certainly better than 5's curiosity, with the giant neck flap and oversized eyeholes - I will never understand why they made such efforts to completely redesign the mask considering that the film picks up where 4 left off. At least in 4 the changes are explained in the story - it's a new mask!

But Halloween 5 gets a bum rap, and while some is justified (the dumb cops especially), I think naysayers simply forget or ignore the fact that there's a lot to admire here, such as the Psycho-like killing of Rachel early on, Loomis' transition into full blown loon, Danielle Harris' terrific performance (she plays more than half the film in a pained muted state), and the stalking set-pieces, which have never been topped since (H20 has a couple of OK ones, the others barely even bother). And even some of its lapses have silver linings - Tina is quite annoying for the first hour, but she becomes an unwavering protector for Jamie in the 3rd act, and doesn't hesitate when jumping into the "line of stabbing" to save her life at the expense of her own. More than any other slasher series (save maybe Scream), you really sense the bond between these people; hell, even though he's a nut you can see early on that Rachel and Loomis are still fairly close.

Halloween 4, on the other hand, needs no defending. If you don't like then you're either blinded by the fact that Carpenter was no longer involved, or simply prefer body count slashers where nothing matters except when the next kill comes along. It's suspenseful, the characters are likable, and the pacing is nearly perfect. It may ape the original's structure a bit too closely at times, but look what happens when they do their own thing? You get Halloween Resurrection.

These new Blu-rays look terrific, and I would expect no less from Anchor Bay, who have consistently delivered solid transfers for their catalog titles. And unlike the original Halloween, they didn't use some misguided color re-timing - they look like they should, just with more detail and contrast. H5 in particular benefits greatly from the boosted clarity, as director Dominique Othenin-Girard favored natural lighting and shadow, keeping Michael in the shadows as often as possible. There's a shot in the barn scene where I literally never noticed Michael until now, and other moments are enhanced from the improved detail (I can now report, sadly, that Meeker is among the dead during the police siege, whereas earlier releases were too murky to tell). The True HD 5.1 sound mixes are fine as well - other than the score and some occasional screams or whatever, there isn't a lot of surround activity (the films were originally released in stereo), but it's clear and crisp and thus there's nothing to complain about, other than the fact that purists may like to have the original mixes.

I can piss and moan about the bonus features, however. We all love to joke about the Bay re-re-re-releasing titles seemingly on an annual basis, but as they've moved further into acquiring original properties (and distributing bigger titles, like newer Weinstein Company releases), they've slowed down a bit on the double/triple dipping. However, both of these releases are missing bonus features available on previous versions, which suggests that an "Ultimate Edition" of some sort may be on the way (next year IS the 25th anniversary of Halloween 4, mind you). For 4, gone is the commentary by screenwriter Alan McElroy and the "Final Cut" retrospective documentary that was released on the previous incarnation; H5 lacks "Inside Halloween 5" (another retrospective) and, of no real use to anyone but worth mentioning, the introduction by Harris and Ellie Cornell.

Some are carried over, however. In addition to the trailers, the H4 commentary by Harris and Cornell is still present, as is the Girard/Harris/Jeffrey Landman (Billy) track for 5. "Halloween 5: On The Set" is also ported over from the last release, which was a promo created in 1989 that shows some on-set interviews and behind the scenes footage (including a near fatal accident where the actress playing Tina tripped in front of the speeding car chasing her). Halloween 4 also still has the panel discussion where 4 and 5 are covered; a curious thing to bring back since it's completely outdated (it's from 2003) and their recollections are often completely wrong (Harris says the Man in Black was just some weird guy hanging out on set?).

