Movie House Massacre (1984)

FEBRUARY 27, 2013

GENRE: CRAP, SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

With only a month or so left, I'm afraid I will have gone through six years of HMADing without finding a single really good horror movie set inside a movie theater (I saw Demons when I was like 15 or something, so it doesn't count). A couple have been OK (Popcorn, Anguish, Midnight Movie), but I had major problems with them - they're just a lot better than the rest: Last Screening, Dead At The Box Office, Midnight Matinee, Nightmare In Blood... the list goes on, and I walked away severely disappointed with them all. And perhaps needless to say, Movie House Massacre (aka Blood Theatre) is no better; in fact it may be the worst of the lot.

But to be fair I kind of expected that, since the film was directed by Rick Sloane, whose film Hobgoblins served as the fodder for one of the better Syfy era episodes of MST3k. Sloane took quite a beating on that one (more than most of the filmmakers in episodes I've seen, in fact), and rightfully so - he's a pretty tone-deaf and terrible director, and here he doesn't even have the benefit of goofy puppets causing chaos. Instead he just has some cheap ghost FX wrapped in what is otherwise a sort-of slasher plot where the staff of a theater that's about to open is getting picked off one by one. There's no mystery to the killer's identity - he's the now ancient manager of the place from the 1930's, when it was a live performance theatre (we see this in the film's prologue, which is also its best sequence by far).

So the plot is typical slasher stuff - what's the problem? Sloane's incompetency, that's what. As the film's writer, producer, director, editor, and cinematographer, there is no question on who is to blame for this nonsense, and no he can't use his budget as an excuse - he's got the location (production value) covered, and while there isn't a single noticeable shot in the entire thing, I've certainly seen worse cinematography. But it's so damn inert that none of it matters - there's a shocking lack of tension or even cohesion from start to finish - and I do mean "finish" as in the very last shot, which shows two cops we've never seen before entering the theater, and then a freeze-frame as we go to credits. And that's not even the most confusing part - early on we see a big crowd for a showing, but then the rest of the movie is about how the theater hasn't even opened yet? The manager leaves for awhile only to be beat up (without seeing any hits) by some random dudes who were either taking down or putting up a sign for a theater-owner convention before he arrived. Later he comes back and offers no explanation for his attack, nor does anyone ask him about it. It almost seems like at one point his disappearance was supposed to be a way for us to think he might be the killer, but we've already seen him several times at that point so that doesn't work.

But that's just one of the many things about this movie that often made me wonder if I was watching the deleted scenes instead of the feature. Passage of time, the location of characters in relation to another... all of these things remain unclear throughout. It took more than half of the movie for me to even understand that the manager's office wasn't located at the movie theater, though it's not my fault - at one point his secretary takes a phone call and walks down to get him INSIDE the theater, so the idea that they're in two locations must have been a decision that came later. Most of the movie consists of people answering phones, walking down hallways, or doors shutting, which is probably for the best when you consider how terrible all of the actors are (one of them is completely redubbed, for whatever reason), so whatever keeps them from reciting Sloane's oft-painfully unfunny dialogue is a good thing.

Oh, yeah, it's supposed to be funny, I guess. The goofy circus-esque music and occasional sound FX are strong hints, as are the bulk of the kills - folks crisping up inside popcorn machines and the like. It's just as inept as a comedy as it is a horror movie - the tone and beats are so off it's mostly just my own optimism convincing me that anything that appeared to be a joke was intentional and not just further incompetence from Sloane. Basically just take the dumbest porno you've ever seen, remove all the sex, toss in a couple of cheapo murder scenes (there's a decapitation that might as well have given simultaneous on-screen credit to whoever assembled the dummy), and you still have a better movie than this. Just rubbish that even the most nostalgic slasher fan couldn't possibly defend.

The movie has three others on the disc; one I've seen (Matthew aka Scream Bloody Murder) and the other two are on the "B side" which scares me into thinking they're actually not as "good" as these (I kind of like Matthew, though it's hardly a classic). Maybe I'll give one a try and just shut it off if it's terrible. You guys shouldn't be dealing with "Crap" entries in these final weeks, and nor should I!

What say you?

P.S. The theater it was shot at has since been turned down. I like to think the owner was embarrassed about possibly being associated with it. It is now a bank.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hollow (2011)

FEBRUARY 26, 2013

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

During the many scenes in Hollow that reminded me of 56 other found footage movies, I started trying to think if there had ever been one where the characters were clinically insane, and how that might make for an interesting take on this overrun "genre". See, the guy with the camera (most of the time) here is going a little nuts, but it might be because of the same supernatural "force" that they've been half-assedly investigating which has caused a bunch of suicides in the area - I'd like to see one that was straight up just a crazy guy doing his thing, because a. it'd be exciting/unnerving to be "in his head" for the whole movie and b. it would explain why he kept filming - he's crazy!

Here they don't waste much time explaining it - an early scene in the dark where someone has a panic attack is filmed in its entirety because the camera's light only works if it's recording (and they don't have flashlights, I guess). So that pretty much justifies any night-set scene for the rest of the movie, though there's still a lot of well lit stuff I couldn't for the life of me figure out why anyone was filming. They weren't making a documentary - the "back-story" that they find out about was just something they stumbled on while already filming bland activities and full conversations. At least if they were purposely setting out to make a movie on this phenomenon, I could forgive all the junk at the top that has no reason to be filmed (like Blair Witch when Heather is filming their marshmallows), but it took at least 20 minutes before anything on-screen resembled a moment someone would have thought to film - which is again why I started wondering about an unstable person taking control.

Anyway, it's not too bad compared to many of the others of late. The human element was far more interesting than usual - camera guy Jimmy has invited along a new girlfriend (Lynne) that he doesn't really care about because he hopes she will drive a wedge between the other couple, Emma and Scott. Seems Jimmy has harbored feelings for Emma for a long time (it's hinted that they fooled around a bit once) and still thinks he has a shot, so it's basically a found footage scary movie version of being in the friend zone for so long that you start killing everyone involved. But they also all do some drugs, so everyone gets to act a bit crazy, and their tangled romantic problems are better than the usual improvised bullshit that passes for dialogue in these things - it's rare I get a good handle on any of them and even get an idea that they've had a real life before the camera began rolling. Indeed, the movie unfortunately begins with the police investigation about their deaths, which I usually dislike because it spoils the suspense, but here it just sort of bummed me out because I actually got the sense of a real person's life ending.

It's also got some legitimately creepy bits, mostly focused on Jimmy's increasingly unhinged behavior and how that affects his camerawork. There are a number of quick bursts of random closeups and the like, as if he was just recording things at random, and also a running "theme" of insects that I never quite understood but enjoyed all the same - army ants are freaky, man. The climax is also a pretty good nail-biter; the two girls are trapped in the car with a slowly dying camera, limiting the amount of time they can turn it on (and thus see - again, the only way to keep the light on) and having no idea where their attacker was. Also, they're pissed at each other because of the "love quadrangle" thing, adding more tension to the sequence. Of course, the "camera is dying" thing is kind of rubbish, since we know it can't die until the movie is over, but it's close enough to working that I'll give it a pass. I was mostly just happy that it's a single camera one for a change, since so many lately ruin a ton of the tension by giving half the cast their own camera.

