Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fool's Views (7/18 – 7/24)

Well, heck. For one brief shining moment, we’re caught up with the weekly Views. We’ll see how long this lasts…

In providing sidebar materials for the HorrorHound article (it’s true, it just won’t go away), I dipped into a couple more alien-possession movies (although my Belgian buddy Gert Verbeeck had the heavy lifting for that particular assignment, thanks to his wealth of TV-movie VHS cassettes. We are richer for your presence, good sir.) The remainder of the time was spent avoiding the blistering heat in the air-conditioned confines of the multiplex or whittling down the Netflix queue in front of the A/C at Chez AC – seriously, it was too hot to do anything else. At all.

Except for the requisite nightly storming of the French forces in Henry V with Festival Theatre. Ye Gods, who attends outdoor Shakespeare in 100 degree heat and 75% humidity? Madness.

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


Invasion of the Pod People (2007)
1st viewing) d. Jones, Justin
Coinciding with the Kidman film’s release, this is a prime example of The Asylum’s “mockbuster” M.O.: A so-so CGI title sequence, followed by less-so acting, scripting, shot-on-video cinematography, sound, etc... In this transparent aping, the world is menaced by potted ginger roots (?!) that subsequently transform low-rent versions of high-priced fashion models into unsexy, unconvincing lesbians. (Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be much change in these pod people’s behavior, and their acting is just as lousy.) While gratuitous topless scenes marginally enliven matters, the cheap production values and idiotic storytelling take their toll, leaving viewers empty inside and about 85 minutes poorer.

It Conquered the World (1956) (2nd viewing) d. Corman, Roger
Roger Corman’s entertainingly cheapjack programmer stars Lee Van Cleef as a brilliant if misguided scientist who falls under the spell of a Venusian interloper, aiding in its quest for world domination. Utilizing flying space bats that attach themselves to the base of their victim’s skull, the extraterrestrial baddie exercises mind control over key community figures, with only Peter Graves and Beverly “I hate your living guts!” Garland left to stop the madness. Monster maker Paul Blaisdell’s waddling, leering vegetable menace is the unquestioned highlight of the proceedings, but Corman’s swift direction and Lou Rusoff’s pulpy juvenile script cram dozens of hilariously memorable mo-mo’s into ICTW’s trim 71-minute running time.

Bad Teacher (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Kasdan, Jake
Had no expectations at all, 90 minutes to blow and a free pass, so this Cameron-behaving-badly went down just fine. And hey, EW, I thought the dry-humping sequence was pretty darn funny.

Circle of Iron (1978) (1st viewing) d. Moore, Richard
Hokey martial arts saga featuring David Carradine in four separate roles, each of them facing off against flaxen-haired musclehead Jeff Cooper. Moderately amusing time-waster, but only just.

Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) (1st viewing) d. Yates, David
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not read any but the first of the books, have only seen each of the films once and haven’t seen the last two or three at all. Color me Muggle. That said, I had a great time watching this final chapter of The Boy Who Lived, and it’s kind of amazing that the series has maintained its level of excellence throughout. And kudos need to be given to Chris Columbus for casting his young leads so well, for how he could have known that they would grow up to be so photogenic and capable thespians?

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon (2011) (1st viewing) d. Bay, Michael
Having walked past the carnage-strewn streets of downtown Chicago every day for three weeks while Bay & Co. filmed in the Windy City, I knew I would feel compelled to see this latest installment in the giant robots stomping the living daylights out of everything series. I h-a-t-e-d the first Transformers film when I finally caught up with it on DVD so much that I skipped the next chapter altogether, especially since all the word-of-mouth did nothing to convince me otherwise (although, the fact that Revenge of the Fallen came in second only to Avatar’s record setting take in 2009’s box office leads me to wonder who the hell was buying all those tickets?) However, I will say that seeing the supersized carnage on the big screen had its own big dumb charms, and in the end, I found its final act as visually spectacular as Avatar’s, with nary a whiff of pretension. So, there you go.