So what's new? For Return, we have (finally!) an audio commentary by director Dwight Little, moderated by Justin Beahm, who is behind an upcoming book about the franchise. It's not the best track in the world; Little's recollections aren't as vivid as you might hope - for starters he seems to think Halloween III took place in the same universe, making his comment that he chose to ignore its characters and just pick up from part 2 a little odd. It's also marred by silence, as if Beahm was afraid to offer his own insight (or that he was unprepared for short answers from Little). But it's still better than the new track on Revenge with Beahm and Don Shanks (that film's Michael), which is even MORE silence-heavy. Sure, it's to be expected - why would he have much to say about scenes he wasn't even in? But again, Beahm doesn't really say anything on his own to cover the gaps - for someone who clearly loves the series I don't see why he didn't opt to offer up insight or even basic trivia to keep the conversation going. Shanks' recollections of who the Man In Black was also contradict everything that's been said before (including Shanks' own explanation on the last DVD), and he quite bizarrely claims the Man In Black in Halloween 6 was, well, a black man.

The only other "new" feature is another promo from 1989 about H5's production, which doesn't really distinguish itself from the sort of stuff on the "On The Set" one. Shanks speaks about shooting a scene depicting the carnage at the children's hospital, and at the police station, but none of that footage is seen here, nor is the legendary "Doctor Death" scene that we've only seen brief clips of over the years. So it seems to me that Anchor Bay is doing the same thing they did with their original DVD (and even VHS!) releases of these titles - doing a skimpy first release, and then going for the deluxe edition for a second go around. If you don't care about extras and haven't upgraded since their initial DVD releases (the ones in the collectible tins), then by all means upgrade to high def in time for the Halloween season if you like them enough, but otherwise, I have a sneaking suspicion you'll be seeing more expansive releases in another year. Of course, if you're like me and just blindly buy every release of these movies anyway, who cares? It's like your car registration - it's just something you have to pay for every year.

Halloween 4:
Film - 8/10
A/V - 9/10
(the original soundtrack mixes should be included)
Extras - 5/10

Halloween 5:
Film - 7/10
A/V - 9/10
(same reason as above)
Extras - 6/10


Creepy Crawlers (2000)

AUGUST 24, 2012


Since I was no fan of Eight Legged Freaks, I wasn't really expecting much out of Creepy Crawlers (aka They Nest), the killer cockroach film that got director Ellory Elkayem the gig on that unsuccessful attempt at bringing back Gremlins/Tremors style horror-comedy in the summer of 2002. But since it starred Thomas Calabro, who played Michael Mancini on Melrose Place (aka the GREATEST CHARACTER IN TELEVISION HISTORY*), I figured I'd keep an open mind.

Well, as it turns out, it's not too bad for a USA original movie. Being from the olden days of the year 2000, they didn't have to cater to today's short attention span, and thus it's actually paced pretty well for the most part, favoring character development and an increasing risk of danger for the town as opposed to random isolated attacks. At first we just see a couple of the bugs, and then the swarm increases, and then they mutate, so just when the movie has run out of ideas for crawling scenes, they start flying around to create a new risk. So many of these things hit the ground running, and thus after 45 minutes they've exhausted their entire bag of tricks; it's nice when a film gives you something new and builds toward things you haven't seen yet.

It's also got some decent humor (part of what killed Eight Legged Freaks for me - I didn't find any of it that funny), most of it at the expense of Maine stereotypes. The locals are pretty much all drunk or incompetent; Calabro's character falls for the only woman in town who seems to be able to perform her job and get through the day without whiskey (she's also played the gorgeous Kristen Dalton, so that's a bonus for him). I particularly liked the harried general store clerk who didn't know how to run the register and seemed to think someone's personal schedule for the week was common knowledge (he looks at Calabro - a newcomer to the town- like he's an idiot for not knowing that the assistant manager went to her mother's school on Tuesdays). It's borderline xenophobic at times, as the locals seem about one step away from shoving him against a tree and making him squeal like a pig, but it's good natured.

And this stuff is nowhere near as upsetting (but darkly funny) as a scene where a hamster is trapped in a maze with a handful of the cockroaches. It's shot like any slasher movie chase, as the hamster makes its way down "corridors" and turns every which way looking for an exit, only to hit a dead end as the roaches close in. It's kind of horrifying seeing the look on the poor thing's face as he faces his doom, and is legit one of the few times in history where I had to remind myself that it was just a movie (and made me glad my childhood hamster Nosey simply died of old age).