But that also got me thinking (I thought a lot during this one!) - would this have worked better as a straight narrative? It's basically a small stakes slasher, and I would have gotten into it a lot sooner if I wasn't constantly asking why they were filming. Maybe an approach like Lovely Molly would have been wise, where the camera sequences were used for a certain aspect of the story and never needed to be justified. My boss Devin wrote about this a while ago, that the aesthetic doesn't need to be applied to the entire runtime (even the police investigation at the top, where they are presumably finding the damn tape, is shot in the style), but yet Molly remains one of the very few that take that approach in any meaningful way (ironic, considering the film considered to be one of the first, Cannibal Holocaust, is indeed "half and half"). You'd think with 11,000 of these things being released every week that we'd be seeing more experimentation, but alas, if anything they're all becoming more insular. When I first made the "mockumentary" tag, I was seeing zombie films (Diary of the Dead), killer kids (Home Movie), monster movies (Cloverfield), and even traditional docs like Poughkeepsie Tapes, but lately it's all variations on the "we go somewhere and bad things start happening", and those bad things usually ghosts or something supernatural. And when they DO go outside the norm, like the underrated The Bay, the movie gets dumped (or it seems to start that way, like Grave Encounters 2, only to give up and go back to a bunch of people running around with cameras). I don't get it.

So in short, a front half with a lot of the stuff that you've seen a zillion times paves the way for a more interesting, occasionally tense and dark back half. Not a classic of the genre, but a notch or two above many of the ones I've seen recently. And thus, this week's now obligatory found footage movie has given me enough optimism for the next one! Thanks, Hollow!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Black Water (2007)

FEBRUARY 25, 2013

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

Someday (post HMAD) I will take another look at Open Water, because my memories aren't the warmest and yet I like a lot of the movies that it has inspired, so maybe I'm just remembering it wrong. Black Water is basically the same thing but with a crocodile (just as the filmmaker's next film, The Reef, was Open Water with four people instead of two), and was almost assuredly influenced by it - the characters are trapped in one spot, no one thinks they're missing, and (of course) it's based on a true story, though unlike Open Water's case I can't find the "actual" story it's based on - if anyone can point me in the right direction, I'd be much obliged.

One major difference is the photography - one thing I DO clearly remember about Open Water is that it wasn't the best example of digital video I've ever seen, but this looks pretty terrific, and it's less chaotically shot to boot. One of the best bits in the film was a long unbroken shot of the croc (barely seen as he's beneath the surface) swimming toward one of our heroes as they attempted to get back into their boat, and it works like gangbusters. We know exactly how far apart they are and how fast it's closing in, a far cry from the usual, less successful approach of cutting back and forth between closeups and POVs and whatever the hell else in order to a. make it more "exciting" (fail) and b. hide the rubber or CGI monster.

But they don't have to worry about that here, because this is all real crocodile, with the exception of a few model shots. Utilizing some pretty terrific compositing work (I was actually shocked to discover one shot was pasted together from two elements when I saw it in the making of), we get to see a real croc often in the same shot with the actors, which adds immensely to the film's "minor gem" status. As in those other films, this isn't a giant or monster beast - he's regular sized and simply hungry/territorial, which to me is always scarier than the giant ones anyway. Even with the best CGI or model work in the world, if the thing is 50 feet long and swallowing cars or whatever the hell, it just becomes silly regardless of its technical merits. Here, the realistic threat is enough to forgive the occasional bad shot (oddly, one that could have been faked with forced perspective sticks out as the worst), and even the thing that should have been a handicap - not seeing the villain actually kill any of the victims - ends up being a plus. At one point a guy is pulled under and we're not sure he's dead - until the thing surfaces with the corpse ( a dummy) hanging out of the sides of its jaws. It's such a great shot - like the croc is showing the others "You're next!" (great musical cue here too), and I got pretty spooked, all without seeing any actual violence. Well played!

I also liked the characters - they barely ever bicker and are quite close - it's a guy, his wife, and her sister. They're happily married, the sister isn't seen as a 3rd wheel or anything - it's so refreshing that no one thought having them angry with each other or going through problems would help the movie any. No, we like them and want them to survive, and thus it's sad when they don't. It's also not easy to peg the survivor (if there IS one!), and they also get rid of the most obviously expendable character (their boat guide) pretty much instantly. Indeed, I have no idea how he actually dies - the croc tips their boat and he's just instantly dead, floating in the water face down with no visible wounds (I guess it's possible that he was unconscious and just drowned, though as shot the movie simply skips over his presence until a few minutes have gone by, so it's moot). I kept thinking maybe he'd come back as a (lame) surprise, but later they find his ear, and the rest of his corpse proves to be useful in the 3rd act.

Plus, as I've explained many times (enough to be mocked!), I'm afraid of anything that lives in the water, so it's not hard to get me all tensed up watching these sort of things. The characters have almost no real shelter (they spend a while in a low hanging branch, but Mr O'Dile can probably snatch one of them out of it pretty easily if he wanted), and the boat tips at the 15 minute mark, so the danger is pretty constant. I'm not comparing at all and obviously it is the superior film, but to use an example everyone can understand: Jaws takes a while to get on the water - as someone who's afraid of it, the movie gives me plenty of chances to relax in the first 90 minutes or whatever it is before the Orca sets off (and even then, it's not like Bruce is going to come swimming inside when Quint is telling his Indianapolis story). So for whatever faults this movie has (Jaws has none), my own fear of this sort of situation smoothed them over - if anything they could have ramped it up for folks like me by having leeches or snapper turtles or whatever pose a threat as well.

The disc has a few extra features, nothing mind-blowing unless you count those composite shots that you see "before/after" style on the making of, which otherwise covers the casting, the tough shooting conditions (lot of mud, brief windows where they could shoot for continuity and tide reasons), and all that sort of basic stuff. But it's more informative than the sleepy commentary with producer/writer/directors David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki (the latter of whom was the one behind The Reef; Nerlich seems to have gone into the VFX world), as they cover some of the same ground while also giving glorified narration or talking about basic character traits like "He's more impulsive than her" about two characters that die anyway. I've heard worse, but the making of should pretty much do you just fine, and you can also skip the deleted scenes which add little and no one is on board to explain why they were cut anyway (pacing, I assume). The trailer and spots for other Sony releases from 2007 (30 Days of Night! Boogeyman 2!) round things out - a perfectly serviceable set of bonus material for an above average entry in the mid 00s wave of "realistic" water-borne horror movies.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Nobody Gets Out Alive (2013)

FEBRUARY 24, 2013

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Some fans may not want to admit it, and others will argue, but the "fact" remains that many of the slashers in the "golden era" (post-Halloween, pre-Nightmare on Elm Street) aren't very good. We love them all (well, mostly) because they're all kind of the same and (for my generation) we had access to them during our formative years, so they coast on our nostalgia more than a lot of genres. And they're fun and usually made with a certain degree of enthusiasm, which keeps their oft-cynical reason to exist obscured. However, movies like Nobody Gets Out Alive (aka Down The Road) don't have the benefit of that nostalgia, and their filmmakers are fans of the same movies, so it's easier to spot that they don't have much identity of their own.