Chapter 27 (2007) (1st viewing)
d. Schaefer, J.P.
Killing of John Lennon, The (2006) (1st viewing) d. Piddington, Andrew
Two films that take distinctly different approaches to profiling assassin Mark David Chapman; likewise the lead performances by Jared Leto and Jonas Ball. Chapter 27 looks at the three days leading up to Lennon’s fatal shooting (and only those three days), providing less insight into Chapman’s troubled mental history but Leto’s flamboyantly twitchy performance is compelling and fascinating, holding our attentions even as we feel there are cards missing from the deck before us – a fitting comparison. However, Killing’s writer/director Piddington goes (slightly) further back, introducing us to Chapman three months before his infamous act – where we observe his mother and wife issues firsthand as well as his fateful encounter with Catcher in the Rye in the Honolulu public library – and then following his subsequent arrest, psychological observation, trial and incarceration. Ball’s less-flashy, grounded portrayal is the equal to Leto’s well-publicized weight-gain and mouth-breathing showcase, both turns worthy of note. What remains peculiar the diversity in things like wardrobe (Leto wears a stocking cap, whereas Ball sports a large Russian fur hat) and Wizard of Oz greeting card found in Chapman’s hotel room, things that ought to be a matter of public record, not open to interpretation.

Plague Dogs, The (1982)
(1st viewing) d. Rosen, Martin
Following up his distinctive, beautiful and adult animated screen version of Richard Adams’ book Watership Down, writer/director Rosen tackled another of the novelist’s stories, another non-kiddie approach to onscreen talking animals. Here, the protagonists are two dogs that escape from an animal-testing facility and their struggles to survive in the wild, all the while avoiding natural and human predators. Powerful, cerebral, and emotionally engaging without depending on scenes of suffering animals to manipulate viewers.

Reservoir Dogs (1992) (6th viewing) d. Tarantino, Quentin
“Anne Francis is white.” QT’s endlessly quotable debut feature remains a personal favorite; while I recognize Pulp Fiction as the more accomplished effort, there is something about the raw energy of the all-male cast and Tarantino’s fevered wanna-impress script that keeps me coming back. However, this particular viewing was in the spirit of public interest, as one of my Henry V cast members had not seen it yet, and well, I just couldn’t let that go on. (Said co-star also hasn’t seen such classics as The Exorcist, Alien, and The Dresser, so clearly we still have miles to go before we sleep.)

2011 totals to date: 288 films, 177 1st time views, 137 horror, 24 cinema

Fool's Views (7/4 – 7/17)

Hey hey hey… What’s happenin’, my friends?

Well, of this two-week period, much of the first was devoted to translating thoughts to words, fingers to keys in developing my Body Snatchers piece, followed by copyediting bouts of several other HorrorHound articles. (I can say this – the Sept/Oct issue is going to be a winner.) But once the dust had cleared and desired word-counts reached, I dived back into the fray, revisiting the House of Pain-ful remakes, as well as knocking out my seventh consecutive on-time Kitley’s Army assignment (last year, I managed to watch all the required flicks, but wasn’t so great about getting my reports turned in). Another notch on the Cronenberg marathon belt logged, and a pleasant surprise found in a fading Hollywood star’s dark side. Hope you like.

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


Mr. Brooks (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Evans, Bruce A.
It’s too bad that America’s love affair with Kevin Costner is waning and/or over, because moviegoers denied themselves the pleasure of this twisty-turny well-acted thriller about an upstanding model citizen who just happens to also be a serial murder. Director/co-writer Evans’ original script plays out like a well-adapted novel, and his cast is more than up to the task. William Hurt sinks his venerable teeth into the role of Costner’s immoral conscience, a kind of psychopathic Jiminy Cricket, while comedian Dane Cook shows off an admirable dark side as a witness who hopes to become a protégé of types. Evans also spins the well-worn trope of a protagonist talking aloud to his imaginary friend into something altogether different and welcome. Along with The New Daughter, bloody, well-paced horror may soon prove to be KC’s new element in which to shine…if only he can get genre fans to buy in.