But there's only so much you can do with cockroaches, so there's a pretty hefty subplot about Calabro's feud with a character named Jack, played by John Savage. Seems Calabro bought the house out from under him and his brother Eamon, so the two men harass him, cutting his power and what not. And one of them dies at the end of the first act, so naturally the other thinks Calabro did it, upping the tension as he certainly doesn't believe his stories about killer bugs. There's a bit too much to this stuff, and it lacks a proper denouement as both of them die without Calabro present, and thus there's never a "You were right!" moment. You can remove them from the movie entirely and it wouldn't really have much effect on Calabro's arc, making it all feel like padding at the end.

I was also a bit puzzled why it stopped being funny. There's a lot of humor in the first half, and while not all of it works, there's NOTHING in the second half, successful or otherwise. The closest would be the climax, when a badly aimed flare causes an explosion that inadvertently kills all of the bugs, but it doesn't seem to be played for laughs. And even if it was, I'm not sure why they'd have the hero kind of Jar-Jar his way to victory, since he's been pretty competent throughout the movie (in fact, the ONLY one who was) - it'd be like having one of the rebels trip over a lightsaber and accidentally blow up the Death Star at the end of Star Wars.

Elkayem and one of the producers provide a pretty dry commentary track that offers up some minor trivia (the bug species is fictional, the bugs are a mix of practical and CGI, Calabro improvised one of his better lines, etc) but isn't really essential to anyone but die-hard fans of the film. They don't fall silent too often, thankfully, but what they're saying just isn't always that interesting ("that's real smoke... (next shot) but that's digital smoke."). The producer guy also takes time to list all of his fellow execs at USA, as if anyone listening gives a shit about who signed off on the film. A trailer and some cast/crew bios are also included, making this a fairly decent "special edition" for a fairly decent TV movie.

What say you?

*He cheated on his wife with his coworker, and then cheated on HER with his sister-in-law. Later, the coworker (now his wife, I think) arranged for him to bang a prostitute to keep him happy while she was sick or something. He also had a great beach house. I mean, holy shit.


The Apparition (2012)

AUGUST 23, 2012


Hopefully you haven't seen the trailer for The Apparition yet (I won't embed it like I usually do*), because whoever cut it clearly hates you, the movie, and everyone involved with its production. Spoiling the entire final act and mostly selling a different movie, it's the sort of trailer that can singlehandedly ruin a film's chances of being liked, and it's a shame that an original horror movie (with a fairly small "wide" release of only 800 screens) had to deal with that extra kick to its shins.

Now, it's not a great movie, and I'd be shocked if anyone said it was. But it's got some cool ideas, and goes about its somewhat traditional haunting story in a different way than many others. There's a heftier dose of science and experimentation than usual, to the extent that it almost feels like a Quatermass type movie at times, as opposed to the Paranormal Activity/Grudge type flick the trailers sell. One of the trailer's many offenses is showing nearly all of Tom Felton's scenes as a parapsychology student who assists the hero couple with their ghost problems, but ironically one of the movie's faults is that he's not in it enough - his limited screentime never gives him a chance to become a fully realized character, and thus most of what he does is drop exposition.

Instead, we spend most of the time with Ashley Greene's character, and as a warm-blooded male I certainly had no problem with that in general. But alas, as easy on the eyes as she may be, there's only so many times I can see her get scared or question why this or that is happening in the film's first half - I kind of wanted them to get on with it (it being what the trailer showed) and be a little proactive. Or even provide a little more insight into her and Sebastian Stan's characters/relationships, as it's unclear how long they've been together, how they met, etc. Ordinarily it wouldn't matter, but as he hides his past (he was Fenton's partner in the experiment that has unleashed this evil), it keeps us at bay when she discovers it. She seems upset that he had a relationship with one of the other parapsychology students, but without that context, it just makes her sound like an idiot. "Who cares about his old girlfriend when your house is haunted?" the audience will think - but maybe there was more to it that we just didn't get to see. The movie is under 80 minutes without credits, and there are two credited editors (unusual for a non blockbuster), so it wouldn't surprise me in the least if there was some tinkering.

