Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fool's Views (3/7 – 3/20)

Hello, friends!

These two weeks’ views represent programming from Chicago’s own Sci-Fi Spectacular, Kitley’s monthly Army assignments, and an untended Netflix queue which spouted a few random pics that I had completely forgotten I had added to it lo those many months ago. I’m not complaining in the slightest, because treasures were unearthed and enjoyed to their fullest.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.


Blob, The (1988)
(2nd viewing) d. Russell, Chuck
Kevin Dillion and Shawnee Smith head up an eclectic, enjoyable cast who must do battle with an updated, gorier version of the 1958 gelatinous menace from space. Having enjoyed success on the previous year’s collaboration on Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors, co-scripters Russell and Frank Darabont reunite, and they seem to relish every opportunity to develop their characters such that when the oopy goopy monster rolls over them, there is a serious sense of loss. (Case in point: Who didn’t want sheriff Jeffrey DeMunn and waitress Candy Clark to get together?) Blob effects designed by Lyle Conway, and gruesome makeup mayhem courtesy of Tony Gardner (Return of the Living Dead, among others). As far as pure enjoyment goes, I still consider this a dead heat between the original (meant as a complement), and the two make for a dandy double feature.

Crater Lake Monster, The (1977) (1st viewing) d. Stromberg, William R.
Despite Dave Allen’s enjoyable stop-motion effects, this narcolepsy-inducing clunker about an awakened prehistoric beastie is agonizingly slow and populated with barely-there characters (one of whom babbles about the beauty of the moon even as she squints into the sun). The excruciating attempts at comedy, most oft served up by a pair of backwoods boat-rental tycoons, are more terrifying than any dino munching. Oh, and let’s not forget the liquor store murder spree/morality lesson vignette. Tedious on a Jurassic level.

Critters 2 (1988) (1st viewing) d. Garris, Mick
Rapture, I have seen thy face and thy face is Critters 2. I’d chalk it up to low expectations, except for how genuinely awesome this shapeshifting, space furball-rolling, Gremlins-aping bonkersfest is. Gory, goofy, joyously delirious and high-spirited, with a game and willing cast – including the oft-nude Roxanne Kernohan, the stuff of which male adolescent fantasies are made – fleeing the Chiodo Brothers’ lively animatronic creations. Note to co-screenwriter/director Mick Garris (whose feature directing debut this was): forget the Stephen King miniseries gravy train, forget Masters of Horror, you need to be doing more horror/comedy.

Day the World Ended, The (1955) (2nd viewing) d. Corman, Roger
Gritty low-budget post-apocalyptic character study... Ha! Almost wrote that with a straight face. Producer/director Roger Corman takes his first official stab at bargain basement sci-fi/horror (barring his uncredited shooting on Beast of a Million Eyes), focusing on a group of WWIII survivors holed up at a secluded cabin. As they interact, one can practically see the “type” sign over each of their heads – Stalwart hero (Richard Denning), good girl (Louise Maddison), sneering villain (Mike “Touch” Connors), heart o’ gold stripper (Adele Jergens) and gruff patriarch (Paul Birch) – and things play out pretty much as you’d expect in any worthwhile drive-in melodrama. What you might not be expecting is the sheer audacity of Paul Blaisdell’s handicrafted mutant creation that menaces our heroes in the final reel. Throughout the 50s, Blaisdell would whip up numerous no-budget monsterpieces, such as the “cactus monster” from It Conquered the World, the scaly She-Creature and the tree-riffic Tabanga terror of From Hell It Came.

Rubber (2010) (1st viewing) d. Dupieux, Quentin
If you’re making a movie about a killer tire, one can assume it’s a horror comedy, spoof, etc. But the real wonder of Dupieux’s English-language feature debut is that it keeps its one-joke movie (did I mention it was about a killer tire?) aloft for 82 minutes, careening from its outlandish premise of an ambulatory, telekinetic, steel-belted serial killer to Brechtian commentary on cinematic voyeurism, then back again with adroit energy and intelligence. Amidst shattered fourth walls and splattered craniums, this laudable achievement in itself is what makes the picture worth seeking out, perhaps more so than the actual entertainment value of witnessing a Goodyear turn someone into a Goodsmear.

