Friday, May 31, 2013
Blood Beach (1981) d. Bloom, Jeffrey (USA)
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can’t get to it!” You might want to find another locale to take that romantic midnight stroll after watching this low budget monster flick, which succeeds on its own rough graces more often than one might expect. When southern California beaches are being thinned out by a subterranean monster, it’s up to ill-tempered police captain John Saxon to curb the Coppertone creature’s cravings.
Black Christmas (1974) d. Clark, Bob (Canada)
Director Bob Clark’s effective (and underrated) holiday thriller pre-dates the slasher film craze and its influence is felt in Halloween, When a Stranger Calls, and countless others. The simple set-up involves a college sorority house and an (unseen) homicidal killer, heightened by some of the most chilling and unsettling obscene phone calls ever recorded. Utilizing extensive handheld camerawork, this is also among the first usage of the “heavy-breathing killer’s point-of-view” shots that would become a staple of the slasher oeuvre.
Blair Witch Project, The (1999) d. Myrick, Daniel/Sanchez, Eduardo (USA)
(I also invite everyone to check out our heated 2011 round table discussion over on Kitley's Krypt as part of the Cinematic Crossroads program.)
All you low-budget horror filmmakers out there take note: You can make an astonishingly original and frightening film for barely any money at all; it simply requires a fresh approach and more imagination than Karo syrup. Witness this groundbreaking and box office shattering sensation from first timers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, which takes the premise of a trio of student documentarians wandering around a forested area of Maryland and manifests a shining example of minimalist “theatre of the mind.”
Dead Zone, The (1983) d. Cronenberg, David (USA)
Driving home from his girlfriend’s house one rainy night, Christopher Walken crashes into a runaway jackknifed milk truck canister (certainly a genre first), ending up in a coma for the next five years. Upon awakening, he discovers that his sweetheart has married another man, but even more dramatically, he now possesses the ability to know people’s past, present or future simply by making physical contact with them.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Don't Open the Door (1974) d. Brownrigg, S. F. (USA)
Brownrigg, who brought us 1973's micro-budget cult classic Don’t Go in the Basement, returns with a (slightly) larger budget, improved camera skills and several DGITB cast members. When Susan Bracken receives a strange phone call from her Texas hometown requesting that she come home to visit ailing grandmother Rhea MacAdams, she enters a world of duplicitous politicians, scheming museum curators, and questionable physicians, as well as a cross-dressing psychopath with a penchant for nasty phone calls.
Evil Aliens (2005) d. West, Jake (UK)
A crew of London oddballs working for sleazy television show “Weird World” heads over to Wales to document a young woman's alien abduction story, only to discover there's more to her fantastical yarn than meets the eye. Running on hyperdrive throughout and rife with brilliant comic performances across the board, fans of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Braindead (aka Dead-Alive) and the Spierig brother’s inspired zombie flick Undead should come on the run.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) d. Carpenter, John (USA)
“Have you read Sutter Cane?” With echoes of Lovecraft’s mythology and blatant parallels to bestselling author Stephen King’s career, this represents one of Carpenter’s most intelligent and daring efforts. Called in to investigate the disappearance of popular horror writer Sutter Cane, insurance investigator Sam Neill attempts to determine whether or not the whole thing is a huge publicity stunt. Meanwhile, the release of Cane’s latest novel coincides with outbreaks of violence and maniacal behavior among the reading populace.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
(Only got two flicks in this week, but since I had a bit to say about them, I figured I'd give them their own slot.)
I’ll come straight out and say it: I’m not really a fan of Jess Franco’s films. I’ve seen at least twenty of the prolific Spanish auteur's efforts at this point and there’s not one that I can point to as a “favorite” or even one that I genuinely “enjoy.” There are some that have more interesting elements than others (Venus in Furs, Awful Dr. Orloff, Vampyros Lesbos, and Eugenie), some of which even manage to entertain on occasion (though never, let it be noted, as a cohesive whole). When sitting down for a Franco flick, I am now braced for tedium, disappointment and/or questionable cinematic technique; while watching, I am frequently reminded of other, better films that proved more engaging, competent, challenging, artistic, etc. The guy might have made hundreds of features, but somehow this never translated into his becoming a genuinely accomplished filmmaker – in itself is a pretty amazing feat.