I mean, when it comes down to it, this is basically a combo remake of Friday the 13th parts 1 and 3. In the opening scene, a careless teen causes the death of a child, leading their parent to become a local boogeyman of sorts - which is the same thing Mrs. Voorhees was in the first movie (even if it never bothered to tell us that until the final reel), and the characters are pretty closely modeled on the ones from Part 3 - the main girl has had some emotional trauma she's looking to get over, her pal has a kid (though in F13 she was pregnant, this one's a toddler), there's a weirdo no one likes (a la Shelly) who gets them in trouble with a couple of local thugs after an encounter at the convenience store, etc. Once you remove all the Friday stuff (intentional or not; though special thanking series creator Victor Miller for his advice is a sure sign I'm not far off), there isn't much time left in the 78 minute film for its own personality. The killer is slightly more interesting than the typical masked boogeyman (this isn't a whodunit), but that doesn't help much - in some ways it even hurts since he's just some guy with a beard instead of "the guy in the hockey mask", "the guy wearing the miner outfit", etc.

But writer/director Jason Christopher sure knows these movies well, and thus knows what works and what doesn't. The characters aren't really very interesting, but they have enough personality to allow us to tell them apart (you'd be surprised how many I see that can't even get that much right), and there's a SLIGHT bit of sadness when two of them die, because (SPOILER, but come on, it's a slasher movie) one is the mother of a toddler and the guy is the would-be stepdad who plans to propose (and is very loving toward a child that isn't biologically his), so that's a bummer. It's a tricky thing with slashers - we know right off the bat most of them are goners, so you don't want to get too invested in them and thus be bummed out by the outcome since that's what you're kind of there for, but you don't want them to be hateful assholes you WANT to die either - it's not an easy thing to pull off. So Christopher does enough for a couple while letting the others be vague enough to not miss them too much.

I do wish he'd DRAW OUT their demises, however. There's almost zero stalking in the movie - the guy just comes out of nowhere and kills them quickly for the most part; the only time he takes some time is when he explains his back-story to two of them that we know won't live, which is a bit awkward. Shouldn't the final girl be the one he explains everything to? But anyway, spreading them out wouldn't have hurt - I'd say of the 7 characters, four of them are killed or seriously injured within a five minute span, and the low lighting/occasionally murky digital photography (way to go old school! HMPH!*) makes it difficult to see much of what is happening in a few of these brief sequences. At 78 minutes, the movie hardly drags or wears out its welcome - certainly they could have padded things out a bit with some actual suspense rather than quick bursts of violence.

I also had trouble with the ending, which has not one but two twists (one only "revealed" after the credits) that set up a sequel we may not actually get. If I've said it once I've said it 72 times - let US tell you if we want this story to continue, not the other way around. There's a big difference between leaving things open and simply not explaining what the hell is going on, and while it's nowhere near as infuriating as Munger Road's similarly "wait for the next one!" ending, it still left a sour taste in my mouth particularly the post-credits one which may have been hinting at what is always the absolute worst twist in movies ever. I'll let you decide on that one. We also never get the full story on the main girl's past (she's just being let out of an institution run by Clint Howard (!) in the opening scene), which again made me feel like I was watching a prequel to the main event.

But for the most part I liked it just fine, and was relieved it was a straight up slasher rather than some "post" this or that thing that would date it. Cell phones aside, this wouldn't be out of place in that golden era - no one was seemingly "above" these sort of movies or trying to reinvent them. Could they have put a little more effort into having its own identity? Sure, but that's preferable to being too far up its own ass, which is disastrous when the filmmakers aren't up to the task. This is only Christopher's second film (his first he has apparently disowned), so hopefully he's keeping it simple while he learns and will knock it out of the park a bit, er, down the road. And he's got one thing down - I think I spied digital "enhancement" on a few shots (the windshield?), but I'm pretty sure it's mostly practical blood during the kill scenes, which is a sure sign of someone who actually gives a shit. A friend of mine claims that these indie movies are only shot in 20 days and thus they don't have time to deal with that sort of thing on set, but this was only shot in 12, so my friend can suck it. If you're making a horror flick (ESPECIALLY a slasher), then budgeting in the time/money for practical blood should be just as much of a priority as shooting the dialogue and the final battle with the killer or whatever.

There are a couple of supplements, including a commentary featuring Christopher and producer Deven Lobascio, who apparently recorded it at 2:30 in the morning. So their memories are a bit hazy (there's about two full minutes devoted to Christopher trying to remember "The Mackenzie's" from Halloween - he never does) and they dip into silence a few times, but it's a uniquely entertaining track in that they're young and yet honest. Lot of guys their age tend to think they've made the greatest thing in the world, or spend the entire time making excuses, but they point out a couple things that don't work and don't hold back on their opinions, which is nice. This carries over to the making of, in which they recount the rather poor first impression that their lead actress made and show some of their naivety when dealing with the more experienced folks in other departments. And it ends with them winning an award at a film festival, which was nice as it was a couple years ago so I'm glad that the movie is finally seeing release by a respected company (Image) after what must have been a long road. I'm getting older (I'm as old as Bruce Willis was when he made Die Hard! I literally can't wrap my head around that one), so seeing these young guys going out there and getting things done (I swear they're only like 21 or so) was endearing. Good for them. Just next time - don't leave everything for the sequel! Paint yourself in a corner and figure it out later like all the guys you were inspired by had to!

What say you?

*This is a joke - on the making of he lamented not being able to shoot on film, another thing I appreciated.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Dark Skies (2013)

FEBRUARY 23, 2013

GENRE: ALIEN, HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If you have yet to see any of the films from Blumhouse (that would be the Paranormal Activities, Sinister, and Insidious), then Dark Skies will work like gangbusters on you if you're in the mood for an otherworldly take on a typical haunted house flick. For those who HAVE been keeping up with the nearly omnipresent producer, then you might experience more than just a little deja vu, and not counting the lesser PA sequels, all of those other films delivered something a little more inspired than what is offered here.

That's not to say it's BAD - I enjoyed my time watching it and found a lot to like, but I was constantly being bombarded with memories of the other films. The family has financial problems, just like the one in Sinister. The alarm keeps going off, like the one in Insidious (and the family unit is the same - two young boys, one of whom is seemingly of more interest to the "presence" than the other), and the problems inspire the dad to install surveillance cameras not unlike you know what. It's as if Blum instructed writer/director Scott Stewart to pick his favorite bits from their library and wrap them around a movie that's about aliens instead of ghosts. It works, but come on - give us some new plot points!