Bugged (1997)
(1st viewing) d. Armstrong, Ronald K.
Produced under the Troma umbrella, this enthusiastically low budget creepy crawler flick has more going for it than you would expect. For starters, it knows its limitations and when it runs up against them, it knows to embrace the cheesiness with both barrels. Secondly, it’s one of the very few horror efforts with an all African-American cast. The rudimentary plotline focuses on a pest extermination service which, following a fender bender, inadvertently scoops up an experimental enhancement drug and dumps it into their spray canisters. Before you know it, the little six-legged terrors are no longer so little, and now come equipped with exaggerated munchy faces and cartoon voices. There’s also some amusing byplay between sexy poet Priscilla K. Basque and lead bugkiller Ronald K. Armstrong (who also wrote, produced, directed, edited…and probably baked cookies for the crew as well). While not a great movie, if you’re in the right mood, it can be a lot of fun.

Monster from Green Hell (1958) (1st viewing) d. Crane, Kenneth G.
Holy snoozefests, Bat…er, Bugman! Here’s the good news: There are some pretty darn cool giant wasps on display, complete with buzzing wings and chomping pinschers. The bad news? They only show up on rare occasions, and in very limited spurts at that. The rest of the time, we’re subjected to endless scenes of all-purpose scientist Jim Davis (guy’s an astronomer, etymologist and naturalist, all in one square-jawed package) and company trudging back and forth across the African jungles and deserts. Honestly, you’re better off watching this one on fast forward, or better yet, looking at production stills or frame grabs. Otherwise, you’re in for the longest 71 minutes of your life. Directed by Kenneth G. Crane, who would helm the slightly more successful “I’m growing another head” epic, The Manster, the following year.

Parasite (1982) (1st viewing) d. Band, Charles
Producer/director Charles Band fired this science-gone-awry creature feature directly into people’s laps during the 3D craze of the early ’80s, though it’s more famous nowadays for being one of Demi Moore’s earliest roles. But the real stars of the show are the design team of Lance Anderson, James Kagel and Stan Winston, whose gore-and-goo soaked f/x are used to great success in detailing the exploits of an enormous slug-like monstrosity laying siege to the residents of a burned-out futuristic wasteland. The story lags a little at times, and the acting is no great shakes, but when the toothy beggar comes burrowing out of people’s skulls – which it does with some frequency – it markedly enlivens the proceedings.

Krull (1983)
(1st viewing) d. Yates, Peter
I know this one is a huge nostalgia blast for folks, but encountering it for the first time in my 40s…big yawn. Even with the sneak peek of stars-to-come Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in early career turns, judicious editing was called for. For an epic fantasy-fest, which this clearly wants to be, the action takes waaaaaaay too long to get started, and scenes are needlessly prolonged with no dramatic payoff. (Piffle this slight in no way requires a two hour running time.) Dull-on-arrival ingenues Ken Marshall and Lysette Anthony compete with less-than-special special effects, while, perhaps attempting to compensate, composer James Horner delivers a full-on hyper-John Williams score, with an infinite number of horns accompanying his horns. Dude, there's nothing happening – all the bleating brass in the world isn't going to make it more exciting.

Paprika (2006) (1st viewing) d. Kon, Satoshi
Having only seen maybe a dozen anime features (the biggies, shall we say), I’m still not quite ready to declare myself a fan. But it’s impossible to not admire the immense creativity on display here. Kon's effort is a sea of original ideas and a visual blast, revolving around the theft of a machine which allows scientists to enter and record people's dreams – a plot which comes secondary to its outlandish characters, symbolism and innuendos. Exhausting and exhilarating.