Luckily, it does NOT appear to be the victim of re-shoots. Clearly the first directive would have been "more scares!", but the movie is refreshingly low on "Boo!" moments, and even better - none of them are fake scares. No mirror gags, no one sneaking up on their partner for no reason, etc. The only one that kind of fits the mold is when a neighbor girl bangs on Greene's car window at one point, but the girl really is pissed at her and follows her banging with an ominous message. Since I hate most of that bullshit, I was happy to see that writer/director Todd Lincoln is smart enough to know what a waste of energy these sort of scares are.

Some of the actual scares work pretty good, too. I liked the subtlety behind many, like when Stan notices that a door that swung open still had the deadbolt engaged. There's also another bit where a bureau moves as she is putting away laundry, so she ends up dropping the clothes in midair. Low-key gags like this make up the majority of the first half, until things get really intense and we start seeing more FX driven gags. CGI is thankfully kept to a minimum, and the best bits here are a little more unusual, like when she nails up a door to keep the ghost trapped in a laundry room only to discover she has somehow gotten turned around and has barricaded herself WITH her enemy. One of the ghost's MOs is to fool his victims into seeing things that aren't really there, and while he doesn't use it much, it's a cool little addition to a modern horror villain's usual bag of tricks.

But for every good scare or intriguing element, there's something amiss. Early on they establish that their neighborhood is empty (save for that one aforementioned family), and nothing really comes of it. It's such an unusual idea for a movie of any sort, so it seems weird that they take the time to establish it when there's no payoff. The back-story, laid out in the film's opening sequence, also doesn't seem to have any further information on it - as far as I can tell Greene is never even made fully aware of what they were doing back then or who the guy was. I also noticed that she seemed to be emasculating Stan in some way - she always drives him, she beats him at video games, etc - but if it was intentional, I didn't see much of a reason for it. Again, it's possible that the film was re-edited, so I am curious to see if the DVD will shed some light on these elements.

And DVD is probably where it will find most of its audience, thanks to Warner's borderline limited release and lack of advertising (that cool poster with Greene being swarmed by ghost hands? I have yet to see it anywhere around town). It's a shame, too - the movie was shot (quite wonderfully so) on 35mm by none other than Daniel Pearl, who gave us Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the opening scene's 1973 date apparently a tip of the hat) and, most importantly (to me) the trio of Michael Bay videos for Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell II album. Speaking of music, the score by TomAndAndy is quite good, but it doesn't seem to fit this particular movie - it sounds more like a Bourne or Enemy of the State type soundtrack. The characters are just driving home from Costco (the store being a recurring motif), but according to the soundtrack, they are pursuing an international terrorist who has the detonator for a nuclear bomb.

Ultimately, it's right on the line of being something I'd recommend. If you've seen the trailer, then it's nearly impossible to expect you to enjoy it, given that it gives away most of what the movie sets up as a mystery or a reveal (Drive Angry's trailer did something similar, making it sound like Cage's escape from hell was the plot, as opposed to a twist). But if you can manage to go in blind, I think there's enough there to enjoy, especially if you're tired of the jump-scare driven PG-13 horror films that only offer one legit threat moment for every 10 involve someone backing into their friend and shrieking. Just don't expect to be at the theater very long.

What say you?.

*Instead, I'll just offer the song "Apparitions" from Matthew Goode, as it gets stuck in my head every time I hear the film's title.


My Sucky Teen Romance (2012)

AUGUST 22, 2012


A while back I watched Zombie Girl, a fine documentary about a 12 year old girl named Emily Hagins who was making a feature film. I never did see the actual movie she made (Pathogen), but My Sucky Teen Romance is actually her third feature, and by all accounts her most accomplished yet. While clearly stretching its budget at times, it's a charming, good-natured horror comedy about vampires invading a sci-fi convention, and ultimately just as endearing as Hagins' own story.

The best jokes in the movie were the ones poking fun at Twilight, as our villain is a dead ringer for Edward Cullen, and Twi-fans are depicted as, well, idiots. There's a great bit where Harry Knowles (yes, the real Harry) berates a girl for asking if a real vampire could ever love her, and I loved the sight gag of another girl wandering around the convention tossing sparkles (glitter) on everyone, much to the disgust of our main characters, whose tastes are a bit more refined. The low budget keeps anything specific at bay, so all the comics and such that we see are made up, making the Twilight gags even better as it comes off as the film's only real target.