Friday, May 24, 2013
Nope, you’re reading that correctly. This entry covers four weeks of flickage, even though it barely matches most one week totals for the good doctor. This is what intercontinental travel and early rehearsal processes will do for one’s viewing habits. In fact, truth be told, seven of the nine flicks (all the civilian ones, to be exact) were viewed mid-flight to and from the sunny climes of Barcelona, which means I only saw the two horror offerings in a conventional home viewing setting (withNo One Lives viewed via laptop, not my preferred mode of intake). Strange days indeed.
That said, I’d like to throw a word of thanks out to US Airways for their outstanding in-flight entertainment offerings, which really should serve as the template for all airlines. Rather than the standard “here are the films available while traveling east, here are the ones for westbound travel,” you are presented with a virtual library of viewing selections for TV, film and music. (I think there were 160 films to choose from, ranging from new releases to classics.) This gave me a chance to sample a few flicks that had eluded me or that I’d been mildly curious about but hadn’t been willing to shell out the cash for. Free movies are my favorite kind (and all first time views at that).
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Martin (1977) d. Romero, George A. (USA)
Romero, having already placed his indelible stamp on the zombie genre in 1968, took on the bloodsuckers nearly a decade later with equally impressive (if not as widely copied) results. Subverting the entire vampire mythology, the erstwhile Pittsburgh writer/director creates a sympathetic portrayal of a troubled teenager named Martin (brilliantly played by John Amplas) who believes himself to be an 88-year-old vampire.
Messiah of Evil (1973) d. Huyck, Willard (USA)
Obviously inspired by Night of the Living Dead and possessing the dreamlike, doom-laden tone of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, here is a thoughtful, introspective, very original and regrettably neglected entry into low-budget '70s horror. Directed by Huyck and co-written with Gloria Katz (later the screenwriters for American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – as well as the creators of Howard the Duck), Messiah creates its own unique blend of horror and political commentary.
Someone's Watching Me! (1978) d. Carpenter, John (USA)
First shown a month after Halloween hit theatres and made available on DVD in 2007, John Carpenter’s TV-movie about a psychopathic peeping tom preying upon female high-rise victims shows the writer/director near the top of his game. Lauren Hutton plays a sexy, funny offbeat TV director who moves to Los Angeles with her new station job, and soon is receiving strange packages and phone calls from a mystery stalker who seems to know her every move.
Videodrome (1983) d. Cronenberg, David (Canada)
As a cable programmer seeking to challenge the limits of the medium, James Woods becomes hooked on the pirated TV show “Videodrome,” whose lineup consists of real sex, real torture, and real murder. Before long, he finds himself entrenched in a cathode ray-conspiracy that threatens the world – or is it just all in his mind? Under the influence of the Videodrome signal, his body begins to undergo some rather discomforting alterations, such as the vagina-like orifice in his abdomen that gobbles up firearms and pulsating organic videocassettes with equal ardor.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Cheerleader Camp (1987) d. Quinn, John (USA)
When troubled teen Betsy Russell (who later enjoyed a post-millennial career rebound after being cast as Jigsaw’s ex-wife in the Saw franchise) heads off with her chums to a remote cheerleader camp, the competition and members of her own squad start turning up D-E-A-D, sis-boom-bah.
EEGAH! (1962) d. Hall Sr., Arch (as Nicholas Merriwether) (USA)
"Love Breaks the Time Barrier!" Arch Hall, Sr. produced and directed this train wreck under the pseudonym of Nicholas Merriwether, and then cast himself in a major supporting role under another aka of "William Watters." One assumes this was done to not call attention to his relation to the film’s nominal star, Arch Hall, Jr., who zips around in his dune buggy, squints and smiles a lot from under his zany blonde pompadour, and croons a couple of tunes to his girl Roxy (Marilyn Manning) – usually with other girls’ names as the titles.
Silence of the Lambs, The (1991) d. Demme, Jonathan (USA)
Director Demme combines forces with stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins to create a rare hit that’s both mainstream Oscar-winning success and first-rate horror film. Masterfully blending psychological horror and physical violence, screenwriter Ted Tally’s dynamite script (adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel) examines an ambitious young FBI trainee’s (Foster) efforts to track down the serial killer Buffalo Bill – a nickname he’s earned by skinning his victims (Ted Levine, in a meticulously shaded performance). Helping her is imprisoned serial murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), dubbed “Hannibal the Cannibal” for the unsavory habit of consuming his victims.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) d. Webster, Nicholas (USA)
Aw man, the spoiler is in the title! Yes, after some rascally Martians learn that their TV-addicted tykes are glum, they hatch a plan to kidnap jolly ol’ St. Nick (John Call), hoping that the red-suited one can chase away their angry red planet blues.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Bay, The (2012) d. Levinson, Barry (USA)
The populace of a small Chesapeake Bay town falls victim to a flesh eating virus gone supernova (as in the little parasites have grown anywhere from cockroaches to the size of a small dog) thanks to a combination of mindless waste disposal and a dose of radioactivity. However, Oscar-winning director Levinson’s decision to frame his ecological horror effort (co-written with Michael Wallach) within the found footage milieu is one that proves problematic once viewers’ logic circuits start humming, which is early and often.