Scanners (1981) (4th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Convoluted yet compelling sci-fi tale from the unique imagination of writer/director Cronenberg. Through an experimental drug given to pregnant mothers, a new race of psychic and telekinetic mutants (dubbed “scanners”) emerge, and some of them just aren’t very nice. Michael Ironside tears up the screen as Darryl Revok, a megalomaniac scanner bent on destruction of the inferior human race. He is opposed by Patrick McGoohan as a duplicitous scientist who seeks out under-the-radar scanner Stephen Lack to infiltrate Revok’s inner circle. While Lack’s and easy-on-the-eyes partner Jennifer O’Neill’s performances occasionally border on somnambulistic, what saves the film are the suspenseful pacing and the literally mind-blowing special effects from Dick Smith and Chris Walas, although you may not want to eat for a while afterwards.

KRYPTIC ARMY JUNE MISSION: STAY OUT OF THE SUN!Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2009) (1st viewing) d. Schneider, Mike
An intriguing “moving gallery” approach to one of the best known modern horror films of our time: Dozens of visual artists are called upon to illustrate passages of George Romero’s groundbreaking zombie opus, utilizing everything from charcoal drawings to stop-motion to Barbie dolls. The results, as one might anticipate, are a mixed bag, as some of the methods used are more annoying than illuminating while others heighten and actually bring something new to the experience. The other side effect is that the audio track takes on a life of its own; divorced from the images we have so closely associated with it over the past four decades, the viewer actually picks up on dialogue that may have slipped by before (this is especially true with the TV and radio broadcasts). In the end, this proves to be a semi-satisfying experimental film, though I can’t say I’m eager to see other classics put to the same test.

Nightwing (1979) (1st viewing) d. Hiller, Arthur
What starts off as a perfectly serviceable “Nature Fights Back” exercise in ecology terror soon devolves into a talky, meandering dirge, only occasionally highlighted by swarming vampire bat attacks and bat-hunter David Warner’s Quint-like declarations that these flying rodents are “pure evil.” Nick Mancuso stars as a Native American deputy sheriff dealing with white man land-clutching and rival tribal politics amidst the leather-winged mayhem, while Kathryn Harrold proves a rather resourceful heroine, performing acts of bravery and intelligence under fire (and I’m not just talking about her semi-nude dip in the hot springs). Ultimately, with tighter plotting, less gabbing and more effectively realized bat attacks, this might have been a guilty pleasure classic along the lines of Prophecy or Day of the Animals rather than the understandably neglected relic it has become. (All the same, thanks to Tom Simmons for hooking a horror brother up.)

Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1977)
(2nd viewing) d. Taylor, Don
Well-intentioned but flawed remake of the 1933 classic. Armed with the 70s star power of Burt Lancaster and Michael York as the human antagonists, the standout of this big budget redux is the man-beasts’ impressive facial latex appliances (atop of humanoid bodies) by Planet of the Apes maestro John Chambers. Lancaster presents a quieter, more driven version of Moreau while York’s shipwreck victim fares less favorably with the hero role, giving over all too often to snicker-worthy histrionics. Sexy Barbara Carrera appears as a cursory love interest, the subplot of her being one of Moreau’s creations jettisoned in the editing room (keep an eye out for her pointy ears towards the end). Not a classic by any means, it does have its own campy charm and a suitably fiery climax. By and large though, stick with the Laughton version.

Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1996) (2nd viewing) d. Frankenheimer, John
This infamous misfire succeeds only at being a freak show, and we’re not talking about Stan Winston’s notable man-beast makeup creations. As in the 1933 and 1977 film versions of H.G. Wells’ classic, Marlon Brando’s Moreau is a man on a mission, intent on converting the various beasts on his sequestered island into human beings. But in this case, Brando himself seems equally driven to create the most bizarrely eccentric role of his storied career, pulling off the feat with outlandish aplomb. Garbed in flowing robes and white pancake makeup, his buck-toothed, British-accented aberration is the thespian equivalent of a car crash: grotesque and quirky, repellent, yet one cannot bear to look away. However, his character astoundingly disappears halfway through the film, leaving the bewildered audience with only Val Kilmer’s stoned, sarcastic flunky and David Thewlis’ caustic plane-wreck survivor to carry us through the dark night. Fairuza Balk and Ron Perlman are moderately engaging as two of Moreau’s more successful experiments, and Kilmer occasionally amuses with a wicked Brando impersonation. But director John Frankenheimer’s fever-dream visuals and leaden pacing only accentuate the fact that there is ultimately no one here to root for. On a lighter note, there is unintentional hindsight humor, watching Brando’s pint-sized companion predate Austin Powers’ “Mini-Me” by several years.

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Eisener, Jason
A fun concept that reveals Eisener a talent to be reckoned with. However, the painfully awkward dialogue, even if intentionally awful, lacks a healthy dose of clever, and while the performances are suitably cartoonish, the whole affair went on a little longer than my good will. Like Machete before it, it probably should have stayed a mock trailer (or a short subject, a la Eisener’s brilliant black comic holiday offering, Treevenge).

Henry V (1989) (3rd viewing) d. Branagh, Kenneth
A brilliantly realized film version of Shakespeare’s history play, a doubly daunting task considering Laurence Olivier had already produced an Oscar-winning version 45 years earlier. However, Branagh’s directorial debut manages to serve both the medium and the verse with equal skill, creating stunning visuals to match the Bard’s fiery language. Surrounded by an extraordinary ensemble of English film/stage veterans (including Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Richard Briers and Paul Scofield), Branagh’s turn as the titular king is such a well-shaped characterization it rivals Sir Larry’s 1944 version – no mean feat there.

2011 totals to date: 278 films, 169 1st time views, 135 horror, 21 cinema

Horror Films of the 1970s, Part 2 (1976-1979) by John Kenneth Muir
101 Sci-Fi Movies You Have to See Before You Die, edited by Steven J. Schneider

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fool's Views (6/27 – 7/3)

Back again, my friends,

As you might guess from the list below, this was the week before I started work on my Invasion of the Body Snatchers article for HorrorHound. Having revisited all four of the screen adaptations, as well as reading the source novel the week before for the first time, I have to say that sometimes, research is pretty enjoyable stuff. I’m also fairly pleased with the resulting piece, which should be featured in the Sept/Oct issue of HH. But, here’s a little taste until then – as well as a couple of fightin’ good civilian flicks, viewed via Netflix streaming on the Fool’s 6/30 birthday.

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


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
(5th viewing) d. Siegel, Don
A tale of mounting suspicion and horror as small-town doctor Kevin McCarthy learns that emotionless alien duplicates are replacing the population of his community of Santa Mira. Based on Jack Finney’s novel, the most remarkable aspect of Don Siegel’s classic sci-fi shocker is that while the political ramifications have been well documented (it was produced during the communist witch hunts of the 50s and its subtext is clearly rooted in the fear of conspiracy), it can also be enjoyed purely for its thrills. It’s beautifully constructed , steadily ratcheting up the pressure until we find ourselves wondering about the person sitting next to us. McCarthy’s performance builds from blasé self-satisfaction to raving dementia with nary a false note. (By the way, that is director Sam Peckipah as Charlie the gas man.) Originally shot without the framing device, studio heads became nervous that such a nihilistic effort might be off-putting to an audience and demanded the doctor’s office bookends and voice-over narration inserted, and while it provides a pseudo-hopeful ending, not an iota of sheer dramatic impact is lost – a miracle unto itself.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) (4th viewing) d. Kaufman, Philip
Director Philip Kaufman’s worthy updating of the 1956 sci-fi masterpiece is quirkier and more graphic, with oogey scenes of PG-rated violence and stellar acting all around. This revamped version of Jack Finney’s novel, by W. D. Richter, relocates the setting from that of a small town to that of the equally isolatory existence within a bustling metropolis (San Francisco, in this case), where individuals’ relationships with one another are often so tenuous and surface that we might not initially notice if our neighbors had been “replaced.” Donald Sutherland stars as a SF health inspector who, along with Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright, begins to suspect that their fellow citizens are being taken over by pod people from space. Kaufman cultivates a marvelous sense of dread and suspense, with numerous striking scenes and elements (the iconic “shriek”, the man/dog combo) – as well as one of the more truly haunting and unsettling endings to be found anywhere. As if to give his stamp of approval, Kevin McCarthy and Don Siegel (star and director of the original film, respectively) appear in memorable cameos.