But Hagins and her team put some effort into fleshing out this world, with a couple of clips of a pretty bad horror movie called Killer Roadkill, about a Were-madillo, as well as a full sequence from a game that looks like a cross between Double Dragon and Ghosts n' Goblins (which, if it existed back in the 8bit days, I would totally play). The heroine and her would-be lover also share a love of a comic book (name escapes me, but I recall it being similar to "Max Payne" for some reason), and it looks like they put a full issue together. I don't know what the budget was (from what I understand it was a crowd-sourced film), but it seems to me that most of it went to creating a con from scratch. That it actually looks more fleshed out and interesting than some actual cons I've been to (Supernatural Convention, I'm looking at you) is damned impressive.

And I don't know if impressed is the right word, but I was certainly surprised by the occasional F-bombs and a couple of kind of gory murders in the film, as I thought it was rated PG. The first time I figured I just heard the guy wrong and he was saying "fugg", but as they continued to pop up at random (including Knowles' offering) I knew it wasn't just my ears. As for the gore, there isn't much in the way of violence, as most of the movie focuses on the budding relationship between its two leads, solving the mystery of who the vampire is, and things like that, but they make em count when they happen.

The cutesy romance stuff was fine. I'm not really the target audience - profanity and occasional gore shots aside this is aimed at the younger set - but there was a breezy, somewhat Hughes-ian charm to it all, and it was great to see actual teens playing the teen characters for a change, not to mention actually talking like them instead of someone trying to approximate and coming up with alien gibberish (My Soul To Take comes to mind). The romance between the two leads seemed to be missing a beat, however - they meet at the store where he works, and then a few minutes later he encounters the bad guy (and bitten off-screen, making it temporarily confusing when we see him as a full vampire later), and the next time they meet they're quite comfortable with each other, as if they were old pals. I don't know if budget kept them from filming every page of the script (it's quite a short movie, just over 75 minutes with credits), but it feels like they are racing to get to the convention, somewhat at the expense of character development. But then again, Hagins cited Scott Pilgrim as an influence, so we should be thankful that the movie is even coherent.

Technically the movie was solid as well. The sound was a bit "quiet" at times, like there wasn't any room tone or whatever, but it was possibly the sound system of the "theater", which was the Cinespace in Hollywood. It's basically just a bar with a converted screening room, an odd place to hold a premiere for a movie where neither the filmmaker nor most of the cast would be able to enter on a regular basis. Anyway, it was well shot and edited, and looked professional, which is more than I can say about movies like Beneath The Mississippi (directed by a guy who has been in the business since before Hagins was even born).

I wouldn't recommend the movie for those who are seeking a full blown horror-comedy in the vein of Fright Night or Suck, but if you enjoy things like Sixteen Candles and/or can appreciate a sweet coming-of-age tale with a little genre enthusiasm thrown in, it should be right up your alley. The DVD is coming soon (and has bonus features), and it's available now on Amazon's demand service, so if you fit that description - enjoy!

What say you?


Devil Woman (1970)

AUGUST 21, 2012


I can always count on Brian Quinn to program something both HMAD-able and enjoyably insane for his monthly Grindhouse nights, and Devil Woman (Cantonese: She yao jing) did not let me down*. While not as full blown insane as some others, it delivered everything I look for in such entries: a nonsensical story, curious translation problems, and a respectful crowd laughing and applauding at all the "right" moments.

The translation issue was a bit unique, however, as this was the rare dubbed Asian film. Usually the prints are subtitled by someone who most likely did not know the English language, but here the dubbers just tried to match the mouths as best as they could, giving every line in the film that had more than 5 syllables a strange cadence. Even Christopher Walken would be puzzled by some of the places where pauses were inserted, and the tone of voice was often wrong as well - questions sound like exclamations, and vice versa. The dubbing actors are also too cheerful - a character explaining that his family being poor is why he feels drawn to another poor kid is delivered with the inflection one might use to tell their best friend that they are getting married. It's not too big of an issue though, since roughly 75% of the movie is either someone calling Devil Woman's name ("Manda!") or muttering after getting their ass kicked.