No One Lives (2012) d. Kitamura, Ryuhei (USA)
Fresh off a bungled looting expedition, a skeevy band of crooks led by Lee Tergesen and Derek Magyar cross paths at a Pacific Northwest diner with mysterious road-tripping couple Luke Evans and Laura Ramsey. Looking to come home with something instead of nothing, the villains concoct a half-baked kidnapping scheme...unawares that Evans is a notorious psychopath with his latest victim (Adelaide Clemens) still stashed – and alive – in the back of his car.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
“I Just Wanted Someone to Believe Me.”
Daniel Lutz was 10 years old during the events depicted in Jay Anson’s haunted house bestseller (and the subsequent 1979 film starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin). The effects of that experience have trailed after, shaping a guarded, angry individual wounded not only by the trauma of his time spent on 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, NY, but by 35 subsequent years of doubt and skepticism directed toward him by others.
Rather than focusing on what might have happened within that infamous abode, documentarian Eric Walter turns his eye to what unequivocally did happen: a young boy’s life was forever altered, a shadow eternally cast over his identity. This examination of what occurs when an event obscures an individual, when Lutz became “the Amityville boy” instead of “Danny,” is as compelling as any poltergeist or red-eyed pig creature. The result is an extraordinary work of investigative vision and grounded restraint, with Walter casting an unflinching yet empathetic gaze upon the most sensational American haunting of the 20th century, all through a lens of humanity that elevates it above its ghost-chasing brethren.
My stars, it's been almost a month since last I darkened these halls. Chalk it up to film festival recovery, Barcelonia adventures with T. Harv Eker and being once again gainfully employed (playing Richard Hannay in Artists' Ensemble's production of THE 39 STEPS). I embrace both the madness and the calm, but eventually it's time to get back on the proverbial horse and trot out some critical mass if not massive critiques.
As always feel free to leave your two cents worth - we'll make sure you get some change back.
Maniac Cop 2 (1990) d. Lustig, William (USA)
The misadventures of wrongfully framed, murdered and supernaturally resurrected cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) continue, taking out every NYPD boy in blue in his path as he seeks to bring those responsible to justice. From the first installment, Tom Atkins is completely absent and leads Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon only appear for a limited time, leaving the lion’s workshare to Robert Davi’s grizzled emotionally distant detective and Claudia Christian’s police mental health counselor.
Cut-Throats Nine (1972) d. Marchent, Joaquin Romero (Spain)
After a prison stagecoach is waylaid by bandits, lone surviving lawman Claudio Undari (as Robert Hundar) is forced to transport his prisoners by foot to their destination all while keeping himself and his daughter Emma Cohen (Cannibal Man, Horror Rises from the Tomb)safe from the immoral blackguards. Bloody and brutal Spanish Western nudges its way into the horror terrain through sheer willful nastiness, showing humanity at its absolute worst.
Spiders (2000) d. Jones, Gary (USA)
After things go horribly awry during some top secret space station experiments, a space shuttle returns to Earth shrouded in mystery (so mysterious in fact that the government reports it burned up on re-entry). Luckily, college reporter and amateur conspiracy theorist Lana Parrilla stumbles onto the landing site and discovers that the aforementioned experiments had to do with breeding superspiders for military reasons. Wouldn’t you know it, the aggravated arachnids are soon scrambling, stabbing and spinning for all their worth, with only Parilla and her newfound G-Man pal Josh Green to stop them.
Andoni Gracia stars as a recently separated young man who answers the door one day to allow a neighbor to use the phone, a stranger who for all intents and purposes proceeds to disappear completely when Gracia turns his back. What follows is a hugely suspenseful game of cat and mouse, filled with squeaks and footsteps and deceptive shadows, building to a very satisfying mid-feature climax.