Body Snatchers (1993) (3rd viewing) d. Ferrara, Abel
Feeling the story could be revived for the current generation, producer Robert H. Solo instructed celebrated writer/director Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff) to come up with a new angle for the pods, then Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator) re-vamped it for their sensibilities, only to leave the project after being stuck in development hell, whereupon Abel Ferrara took the reins. If it sounds like a lot of cooks, you’d be right, and the evidence is all up there on screen in this dumbed-down version of Finney’s tale. In the lead role, Gabrielle Anwar is attractive but a total lightweight in comparison to her predecessors’ gravitas, and the mishmash script gives its capable ensemble (Meg Tilly, Terry Kinney, Forest Whitaker, R. Lee Ermey) nothing to do but strike mannered poses and gape at Thomas Burman’s so-so transformation effects. A sloppy, schlocky, pale imitation of its forerunners, this is the least of the screen adaptations…as it has nothing at all to say.

Invasion, The (2007) (2nd viewing) d. Hirschbiegel, Oliver
In this, the fourth screen version of Jack Finney's classic science fiction novel, alien spores piggyback on a returning space shuttle that crashes and scatters debris from Dallas to Washington. Anyone who touches the debris gets the infection, which is then spread by the exchange of liquids and/or projectile vomiting (as opposed to seed pods –one of the few new twists provided). There are some intriguing ideas at work here, such as the pods seizing political power in multiple countries, causing peace to break out, or the fact that once infected, there is no waking up from the transformation. While Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, and Jeffrey Wright do what they can, but too often, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (or more likely, the uncredited James McTiegue, who oversaw the much-publicized reshoots) resorts to basic car chase scenes (spinning tires, multiple crashes, car in flames, dozens of pod people hanging onto it, etc). It’s too bad, as through the Hollywood muddle, it seems like screenwriter David Kajganich had some intriguing ideas – it would have been nice if the pods, er, suits would have let him fully explore them.

Black Belt Jones (1974)
(1st viewing) d. Clouse, Robert
Clouse directed Jim Kelly alongside Bruce Lee and John Saxon in Enter the Dragon, and the following year helmed this cheese-tastic blaxploitation kung-fu epic with Kelly playing the lead role. Yep, “Black Belt Jones” is his name, and he’s gonna keep his neighborhood clean from mob bosses and crooked loan sharks, all the while getting his groove on with foxy lady/lethal weapon Gloria Hendry.

Taps (1981) (1st viewing) d. Becker, Harold
When budget constraints call for the closing down of a military academy, the cadets (led by Timothy Hutton) barricade themselves inside the walled gates, playing wargames against the outside world in this thoughtful, if preachy effort from Onion Field director Becker. Rising talent Sean Penn, Tom Cruise and Giancarlo Esposito play the young guns with equal parts earnest bravado and niggling fear, while George C. Scott’s fading warrior recalls his Patton glory. Ronny Cox also does fine work as the Army official called in to negotiate a truce.