Indeed, it practically buries its best idea (besides aliens - I'm so sick of ghosts, you guys) - the character played by J.K. Simmons. At first he seems like the usual conspiracy nut/weirdo who sounds ridiculous but turns out to be right, but they wait so long to finally bring him into the movie (I think it's at the hour mark) that there's no way we can doubt him - at this point we're not being led down the wrong path as we were early on (freak occurrences chalked up to the kids playing pranks and fireworks causing birds to get confused and break their migratory patterns). No, by now we're getting answers, so everything he says is never in doubt, and thus it's a shame they couldn't have used him for something a little more exciting than just providing some exposition before exiting the movie again (he appears briefly again in the closing sequence). Not only is Simmons a terrific actor who doesn't make a lot of appearances in genre films (the last was Jennifer's Body, I believe), but I particularly liked his weariness about all the alien stuff - he knows he can't do much about it, so all he CAN do is keep an eye on things and try to let their presence cause minimum disruption to his life (I love that he lives in an apartment building that doesn't allow dogs because they are attuned to the alien presence and thus never stop barking - he owns several cats instead).

It's also got some other interesting ideas in this final half hour, but of course discussing them would be spoiler-y - and the trailer has done enough damage in that department. Most of what it shows and discusses are late game developments; the movie itself doesn't start talking about aliens for quite a while, for example. So let's just talk about how Stewart really nailed making these folks likable and identifiable, to the extent where I legit had a reaction to one of their few high notes during the course of the film, when the husband (Josh Hamilton) gets a job just in the nick of time (he had been laid off some time ago - now the mortgage bill is overdue, he's had to turn off the security system to save some money, etc.) and they celebrate with the first show of passion in the film - it's a really uplifting moment that feels earned, something that's lacking in a lot of movies nowadays where we're always entering this story in the middle (i.e. when they've already gotten the new job - hence the new house and blah blah). Likewise, there's a sweet bit where Keri Russell, trying to sell a not-great house to a family who reminds her of her own, quietly admits to the mom that they could do better for the same price. The older son is a bit of a punk at times, but overall it's one of the more personable, believable families I've seen in a while, and it went a long way with regards to keeping my interest.

Also it takes another page from Insidious - no fake scares! The first time we see an alien is a pretty great jolt, and even what appears to have been a nightmare (booo!) turns out to be a reality (oh, cool!). No people standing behind family members in the mirror, no spooky noises chalked up to a mischievous cat, etc. There aren't a lot of scares in the film, but at least those that are there are genuine and related to the alien. It's a relief.

My only major complaint (VAGUE SPOILER) is that they don't really explain why the aliens take the whole movie to do what they do at the end, as it seems they could have done that right off the bat instead of dicking around making stacks of groceries and giving Russell a rash on her scalp. Simmons mentions something about gathering data, so I guess we can assume that they were testing the family for one reason or another, but that's a lot of maybes since it's all based on a theory in the first place - Simmons doesn't KNOW that's what they're up to. For all he knows they might just be trying to recruit teammates for a Space Jam. I heard a few groans when it ended on an ambiguous note, but I couldn't tell if those folks were mad that it didn't explain this stuff more, or that they were seemingly setting up a sequel.

Or maybe they were just mad because they were now able to check their watches and realized that they were in overtime for their babysitters, since the movie started almost 20 minutes late due to unexplained snafus. Five minutes after the posted start time, the trailers still hadn't begun, and then one of the AMC "we love movies!" or whatever screens froze. A couple minutes later, the screen went blank and the house music came on, which we endured for another 5 minutes or so before more AMC ads (including one that said "Where movies love to play!" - nice irony) kicked in, and then finally the familiar coke ad that paves the way for trailers. It was probably just some dumb mistake up in the booth, but I couldn't help but get worried that the film was about to be canceled - a couple of friends who ventured out to see it at midnight on Thursday night were treated to DCP failures in both New York and here in LA, and there were reports of screenings that were just vanished (ABDUCTED?) from their respective schedules a few hours before their start time. Likewise, it's the first major movie release all year that didn't have 10pm showings the night before at the AMC/Arclight theaters here, so considering that with the fact that it didn't have any traditional press screenings leads me to believe that Dimension was trying to hide the film for some reason (the embargo for those few press that DID see the film was also 6pm on opening day - unheard of). I don't get why - it's a perfectly "OK" movie, the sort of thing critics wouldn't care much about either way (nor would an audience listen to them), and most of my peers agree that it's not that bad at all. This pretty hilarious Indiewire piece from Matt Singer ponders whether or not the movie even really exists - indeed it does, and I'm not sure why Dimension seems to be embarrassed about it. They should be far more concerned about their unasked-for Scary Movie 5 than this harmless, mostly effective little thriller - and kudos to Mr. Stewart on his best work yet.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

Fascination (1979)

FEBRUARY 22, 2013

GENRE: VAMPIRE
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

Last week I promised to watch a Rollin every week, so this is me keeping that promise! I'm a good person! Fascination was chosen over two others due to being the shortest, but I had also heard that it was one of his more accessible films, which is always a plus for me. It's Friday, I don't want to think too much - just enjoy the sights and story and maybe go "Whoa...." (but not "WHOA!" Joey Lawrence style) at a kill or two. I'm a simple guy.

That said, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that I enjoyed the nudity and softcore girl on girl scenes in this, and I can't really feel like a pig for saying so, as that's pretty much all there is to the movie, so to dislike that element is basically to dislike the movie as a whole. The plot's pretty damn thin - a thief on the run from other thieves breaks into a chateau which houses a pair of mysterious ladies who are waiting for the rest of their friends to show up for some sort of ritual... and that's about it. Unless you REALLY love thinly explained gold heist plots or history lessons about how folks treated anemia back in 1905, there isn't much here beyond very attractive women disrobing (or wearing see-thru robes) and occasionally REALLY enjoying one another's company. There are a couple of straight sex scenes as well, but even those tend to ignore the male part of the equation and focus on the ladies. It's not exactly a porno, but it's closer to that than a horror film.

However, those brief horror bits work terrific, particularly when the one girl, wearing an unlaced black robe charges around in wonderfully contrasted daylight toward a victim with a giant-ass sickle (a shot from this makes the cover of the newest release from Redemption, albeit without the nudity). It's not the first violent moment in the film, but it's certainly the most iconic and eye-catching, to the extent that even if you WERE turned off by the lesbian stuff, it would be enough to keep you in the movie's corner for a little while longer. I also liked the group devouring one girl near the end, another horrific image that probably worked better because the movie had so few of them.

It's also got some great dialogue (or the world's most ambitious subtitler). I loved the girls messing with their would-be captor early on by pretending to be typically frightened and helpless damsels, all the while barely able to keep from laughing since they know he poses exactly zero threat. And I giggled like an idiot for like 4 minutes when the head "vampire" asked the guy if she could examine him like she would a horse - HOT. Such moments make up for clunky bits like how the setting is introduced, by a guy explaining that the now outdated practice of drinking ox blood to cure anemia is "how we do things here in 1905" - just put a title card up!

Another thing I enjoyed was the (admittedly slim) possibility that Rollin was inspired by Alien Prey, an oddball gem from Norman J. Warren that was released a year prior to this. Both films feature a potentially dangerous guy who happens upon a pair of isolated lesbians and drives a wedge between them, which can't be a plot that comes to a lot of minds out of thin air. Obviously things go different from there, but in a way that's almost a detriment - I think Fascination worked better when it was just the three characters (plus the thieves, a perfectly decent enough diversion), and loses steam once the other ladies show up - perhaps if Rollin WAS inspired by Prey in some way, he might have had an even better film if he followed its lead a bit more closely and kept it more contained.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed this odd little film. The horror element wasn't very extensive, but I wasn't expecting it to be - and it's certainly more in line with my notion of what a Jean Rollin film is like than last week's Zombie Lake, so there's something. Onward! Next week: Night of the Hunted!