See, another charming thing about the movie is that it was actually a kung fu movie with some horror stuff thrown in at random, though it doesn't start out that way. A baby is born with snakes growing out of her head, and the family hides her for a while and covers her head when she goes out, which of course gives her a very sheltered, lonely life, as well as the target of ridicule. One day when getting picked on, she uses her snake power (she can control local snakes, not just the ones on her head) to lash back at a bully, which causes his parents and the rest of the townsfolk to form an angry mob. Long story short, her parents are killed, and then 10 years (or so) later she returns to seek revenge.

So you're thinking it'll be like Stanley mixed with The Crow or something, right? Nope. Shortly after coming back and killing one of her tormentors, a Chinese doctor comes to town and instantly makes enemies with pretty much every asshole in town. Thus, most of the movie focuses on his encounters with this gang, who constantly get together, surround him, and then get their asses kicked (but never enough to just quit the gang or sit out the next fight). I'm not huge on this sort of stuff, so maybe this is par for the course, but after the 2nd or 3rd such fight I started getting kind of bored of seeing this guy take down 12-15 guys without ever being hit. At least with Jackie Chan there's some physical comedy built in as he scrambles around and uses props, but this dude just sort of stands in one general spot and kicks or smacks every anonymous goon who comes his way. I never once feared for his safety, so I wish there was more of a balance with the snake scenes.

Because the two plots take FOREVER to converge, to the extent where I wondered if they ever really would or if this was just the Filipino version of Best Defense. The only question is, would the doctor team up with Devil Woman to take down the gangs together, or would she see him as another threat? The answer is... uh, I don't really know. She has one of his enemies under her control, so when he kicks his ass she gets miffed, but otherwise they seemingly have the same goal and no real beef with each other, yet the finale finds him killing her snakes and trying to land a shot on her as well (she keeps teleporting). It's like the reverse of something like Ecks vs. Sever (yeah, I went there) where they think they are enemies and then realize that the only way to win is to join forces. In this movie, they only met because of coincidence and then the movie comes down to their fight. Not the tightest script, is what I'm saying.

There are some really great, entertaining scenes throughout though, so even if it's not perfect it's still worth a look. I particularly liked when the doctor went to a wedding (?) and was forced to take part in a boxing match. He's all like "No, please, I'd rather not" and everyone boos and the other guy sucker punches him, forcing him to defend his honor. Naturally, he kicks the guy's ass, which results in another guy getting into the ring and trying. After a few hits, the guy is like "OK I quit" and casually walks back out of the ring, while the doctor retains his "Everyone just enjoy their day" attitude. It's a delightfully unnecessary but awesome sequence. I also liked when the love interest was being kidnapped by one of the goons - she struggles and keeps brushing up against her dimwit brother, who just assumes she wants his attention and keeps ignoring her so he can focus on the fight happening nearby. There's also an odd bit where the doctor tries to enjoy a cockfight, but can't seem to get a good view of the action. All time-wasting nonsense, sure, but it beats yet another "fight" of no consequence.

As always, the IMDb page for these things tends to be a bit slim, but this time it's not really their fault - the movie itself had no end credits at all, which is why I don't really know anyone's name besides Devil Woman's, because it was said about 9000 times ("Manda!"). I don't even know who played the hero! And it has like 5 other titles (including, yes, Manda The Snake Girl - I am fascinated by the fact that all the titles are about the character who only has like 1/3 of the movie to herself), so good luck tracking it down if you're so inclined. It doesn't appear to be on DVD anyway, but either way I'd suggest just hoping to see it with a crowd - I am sure nearly all of my warm and fuzzies are due to the infectious energy an audience of one can't possibly muster.

What say you?

*He also showed Legend Of The Wolf Woman, but I sadly kept dozing off and thus can't write a proper review. I did see one of the most casual stabbings in cinema history, however, so I feel comfortable recommending it as well.


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