2011 totals to date: 270 films, 165 1st time views, 129 horror, 21 cinema


They’re Here…: Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute, edited by Ed Gorman & Kevin McCarthy

Fool's Views (6/20 – 6/26)

My lords and ladies,

For the second time this year, this week’s Views featured all first time viewings. Much of this was due to the fact that I got to the cinema on three, count ‘em, three different occasions and took in a total of seven brand new features. (The one anomaly was the 1983 high school football pic, All the Right Moves, left over from last week’s Cruise-fest.) I also snuck in a couple of docs at home (one real, one maybe-so).

Not as much in the way of horror (stretching it to call either of the two mentioned below as full-on fright flicks, but seeing as how they both showcase exceedingly large behemoths as their antagonists, I think we’re safe), but it was a pleasure to spend the time at the multiplex since it’s been rarer than I prefer lately.

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


Super 8 (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Abrams, J.J.
Well, here’s the deal. It felt very much like Abrams trying to give us his version of a Spielberg flick, with Spielberg leaning over his shoulder whenever any questions arose. And if I was 12 years old, this might have spoken to me a little more than it did. After all, it’s about a bunch of horror movie-loving-and-making kids who save their town and the world from a recently liberated space alien: what’s not to like about that? But Abrams’ stylistic choices of wildly artificial lens flares, over-the-top effects sequences (sorry, but that train sequence was absolute b.s.), and an unmemorable giant creature distinctly hindered my enjoyment levels. It’s an okay flick, but not the slamdunk summer monster flick we were hoping for, considering the talent involved.

TrollHunter (2010) (1st viewing) d. Ovredal, Andre
Another giant monster movie, although with a smaller budget and scope and from Norway, of all places. My initial reaction was that while it was a quaint idea and there was obviously some solid filmmaking skill on display here, I found it a bit long and its bore more than a passing resemblance to The Blair Witch Project, except that the three student filmmakers are seeking trolls as opposed to witches and you can actually see the darn things. (In a recent Rue Morgue interview, the director also cites Man Bites Dog as an influence, which I can absolutely see.) However, I find myself liking it more in retrospect and certainly appreciating Ovredal’s efforts even if they sometimes felt a little labored. The various fairyland nemeses are amusingly designed, even if their CGI origins are more than a little apparent, and there is a wicked sense of dark deadpan humor running through the proceedings.

All the Right Moves (1983)
(1st viewing) d.Chapman, Michael
Tom Cruise play a high school football jock in what seems to be a standard underdog story. Well, actually, it is a standard underdog story, but the twist is that Cruise wants to be an engineer and he wants to excel at football in order to get a college scholarship to escape his Pennsylvania mining town roots. Fairly familiar stuff, with an appealing cast that includes Craig T. Nelson, Lea Thompson (topless!) and Christopher Penn, all set to an appalling 80s soundtrack. Noted cinematographer Chapman’s (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver) directorial debut.

Bridesmaids (2011) (1st viewing) d. Feig, Paul
What can I say? Sh*t was funny. And Rose Byrne is having one heck of a year, with Insidious and X-Men: First Class already under her belt.

I'm Still Here (2010) (1st viewing) d. Affleck, Casey
While this “documentary” about Joaquin Phoenix’s decision to leave acting to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist has been declared an elaborate hoax by its subject and creative team, one has to wonder. I have a feeling it was an elaborate something, but whether it was always intended as a joke, I’m not convinced. Seems like calling it a hoax is the only way Phoenix could rejoin the Hollywood party n’est pas?

Midnight in Paris (2011) (1st viewing) d. Allen, Woody
Wonderful fantasy about nostalgia and a love letter to the French city, with Owen Wilson turning out to be one of the finest interpreters of Allen’s particular brand of comedy we’ve seen in a while. A welcome return to form after the disastrous Whatever Works.

Tree of Life, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Malick, Terrence
Epic and intimate, haunting and human, compelling and confounding. Truly an event to be experienced, one that invites interpretation and discussion, with an enigmatic filmmaker wearing his heart and mind on his cinematic sleeve for all to see without spelling it out for anyone.