What say you?

P.S. WARNING - trailer is NSFW.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Grave Encounters 2 (2012)

FEBRUARY 21, 2013

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, MOCKUMENTARY
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

By my count, Grave Encounters 2 is the 65th "mockumentary" film I've watched for the site, and all but a couple of them are what we'd call "Found Footage" movies, so I think you can take my word for it when I say that a lot of these movies tend to blend together after a while, since it's such a restrictive approach and practically REQUIRES a lengthy section of "nothing happening". Indeed, my biggest problem with the first film was that I had trouble finding anything new to it that I hadn't already seen in a couple of other movies, and that was a year and change ago - now I've seen even MORE films that basically have the same plot (ghost hunting teams and institutions). And that's why, for all its faults, I didn't have much of a problem with the sequel, because they were at least putting some effort into mixing things up a bit.

For starters, as with Blair Witch 2 (which was a traditionally shot film with a few camera sequences), this takes place in the real world where Grave Encounters was just a movie - and not a well-loved one at that. Kudos to the filmmakers for starting things off with a selection of (real?) Youtube reviews of their first movie, which are both positive and negative (that they honestly let someone trash the ending was a nice touch, for me), before introducing our lead character, an uber-fan who like I do with Community or Armageddon or whatever, annoys his friends by talking about the movie all the time. But he's more than a fan - he's also convinced that the movie is real, because no one has heard from the actors since (not true for the most part - but for the 1-2 leads that HAVEN'T: ouch!) and no one can find the shooting location and blah blah blah. The script by the "Vicious Brothers" (STOP WITH THIS SHIT, seriously! You're not brothers, you're not vicious, and it was stupid enough with the other guys calling themselves the "Butcher Brothers". So hacky.) stretches this stuff to the breaking point, but just when I was about to tell the movie to fuck itself, it moved on to something interesting - he goes to see the mother of one of the actors, who thinks he's still there filming the movie.

Plus he's also shooting his own horror movie, and goes to see the producer of the first who admits the first film was real footage and that the "Vicious Brothers" are just PAs that they paid to do press, so it's got this goofy conspiracy to enjoy, and actually does a better job at blurring the lines between movie world and our world than Blair Witch 2 did. In that one, as here, the fans knew it was a movie, and there was plenty of evidence proving it WAS (like the Newsweek cover), but then they'd say it was a real thing whenever the plot demanded it. Here, they stick with this notion that it was real for the entire time, and thus becomes a true sequel in a roundabout way (meaning, for you the rational thinking viewer, this one isn't actually more "real" than the original - both exist in the movie world). Also, with all of this stuff, it keeps it from being a retread - it takes a while for them to end up in the hospital and start recycling bits from it.

And even this stuff works fine; I was actually surprised to discover that the original DID leave an impression on me, as I instantly recognized key locations (like the hallway with that big window) despite the fact that I've seen around 600 movies since then - my memory can only retain so much info about this sort of thing! It's also fairly hectic as soon as they get there - a security guard shows up and gives them shit (more conspiracy stuff), one of their guys disappears almost instantly, etc. They're also not "trapped" - after 15-20 minutes they are able to escape and check into a hotel, only (SPOILER) to discover that the hotel elevator opens back into the hospital. As with the first, there's something screwy with the time/space continuum, so they do a good job of retaining that idea without actually recycling the same sort of scenes.

But unfortunately it exacerbates the problem with the first, which is that it gets so "out there" that it loses the ability to scare, and new director John Poliquin seems to hate the found footage approach, or at least wants to ignore it as much as possible. Taking a page from Chronicle, huge chunks of the 3rd act are filmed with cameras that are just floating around on their own, giving the big fight at the end a cinematic flair not possible if the participants had at least one hand tied up holding a camera. But if you're wondering why they don't just put the cameras down, the movie has you covered in the best most idiotic/awesome way possible - I actually paused the movie and took a break because I was ready to shit myself. As with 813563 other movies of this type, eventually there's a Ouija board scene, and as always it will do something creepy that sets the next plot point in motion. However this is a first - the message they get is, wait for it... "FILM EVERYTHING!" Out of all these stupid movies I've seen, that is by far the most inspired (albeit ridiculous) explanation I've heard for why they keep filming. The Ouija told them to do so. Amazing.

But it's pretty goddamn stupid, and when you add in the mumbo-jumbo and increased use of CGI effects, it just starts to resemble a regular, kind of silly supernatural horror movie like The Covenant or something. Worse, neither of the two male leads have proven to be likable heroes, making it hard to get invested in the outcome or care much if either of them survive. There's also a big plot twist I won't spoil regarding the fate of one of the characters from the original, but this also includes some confusion that's not worth sorting out. Being as vague as possible here - I didn't get the "nine years" thing? I'm sure there was a line or two explaining it (the audio was soft at times so I missed a few lines until I finally just turned on the subtitles), but does it also explain why the guys nine years ago had access to modern day equipment in 2002?

So it doesn't totally work, and I can see why some folks hate on it (I got a couple of "OOF. Good luck!" type reactions when I said it was today's HMAD), but I admire that they tried to avoid the "same old shit" approach of the Paranormal Activity movies while also not going too far out of the wheelhouse like Blair Witch 2 (which I like, but again, can see why it's not exactly a treasured sequel in many circles). After seeing so many of these movies where no one is even trying, the presence of effort (and with the horrid/similar Greystone Park fresh in my mind) it was enough to more or less satisfy me. Plus a character takes a shot at Apollo 18, so that's another way to win me over.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Axed (2012)

FEBRUARY 20, 2013

GENRE: COMEDIC, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

A while back I made the point that the reason you don't see too many Thanksgiving based horror movies is because that's a more family-centric holiday, and not prone to early parties (with friends) like some other holidays - a group of friends is fine, but no one wants to see a whole family get hacked up or terrorized. So when I DO see one of those family-based horror films, even if they're hitting the beats of every other movie in its respective sub-genre, I'm automatically a bit more interested. Such is the case with Axed, an imperfect film to be sure, but one that takes the ballsy approach of centering the entire thing on a four person family where the patriarch has gone insane.

After losing his job, a guy named Kurt takes his wife and two teenaged children on a surprise holiday, letting the kids skip school and forcing the wife to call in sick as they drive out to the countryside to a secret location. Of course, his intentions aren't so noble, and despite his attempts to pretend that everything was fine and he was trying to make up for lost time, he's actually brought them there to terrorize them along with his now ex-boss, who he believes was sleeping with his wife. Now, we know the boss is a goner, but what makes the film work is the possibility that he may actually go through with it and kill his own children. I didn't doubt for a second that he would, especially once it's revealed that he has non-fatherly designs on his daughter (he buys her crotchless panties as a "gift"), and thus I remained engaged until the end. Ordinarily they would toss in some other characters to provide the body count while avoiding the taboo of a guy killing his own son or whatever, but Axed only does that once and gets it over with quick, and (SPOILER) he does kill one of his own with plenty of runtime left, enhancing the suspense since he seems to hate everyone equally.

It's also got a nice, very dark sense of humor, which also kept me entertained and helped smooth over a few of its rough spots. Dad's got some nasty replies to their "dumb" questions, and I actually applauded when he explained his motives for wanting to kill them when (SPOILER) he revealed he was going to kill himself as well. And I liked that the teenaged children got along pretty well, offering little jabs at their overbearing father when he's out of earshot in a "misery loves company" kind of way - it's endearing. I never got a handle on the mom though; while the teens had their own teenager problems, her faults were mainly due to her just being kind of a bad person as well, and thus I didn't get to warm as much to her as I did the children.

Otherwise, the only problem was a bit more damaging - Dad's an asshole from the second we meet him, which makes his "Hey let's go have fun!" act completely transparent to us (though his family buys it), killing some of the suspense over his true plans. We see him freak out at the office, treat his family like shit at breakfast, and ten suddenly on the drive to school he starts acting like Clark Griswold. And it keeps going - they arrive, and he's got flowers for the wife and dinner planned and wants to go on a hike, etc, etc - and the whole time I'm sitting there wondering why they're falling for it. Perhaps leaving the work stuff as a flashback and working the breakfast table scene's points into the narrative once they've arrived would have helped matters? I felt there was like a 20 minute section of the film where I was too far ahead of the protagonists, which stings when there's only three of them (only six people appear in the entire movie).

Being a micro-budgeted independent film, it's hardly the best looking movie in the world, but I've seen worse, and director Ryan Driscoll (who also wrote and produced) thankfully keeps his camera locked off and doesn't try to get too flashy - digital look aside, it's very old-school and for that I am thankful (I think I'm still experiencing motion sickness from I Am The Ripper), and likewise he uses real fake blood for the most part - I think I caught one digital splatter but otherwise it's the good stuff, and most characters are covered in it by the end. And it means nothing but I liked the end credits, set over gray, overcast British landscapes, fitting the film nicely. He might want to consider a co-writer on future projects, but he's got the chops on the visual side of things.

The film is being released via a new series called Fangoria Presents, which will have a new title about once a month and be available on DVD and through OnDemand services. The retail releases will include a mini-issue of the magazine featuring interviews with the folks behind a few of the titles (Driscoll is interviewed for Axed, for example), as well as comic style art and packaging that encourages collecting them all (they're numbered - this is Vol 1, No 02 as Inhuman Resources came first - I'll be watching it soon!). The art is pretty eye catching and will definitely stick out in a sea of horror movie covers featuring a girl being dragged along the ground, and I think the mini-mag is a great idea (though I wish it was dedicated to that particular movie). The official site for the titles is HERE - so try to keep an eye out for the next releases. With the After Dark Horrorfest and Ghost House Underground series seemingly over and done with, I'm glad Fango (whose "Frightfest" series offered one of the best crop of titles) is keeping the tradition alive, not to mention bringing foreign flicks to the States - Axed is British, Resources is from Australia, and the next title (Sin Reaper) is a German production. Viva la foreign!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970)

FEBRUARY 19, 2013

GENRE: HERO KILLER, ITALIAN
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

Not sure why I had skipped Hatchet For The Honeymoon (Italian: Il rosso segno della follia) for so long - it's been on Instant for a while, and while I'm not a die hard Bava fan I will certainly find his stuff more interesting than any of the anonymous Syfy monster movies or low-budget Hostel wannabes I've watched since the last time I dipped into the maestro's filmography (Planet of the Vampires, back in 2010!). Plus this one bordered on slasher territory, which would entice me more than something more supernaturally driven - what the hell was my problem?

Luckily it was worth the wait. It starts off a bit slow and un-involving, but it picks up considerably around the halfway point when our murderous "hero" (spoiler) offs his wife and is then haunted by her ghost. Or is he? In a fun twist, everyone else seems to be able to see her, even though he does not and is pretty sure he killed her. I never read (nor will I) "American Psycho", so I don't know if the film adaptation was taking directly from it or not, but either way this had to be an influence or one or both of them, and the two would make for a fine double feature as they have similar plots but couldn't be more different visually - Bava's usual rich colors are a stark contrast to the cold/sterile look of that film. And this is the superior of the two, because he doesn't kill a homeless guy's dog.

I was also charmed a bit by the "mystery" built into his killings - he was actually trying to unlock a memory about his childhood, and found that killing women in bridal dresses was the only way to get flashes of what happened. It's not too hard to figure out, but it's kind of amusing that you're almost rooting for him to kill another innocent lady so he could get to the bottom of this other thing. If he was just killing at random for no reason (like American Psycho) it would lose my interest fast, but that and the fun psychological bent in the 2nd half made it a winner.

I do wish the police element was more interesting, however. There's a cop who pretty much knows that he's a serial killer (the dope has killed six women with ties to his model agency - nice way to avoid suspicion, ya goon), and thus just keeps showing up with more evidence that you'd think would be enough to secure a warrant, but alas he seems content to just hang out and wait for John to screw up, I guess. There's a bit of a twist toward the end that helps explain it, but it doesn't change the fact that a lot of it feels like padding. I do like that the cop watches a horror movie that John claims was the source of the loud screams a neighbor heard to prove that he was lying because "no one had screamed in the movie yet". I just picture him going home, his wife is like "How was your day?" and his son wants him to play catch, but he's gotta sit there and watch Black Sabbath (which is what the movie was, though it's never named so I think it's just supposed to be a fun visual joke to represent a generic horror film) and note where the screams are so he can figure out if an alibi checks out. For a cop that diligent you think he'd be able to nab this guy by now, but oh well.

Stephen Forsyth was a pretty great fit for this sort of role, and I was bummed to discover that this was his last movie. Per the IMDb (grain of salt) he didn't like the roles he was getting and thus quit acting and became a music composer - a shame since he's actually quite good here and it should have paved the way for better work. He's charming and likable despite being a killer, and he's got this slight Clint Eastwood flair to him that serves him quite nicely. At one point he point blank asks a girl at a club if she wants to go home with him, and it's only the fact that she can see his dead wife's ghost hanging around that seems to be stopping her - he's THAT alluring! Plus he's wonderfully dry in his delivery about his Oedipus complex and such - it's a pretty delightful role; the sort of thing that a Bradley Cooper or Ryan Reynolds would probably jump at the chance to play nowadays.

Someday I gotta get Tim Lucas' book on Bava and go through his entire filmography (not just the horror stuff, which is what I've been limited to thus far). Apparently this was his most personal film, but I know nothing about him so that was lost on me, and so far almost all of his movies have been the types where I'd rather just watch and enjoy rather than write about (hence the brief-ish review). Plus I should be seeing more Italian westerns anyway, so that'd be a good place to start. It's all about context!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

I Am The Ripper (2004)

FEBRUARY 18, 2013

GENRE: SLASHER, SUPERNATURAL, WEIRD
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

As horrible as I Am The Ripper was, I got through it armed with the knowledge that it will most likely be the last time I force myself to watch such a terrible movie. With only about six weeks left (sorry!) at HMAD I find myself being choosier, and with lots of Hollywood stuff and review discs on the way I should more or less be covered and thus not have to dig deep into Netflix when I'm between disc rentals. So grats, I Am The Ripper - barring unforeseen circumstances or Evil Dead somehow being a disaster, you'll be the last movie that makes me regret doing this!

And since it was just added to Instant, it'll probably be there for a while, so if you're compelled to ask "Why are you quitting?", just go watch any five minute chunk of this thing and then see if you still don't understand why I'd like to not spend more of my life watching this sort of rubbish. See, I've only ever shut off one movie in HMAD history, and it's something that I don't want to repeat - that bar has been set and thus I have to ask myself "Is this worse than that?" (I'll keep the title to myself, thanks - trust me, it's nothing you've even heard of anyway). And if the answer is no, and it always is, I press on - and besides, by the time I realize there's no hope for the movie I've already spent 30-40 minutes on it, so I might as well just finish it and not let my effort be in vain, since I'd still have to watch something else anyway.

So what makes this such a horrid disaster? Mostly everything. It took a mere 30 seconds for me to get worried, as the low-grade camera was zooming in and out, jerking around, etc as it depicted a brash guy telling his friend that he should be able to get laid more often than he does. After a bit of this they arrive at their destination: a house party filled with what appears to be the drunken members of the local university's film program. Two guys argue about Alien vs. Predator, a girl tells a guy about Tales from the Crypt, another recaps a Dolph Lundgren movie... that plus the apartment is adorned with posters for such classics as 13th Warrior and Pearl Harbor. And this whole time, the camera keeps spinning around and zooming in and out of people's faces before speed-ramping over to another conversation. It's clear that writer/director Fran├žois Gaillard watched the party scene from Irreversible about 49 times and thought "Yeah, I can do that", but honestly I'd rather watch that grueling rape scene for 3 hours straight before submitting myself to a single moment of this movie again.

Anyway, things start to improve a few minutes later when a skull-masked killer shows up and dispatches one of the guests. I don't know if it could be done, but it would be interesting to see someone attempt a slasher movie set entirely in a cramped apartment party (sort of like the finale of Entrance, but for a whole movie), which is what I thought this was going to be. However, he wipes out most of the guests pretty quickly, and then the movie's real plot of warring angels begins - the survivor of the massacre is invited to a wrestling match with Death and gets 24 hours to prepare, only to get sucked into some sort of hell on earth nonsense that provides an excuse for endless shooutouts and hand-to-hand combat sequences cribbed from a 3rd rate Matrix ripoff circa 2002. I will admit, some of the stunt work is actually impressive considering the film's micro-budget, but it's wasted on Gaillard's hyperactive camera and incoherent script - at no point did I ever have a clear idea of why anyone was fighting or what they wanted to accomplish. Plus, they all keep shooting at each other even though it seems that bullets can't harm them (they're all angels of death or whatever the hell), rendering the scenes pointless along with confusing and ugly.

By the time the movie stopped cold to re-explain what was actually one of the few coherent plot points in the entire movie (that Death had challenged him to a wrestling match - I said coherent, not "intelligent"), I gave up all hope, which was unfortunate as there was still another 50 minutes to go. More unnecessary, stakes-free battles, amateurish dialogue/acting, nonsensical plot turns (at one point there's a hooded figure battling in a forest, which is either a flashback or a dream - even for this movie that one threw me for a loop), and hideous cinematography awaited! Fuck, even the goddamn credits were confusing, with a bunch of names tossed together haphazardly and no indication of who they played, plus a few where it seems that they didn't have the first (or last?) name.

Now, to be fair, Gaillard was clearly aiming at something really complicated and with a lot of mythology; at times it felt like the overstuffed attempt at adapting a lengthy video game or comic series (Hellblazer may have been an influence as well), and I like that he used a typical slasher to springboard into something far more elaborate. But it's just too much to ask an audience to try to follow all of this stuff as the camera spins and zooms around in a manner that might make the Crank guys sick, and with every plot scene raced through in order to get to the next John Woo wannabe gunfight (there are at least 3 Mexican standoff scenes). There's a chance this might be an interesting movie, but it needs a budget, a great script, and a skilled filmmaker to pull it off - otherwise it's just, well, the mess that it is. If Gaillard was a 13 year old with a lot of gusto, then kudos to him for getting the movie finished, otherwise this is a bit embarrassing even by no-budget standards - those Decrepit Crypt movies were just as shoddy but at least I could follow the damn things without getting a headache. Jesus, what a nightmare.

I now propose the same challenge I offered my Twitter followers - load it up on Netflix (or Amazon Prime) and see how far you can make it before wanting to shut it off. Did I mention it has freeze-frames to introduce characters?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968)

FEBRUARY 17, 2013

GENRE: ALIEN, POSSESSION
SOURCE: STREAMING (HULU)

As with yesterday's Fiend Without A Face, I took advantage of Hulu's free Criterion weekend to watch a movie I can't afford to buy due to the company's ridiculous pricing. But actually, for them Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell is a bit of a steal, since it only comes in a boxed set with 3 other movies and retails for about 60, or 15 a movie (less on Amazon). None of the movies have any extras of note, however, so you're not getting any extra value, and for that price you can get 150 movies from Mill Creek! Not a single Criterion release will entertain you as much as Cathy's Curse.

Goke is a Tarantino favorite (the ridiculous red lighting in the Bride's flight to Japan in Kill Bill was inspired from this film), but I have to wonder if it's an influence on Carpenter as well, as it follows one of his favorite scenarios - a bunch of folks trapped somewhere and facing off against a common enemy. In this case they are the passengers on a commercial airliner that has the absolute worst luck in the world: there's a hijacker, a terrorist with a bomb, and birds keep hitting the windows, smearing blood on the windows and rightfully freaking everyone out. It's basically a relief when the aliens show up and cause the plane to crash (quite safely! A few people die as a result but as depicted via miniature, it's very smooth and efficient, all things considered), because I suspect another 5 minutes in the air would have produced 2-3 MORE problems for the flight crew to deal with; maybe they were out of coffee too.

It's not long after they crash that the aliens attack, though they're helped by the constant panic of the passengers. The hijacker guy takes a hostage and runs off (where?), discovering the alien in the process and being infected. It basically turns him into a vampire/zombie thing with a penchant for biting necks, but unfortunately it doesn't "spread" like a zombie movie - he's our only villain until the final reel. Apparently, the actor had to leave the production and thus the alien finally exits his body and infects a new host, letting us see the cool effect (and a decent dummy head) of the alien oozing out of the vertical slit on the hijacker's face. It sort of looks like silver toothpaste as it oozes out, and then takes a bit of a Blob like appearance as it crawls around looking for a new victim - it's a shame we see the effect so sparingly. Most of the action actually stems from avalanches, which occur quite regularly - it's like the earthquakes in New Nightmare where I had to wonder if someone behind the scenes was out to launch an inexplicable smear campaign against the damn things.