Zabriskie Point (1970)
(1st viewing) d. Antonioni, Michelanglo
Violent City (1970) (1st viewing) d. Sollima, Sergio
Truly random in their selection, but it was interesting to one day find myself watching films from two very different Italian directors, both of whom happened to be shooting features in the same year on American soil. Sollima’s violent crime drama follows hardcase hit man Charles Bronson dealing with double-crossing l’amour (and real life bride) Jill Ireland and crime boss Telly Savalas. Kicking off with a hair-raising car chase, the story turns gritty and grim, culminating in gleefully nihilistic bloodletting. Meanwhile, approaching Antonioni’s much derided tale of lost ’60s youth four decades later, one gets the impression that critics of the time were missing the point when they complained that that the director was trying to riff on Easy Rider or that the film lacked relatable characters. I don’t think we’re supposed to identify with them – these flower children are openly struggling to find a place and a passion, and coming up empty. This is an alien’s view of alienation, seeking purpose within the maelstrom of political protests and free love, all the while commenting on the immersive commercialization of the American landscape. It’s a visually stunning fantasy, and if it lacks a tangible message, it’s perhaps because Antonioni fails to find meaning in what he sees around him, this lost peace-loving generation blindly groping about with sex, violence and fruitless rebellion. Standing outside and observing, he’s not in anyone’s corner…and maybe that is message enough. Worth seeing for the hypnotic, explosive, Pink Floyd-accompanied finale alone.

Coming Apart (1969)
(1st viewing) d. Ginsberg, Milton Moses
Payday (1973) (1st viewing) d. Duke, Daryl
Speaking of Easy Rider, it is fairly common knowledge that Rip Torn was originally slated to play the freewheeling lawyer character which subsequently elevated Jack Nicholson to Hollywood fame. An ever-reliable character actor, Torn has never enjoyed the kind of name-brand recognition that he perhaps deserves, and going back to two of his early lead roles and witnessing the searing presence that the man possesses, one has to wonder why not. In the experimental, daring and sexually frank Coming Apart, Torn plays a psychologist who films his sessions and trysts – it is through this footage that we come to know his hardly-sympathetic character. It’s a devastating, shocking and brave performance in a meandering picture that probably should have been brought in at half its running time. On the other hand, Payday is a veritable showcase for the actor, who inhabits his hard-drinking, hard-loving, charismatic and amoral country/western singer so completely that it’s bewildering that he did not emerge an instant star upon its release. Don Carpenter’s script also deserves credit, yielding authentic characters and lived-in drama with seeming ease.

2011 totals to date: 129 films, 76 1st time views, 68 horror, 11 cinema


Archer – 5 episodes (10 total for 2011)

Questions for the Movie Answer Man by Roger Ebert


  1. If it's any consolation, I thought Krull was boring and stupid on its original release. I don't get the nostalgia value. It sucked in 1983 and it still sucks now. (Also, for what it's worth, I feel the same way about The Goonies, plus that has screaming kids. Shudder.).

  2. I'm sure you've already seen it, but if not, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a great showcase for Rip Torn's talents. (The first time I watched it for Bowie. Now when I watch it, I'm captivated by Torn.)

    And I agree completely about The Crater Lake Monster. Boring, boring, boring -- and the worst comic relief in a '70s horror film this side of The Last House on the Left.

  3. Hey Doc! Never know whether to watch for your comments here on on FB. Anyway, sounds like we're in the same camp for 80s nostalgia, b/c I saw GOONIES for the first time a few years back and thought, "You know, had I seen this when I was 12, I might have thought it was the greatest film ever, but watching it now, not so much." Nostalgia points are really about when you watch a movie, I think, and it's much less about the movie's inherent qualities.

    Although oddly enough, my recent Godzilla-fest managed to be all the more enjoyable for my adult sensibilities to the absurdities on display, which I probably just bought into when I was a wee one.

  4. I had forgotten about Torn in TMWFTE, but now that you remind me, I absolutely agree. 'Twas a fine time for ol' Rip. And Candy Clark in the buff. (sigh)

    I felt really sad that CLM didn't have better live action to compliment Dave Allen's not-bad-at-all f/x. It's a rare occasion when a stop-motion dino can't save the day for me.

  5. Coincidentally, I did see The Goonies the summer I turned 12. I enjoyed it well enough because it wasn't every day that the we were taken out to the movies, but even at the time I was able to recognize that it was kinda slipshod.