X-Men: First Class (2011) (1st viewing) d. Vaughn, Matthew
Action packed, delightfully rebooted, and perfectly cast, this is the summer movie of the year to beat so far.

GasLand (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Fox, Josh
Utterly terrifying and depressing Oscar-nominated documentary about the hazards of natural gas drilling, contaminating people’s wells to the point that water from the tap actually catches on fire. But the really disgusting part is the wholesale governmental cover-up that continues to this day. A few more people get rich while tens of thousands of people pay the price – go, humans, go.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) (1st viewing) d. Herzog, Werner
Herzog’s documentary about the Chauvet caves of southern France, which feature potentially the oldest cave drawings ever discovered and certainly the best preserved. The only problem is that we literally go back over the same ground so many times that it starts to get a little monotonous. Felt like an hour-long feature stretched out to 90 minutes, and while the 3D effects are intriguing within the cave confines, they feel a little superfluous as well.

2011 totals to date: 264 films, 163 1st time views, 125 horror, 21 cinema

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fool's Views (6/13 – 6/19)

Greetings, true believers,

Yes, it’s true I’m a month behind again with the Views. Chalk it up to rehearsing and/or performing two Shakespeare shows, a wealth of copyediting assignments and composing an epic article for the next issue of HorrorHound. However, as the temperatures rise and the schedule slightly clears, it’s time to return fingers to keys and nose to proverbial grindstone. (If, by the way, you ever hear of my putting my nose to a literal grindstone, please contact the authorities.)

This week represented my last great viewing buffet prior to being overwhelmed, so you’ll notice a wealth of themes and a bevy of flicks, everything from Brit plague epics to Tiffany Shepis horror/comedies, soggy creature features to a quintet of Cronenberg, edgy docudramas to not-so-edgy Tom Cruise vehicles. Hopefully something for every taste, and if not, we’ll be back with more in a jiff.

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


Black Death (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Smith, Christopher
Solid Medieval horror, following Sean Bean’s group of witch hunters in plague-ravaged England as they seek out a village which has somehow remained immune. Great mud-and-blood-soaked atmosphere combined with stellar performances easily makes this Smith’s (Creep, Severance) most accomplished work to date.

Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula (2008) (1st viewing) d. Friend, Timothy
Full review available at Short version: Must-see for Tiffany Shepis fans.

Shout, The (1978) (1st viewing) d. Skolimowsky, Jerzy
Bizarre and hypnotic tale of a mysterious stranger (Alan Bates) who insinuates himself into a young English couple’s (John Hurt, Susannah York) lives, empowered with dangerous gifts including the titular sonic assault. Appearing in Fangoria’s 300 top horror films and Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, this is hard as hell to find (bit torrent sites seem to be the only resource), but well worth the search.

Big Alligator River, The (1979)
(1st viewing) d. Martino, Sergio
“A blood-soaked tale of greed, Third World exploitation and karmic comeuppance…” When construction workers encroach onto sacred jungle ground in Southeast Asia to break ground for a swanky resort, the local natives summon their giant alligator god Kroona to put its big scaly feet down and open its mouth wide. The none-too-realistically realized chomping machine (“floating log-like” is a fair assessment) then proceeds to menace everyone and everything in its path, including Italian hunk Claudio Cassinelli, buxom beauty Barbara Bach, as well as imported Italian-cinema vets Mel Ferrer and Richard Johnson. Loaded with tons of red paint gore and gratuitous nudity, and highlighted by a massive third act massacre that rivals Pirahna’s in terms of body count and splashing.