Of course, if everyone just stayed in the plane (or went in the opposite direction from the infected hijacker, who doesn't seem to be blessed with any super-speed as a result) the movie would be over, so in the fine tradition of Stagecoach and (the same year's) Night of the Living Dead, our protagonists fight each other more than they do the damn alien. Most of the drama comes from a politician who is also an incredible asshole, making even Cooper from NOTLD look noble at times. He berates everyone, constantly complains that he's important and thus should be rescued, bangs his friend's wife (yes, on the plane), etc. And there's no water, so when he drinks whiskey and burns his throat, he complains even more. I don't know if he's a parody of any actual politician of the time, but either director Hajime Sat├┤ or one of the screenwriters definitely didn't think too highly of his type - there isn't a single moment in the movie where he's even remotely pleasant or humane.

His buddy is no better; he produces a canteen of water and then pours it out to get back at him, as if he was the ONLY one on the plane that needed it. They also have a lengthy argument about a weapons contract that the politician was supposed to help secure for the other guy, and while it goes on forever it actually plays into the alien's motive - humans are so busy trying to kill each other that they realized that their goal of wiping us out was going to be easier than originally planned. I'd say it's like in Halo 4 when you see the Prometheans fighting the Covenant and you just hang back for a bit and let them weaken/kill one another for a while before swooping in to take down the rest, but that would make you the genocidal alien villain, so that's no good.

The rest of the group is more civil; it's these two and the other "villains" that cause all the problems and keep everyone on edge. It's a pretty good mix; there's the noble pilot, a helpful flight attendant (a "stewardess", back in the day), a scientist that will of course explain everything, an American widow whose husband was killed in Vietnam (more war backdrop - there's even a couple of red-tinted photo montages of war atrocities), the weapon manufacturer's wife, etc. The co-pilot probably would have survived too, but he hilariously just keeps standing up in the cockpit when things start getting hairy instead of, you know, sitting down and being the goddamn co-pilot. At first I was kind of disappointed that the hijacker became the alien villain, since it might have been more interesting to send off some anonymous passenger and force him to become part of the group, but once I saw how much they all fought without him it's probably for the best. Hell, even the American lady gets into arguments and she doesn't even speak the same language.

Speaking of which, this is a bit sloppy - sometimes they understand her and vice versa (she even understands the alien when he lays down his plan), other times a translation is required. And then only a couple of her lines are subtitled in Japanese while most are not - where do they draw the line? And if her husband was killed in Vietnam (she's got his belongings) why was she flying out of Japan? Seems like they added in an American to add another problem (language barrier) and get some more war talk in there, but forgot to consider the specifics or do it logically. It's all good though; I enjoyed the war allegory, and even though it was tenuous I don't think enough horror movies use Vietnam as a backdrop - World War II gets all the glory!

And that's my only complaint, really - it can be a bit slow at times, but I enjoyed this one a lot. It's by far the most coherent Japanese horror film I've ever seen (not counting Godzilla sequels) and despite the goofy alien blob monster it still had something to say, and the ending is a knockout. Plus it looks gorgeous, and restored my faith in subtitles after the Guard Post debacle. Winner all around!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fiend Without A Face (1958)

FEBRUARY 16, 2013

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, MONSTER
SOURCE: STREAMING (HULU)

Now THIS is how you make a standard movie with a surprise ending! After yesterday's Mark Of The Vampire, which was a standard "old dark house" movie for 50 minutes and then sprung a silly twist on us that rendered half of the movie illogical, Fiend Without A Face is likewise a pretty generic 50s atomic horror film for a while, only to deliver a final reel filled with incredible FX and even a heaping of gore, something I didn't even think existed yet. I was actually kind of blown away.

In fact I'm still trying to decide whether or not the fairly basic first hour was what made the end so impressive, or if it was just icing on the cake in hindsight. As I was watching, I wasn't DISLIKING it by any means, but it felt like a template movie where they forgot to plug in the specifics, as everything was going exactly as you'd expect it to: the handsome army guy hero meeting a girl involved with the old scientist that will eventually explain everything, the public fears about radiation and nuclear such that mirror pretty much every 50s horror/sci-fi movie... I felt like I had seen a lot of it before, and started worrying about what I could write that I hadn't SAID before.

I also began wondering why this was in the Criterion collection, as it didn't seem to be a particularly great example of this sort of movie, or a "game-changer" in any way (though I was impressed with the fact that it was a British production - never once caught on! Figured it was actually Manitoba, where the film is set). And then two things happened, the first being the pretty cool explanation for the invisible force that had been killing anonymous supporting characters that no one cared about anyway. Seems our well-meaning scientist was working on developing/controlling telekinesis, and even succeeded - but then the energy created by it melded with the radiation to become its own free-thinking force - awesome! On that note, it's a bit misleading to label this a "mad scientist" movie - he means no harm and remains a good guy throughout. More like "mad science" but it's too late to start changing the tags now.

Anyway, it gets even better. The victims were all missing their brains and spinal cords, and at one point (for reasons I either missed or simply weren't explained) they start turning visible, so you have all these brains with long tails (the spines, though they look nothing like them), and even a few feelers/tentacle things for good measure. AND, as I mentioned, they're stop-motion animated! All of a sudden it becomes a visual feast that even Ray Harryhausen might be impressed by, as the brains make their way around by pull/dragging like snails, smash through boards and windows, etc. Plus, our heroes are mostly army guys and thus have firearms, so they start blowing them away, with geysers of bloods and a truly gross gurgling sound accompanying every kill. The humans die pretty bloodlessly, but even still I was astonished to see the FX work and "splatter" in a movie from 1958.

They do botch one thing though - a major character practically dies off-screen, and no one seems to care much. "Poor guy..." (or something along those lines) is all anyone says about it, but his significance to the story deserved a more elaborate death scene - I'm not even sure the hero (who is elsewhere at the time) is ever even aware that the guy is dead. I also wish one of the brains would have followed the hero as he went to the base to blow up some radiation equipment in order to cut off their "power supply" - he has it a bit too easy, and since he's so far away from the others (who are holed up in a house in another part of town - another character had even pointed out that it was "out of the way" from the base) it doesn't have much urgency or suspense - there's nothing to keep him from succeeding.

Minor complaint though; the movie as a whole works pretty great as both a fine example of a "standard" in the 50s atomic monster movie race, and as a showcase for the glory days when FX work meant a bunch of guys ON SET figuring things out and actually interacting with the actors. And on that level I'm kind of bummed I opted to watch via Hulu (who have put up their streaming Criterion collection for free this weekend, presumably to attract folks into upgrading to Hulu Plus), as the physical disc apparently has a pretty great commentary with the producer, moderated by Tom Weaver, who provided a great (solo) track for Wolf Man, which means this one's probably even better with one of the filmmakers on hand. Add in the other extras and a superior image (and a viewing not interrupted by ads for Citibank and White House Down), and you have another example of why physical media will always be the superior and desired format in my eyes - if only I could afford to buy Criterion discs on a regular basis! This one retails for 39.99, which is absolutely insane for a single movie (on standard def no less!), but the next time they're doing one of their 50% off sales at Barnes & Noble, I might be tempted to pick it up - as should you.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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