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011) (1st viewing) d. Lambert, Mary
Even with both former teen pop idols-cum-schlock movie staples Tiffany and Debbie Gibson on board and a seeming knowledge that no “art” was being created here, I still find it hard to derive any true pleasure from these SyFy CGi-fests. Maybe it’s the fact that they elect to use the same renderings over and over again, or maybe it’s that I’d much rather see some budget-strapped property designer’s crappy snake/gator/rat/monster costume or prop and watch an actor try to sell the hell out of a scene in which they’re being devoured by a Styrofoam head. Bottom line, this was fine for what it was, but it’s never going to be my favorite brand of creature feature cheese.

Stereo (1969)
(2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Crimes of the Future (1970) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Shivers (aka They Came from Within) (1975) (3rd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Rabid (1977) (4th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Brood, The (1979) (3rd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
I’ve been meaning to sit down with the Canadian auteur’s body of work en toto for a while now, having seen all of his feature films to date at least once (but sometimes only once, hence the desire to revisit). Though I consider myself a card-carrying D.C. aficionado, I still find his early avant-garde Stereo and Crimes more of interest to those curious to see an artist in his developmental stages, as I’d be hard-pressed to consider them “entertainment.” Even the writer/director himself considers Shivers his first real movie, and I’m once again struck by the raw power of his imagery, where even the amateurish efforts of most of his cast (Barbara Steele and Joe Silver notwithstanding) cannot detract from the ultimate effectiveness of his “slugs & sex-zombies” opus. By contrast, girl-next-door porn star Marilyn Chambers is surprisingly convincing as Rabid’s “patient zero,” spreading a new brand of infection via a phallic needle concealed in her armpit. Cronenberg made the leap to using established stars with Brood, pitting Oliver Reed and Art Hindle against Samantha Eggar’s snowsuited “rage children,” thus continuing his brand-specific type of “body-horror.” Cronenberg would find critical and commercial success in the next decade, but the 70s represent a unique, uncompromising artist sharpening his cinematic sensibilities.

Bloody Sunday (2002)
(1st viewing) d. Greengrass, Paul
Electrifying you-are-there immediacy and stellar turns from the entire ensemble (particularly James Nesbitt as civil rights leader Ivan Cooper) result in a wrenching, riveting portrayal of Ireland’s Londonderry protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30, 1972.

Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The (2008) (1st viewing) d. Fincher, David
This Oscar-winning adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is a master class of visual effects and cinematography – elegiac and gorgeous, yet somehow remaining emotionally muted (much like Brad Pitt’s backward-aging protagonist).

Days of Thunder (1990)
(1st viewing) d. Scott, Tony
Top Gun with race cars. Yep, that’s about the size of it.

Legend (1985) (2nd viewing) d. Scott, Ridley
Having not seen the “director’s cut” before, I decided to revisit Cruise’s snaggletoothed wild boy adventure fantasy despite the fact that I wasn’t a big fan the first time around. It works better as a visual feast (Norman Dorme’s art direction, Rob Bottin’s stellar makeups) than as a dramatic narrative, though I can’t recall Tangerine Dream’s synth score – featured in the U.S. theatrical release well enough to weigh in on its worthiness compared to Jerry Goldsmith’s more traditional brass-and-strings arrangements. Still not a big fan.

Knight and Day (2010) (1st viewing) d. Mangold, James
This was a ton of fizzy fun, utilizing the superstar’s effortless charisma and physicality to full effect as a rogue undercover operative who kidnaps Cameron Diaz’s everyday gal after she inadvertently becomes involved in an elaborate superspy game of cat n’ mouse. McGuffins, live-wire stunts and snappy comic interplay abound.

Valkyrie (2008) (1st viewing) d. Singer, Bryan
While the “based on true events” tale of an undercover group of Nazis attempting to assassinate Hitler plays out like a well-oiled action/drama, with an all-star cast that includes Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson and Eddie Izzard, I could never stop wondering, if someone was truly serious about ending the life of Der Fuhrer, why they didn’t just step up and put a bullet in his brain, seeing how often they were all in the same room.

2011 totals to date: 254 films, 153 1st time views, 123 horror, 14 cinema


Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney