Monday, April 11, 2016
Fool's Views (3/1 - 3/31)
Greetings, my friends!
Well, March came in like a muthah and left like a muthah, with a wide array of flickers watched in her wake. Even managed to get out to the cinema on five separate occasions and – here’s the weird part – I only saw a single movie on each of those five occasions. Usually it’s the other way around, five movies in one movie trip. Ah well, the times, they are a changin’. (Don’t you believe it.)
But in addition to the rampant big screening, I was also sampling more of the Netflix wares, although I must admit that even at the deal of $10/month, I still feel like I could see a better, wider variety (for free) from Ye Olde Publicke Library. NF streaming definitely has a few hard-to-find gems, but for my consumption these days, I just have to wonder if I couldn’t go back to pocketing that ten-spot and buy a monthly foot-long burrito instead.
Especially since the horror screeners continued unabated, to the point where I openly admit I’m not even close to keeping up anymore. Thanks to Arrow, Shout! Factory, and Vinegar Syndrome for their continued excellent and output, and know that I’m doing my best to shovel ‘em into my eyes and pound out something coherent on the keyboard in a timely manner.
On that note, enough of the preamble and on with the ramble. As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954) d. Bernds, Edward (USA) (1st viewing)
Horror fans of a certain age all have images burned into their brains from the reference books we grew up on. (Some of these turned out to be publicity shots that never actually appeared in the film, which was even more confusing.) It’s because of my frequent childhood library visits – and Ed Naha’s Monsters: From Screen to Scream – that I had known about the existence of this horror/comedy for literally decades, but due to the proclivities of my region’s television programmers, I had never actually seen it. I finally learned of its landing on DVD, and sought it out from my public library post-haste. Sadly, as is often the case, the anticipation outweighed the actual viewing experience, since this is a wildly unfunny would-be laff riot about a couple of mad scientists, their vamptastic bloodsucking niece, and their batty older sister running up against Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey’s bumbling duo. While there is energy to spare, the jokes are wheezy and the performances are all pitched to a cartoonish level of bombast such that any actual humor is drowned out by the din of desperation. I’m not sure if all the Dead End/Bowery Boys flicks are this strained, but I can’t say I’m dying to dig much deeper.
Blood Glacier (2013) d. Kren, Marvin (Austria) (1st and 2nd viewings)
This marvelous little creature feature seems to have generated precious little fanfare among the fearful faithful, which is surprising since it’s genuinely well-acted, has a solid little plot, and some enjoyably raucous practical effects. (I think we all know the real problem is the lumpy exploitation title, which actually makes sense within the story but still doesn’t really pique the appetite.) A research team in the Austrian Alps stumbles onto a crimson-tinged snowcap, but not before a horribly mutated fox sinks its teeth into their trusty pooch Tinni. Back at base camp, the sample they’ve taken from the ice reveals itself to be teeming with prehistoric microbials, armed with the ability to gene replicate and splice from any of the myriad organic hosts they discover. The end result successfully marries elements of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Billy O’Brien’s Isolation while charting some environmental soapboxing of its own (global warming bad), with a terrific cast led by Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, and scene stealer Brigitte Kren as the Minister (not sure if there’s a relation to our director or not, but if she was my mom, I’d cast her too).
Death Walks at Midnight (1972) d. Ercoli, Luciano (Italy) (1st viewing)
Stylish little giallo centering around top fashion model Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott) who is coerced into taking LSD for a magazine expose/photo shoot; during her “trip,” she witnesses a brutal murder, the details of which are sketchy due to her drug-induced state. Was it a hallucination, a memory, or did it actually happen? In true Italian fashion, the road to that answer is a long and twisted road, filled with sex, style, and red herrings galore, courtesy of Ernesto Gastaldi and Sergio Corbucci’s clever script and Ercoli’s unabashed use of color and opticals.
Available now from Arrow Video, courtesy of MVD, HERE:
Delirium (2015) d. Xam, Cosmotropian de (Germany) (1st viewing)
Screened courtesy of unrepentant cinephile Jason Coffman, which you would think might give you an idea of the kind of “outsider cinema” we’re talking about here, but even there you would be underestimating the level of weird on display. Not to say that this obtuse tale of a sexually transmitted parasite isn’t watchable and occasionally intriguing, but the repetitive imagery and aggressive cinematography will likely dull the senses rather than heightening them. Kudos to Drug Machine’s driving soundtrack.
Disturbing Behavior (1998) d. Nutter, David (USA) (2nd viewing)
Barely distinguishable from the dozens of other “teen horror” offerings launched the wake of Scream’s success (especially the ho-hum big faces poster art), this latest Blu-ray reissue from Shout! Factory offers a plotline eerily similar to that of their recently revived 80s artifact Zombie High. Troubled teen James Marsden and family relocate to an idyllic Atlantic coastal township after his older sibling’s suicide; before long, he falls in with the “wrong crowd” including bad boy Nick Stahl and bad girl Katie Holmes as opposed to the “right crowd” of blazer-wearing automatons that are slowly, suspiciously, inexorably taking over the school, under the careful watch of sneering Bruce Greenwood. It’s all a little ho-hum, with the three impossibly photogenic leads demonstrating their fine genetics and passable thesping.
Available from Shout! Factory HERE: https://www.shoutfactory.com/film/film-horror/disturbing-behavior
Dog Soldiers (2002) d. Marshall, Neil (UK) (5th viewing)
Even having watched it numerous times following Shout! Factory’s release last year, I was more than happy to bust Marshall’s supremely enjoyable lycanthrope action flick for a recent Share the Scare with Mssrs. Coffman, Kitley, and Calderone. Full Blu-ray review HERE.
The Guest (2014) d. Wingard, Adam (USA) (1st viewing)
After witnessing Wingard’s quantum leap with You’re Next, I was eager to see what the young Turk had up his sleeve that didn’t fall under the V/H/S or ABCs of Death umbrella, which were fine but only just. His latest feature film, scripted by ubiquitous partner in crime Simon Barrett, is a wicked little throwback to the 80s sci-fi thrillers of supersoldier experiments gone wrong, with Dan Stevens superlative as the charming young man showing up on the doorstep of a suburban household, telling them he is a combat veteran chum, bringing the last words of their fallen son to them. They embrace him warmly and invite him in, whereupon he proceeds to turn the family upside down and against one another, with increasingly chilling and bloody results. The final act is a wow, if only because we don’t expect things to get SO mean-spirited, but it never feels like a cheat and in a way is more honest than its forerunners. Definitely worth seeking out.
Hellions (2015) d. McDonald, Bruce (Canada) (1st viewing)
The only item of interest for this killer kids on Halloween saga was the presence of Pontypool director McDonald returning to the helm, and while he tries to impose a bit of style and flash on a confused and confusing storyline, he bungles as much as he boosts. Not quite sure I understand the pink lavender wash that takes over the film after teen mother-to-be Chloe Rose begins having close encounters with a horde of masked, miniature trick-or-treaters any more than I can understand what former T-1000 Robert Patrick is doing in this clunker. The little boogers want to snatch her unborn (but quickly gestating) tyke for some reason, but whether they are cultists or extraterrestrials or extraterrestrial cultists never really becomes clear. Not terrible, but no future October classic, sad to say.
Available now from Shout! Factory HERE: https://www.shoutfactory.com/film/film-horror/hellions
Pigs (1972) d. Lawrence, Marc (USA) (1st viewing)
Wonderfully bizarre and clumsy low-budget effort about a runaway nurse with a shadowy past finding employ at a crusty, rusty diner run by crusty, rusty Zambrini (character actor-turned-writer/director Lawrence). Thing is, the old salt has a pretty shadowy past himself, stealing corpses from the local boneyard to shovel into the gaping maws of his prize hogs; “Ya see, they got a taste for human flesh. It ain’t your fault…” Even with this oddball scenario, it is the sheer daring of Lawrence’s artistic choices (ear-splitting pig shrieks over picturesque desert vistas, rambling improvised dialogue) that elevates what could have been a run-of-the-mill exploitation piece into an collection of unforgettable moments that build to a seemingly inevitable yet completely satisfying conclusion. Kudos to Vinegar Syndrome for unearthing this rare beast and giving it the shiny silver platter treatment, complete with interviews with our starlet and trash cinema authority Stephen Thrower.
Available HERE: https://vinegarsyndrome.com/shop/pigs/
The Snowtown Murders (2011) d. Kurzel, Justin (Australia) (1st viewing)
Absolutely the feel-bad View of the month (and potentially year), yet one can’t help appreciate the unflinching atmosphere of unrelenting doom and hopelessness in this screen telling of Australia’s most lethal serial killer John Bunting and his crew of (occasionally underage) cronies. Classifying it as “horror” may not be entirely accurate since it is as much brutal crime family drama as anything, but the ferocious imagery and overall tone recall the bleak, black heart of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and for that reason I’m including it here. I don’t think that discriminating genre fans will fault me for it, but be warned, this is no cheap ‘n’ easy escapist scare flick. Thanks to blood brother John Pata for the recommendation and ruining my day in the best possible way.
Stage Fright (2014) d. Sable, Jerome (Canada) (1st viewing)
It’s a musical! It’s a slasher! It’s a slasher set at a musical theatre camp! It’s supposed to be funny! It’s got Meat Loaf Aday in it! It’s got some pretty decent gore! It’s got some really terrible and easy theatre jokes! It’s from Canada! It’s not scary! At all! It’s hobbled by lame humor! But the gore is pretty good! Could have been worse! Could have been better! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand scene.
The Terminator (1984) d. Cameron, James (USA) (6th viewing)
Revisiting Cameron’s breakout film three decades later, it absolutely holds up as a tight little sci-fi/horror/action flick thanks to the lean, mean script banged out by director Cameron and producer Gale Ann Hurd. While it proved to be star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stepping stone to the big time, the supporting performances really stood out to me this time around; from cameos like Bill Paxton’s punk and Dick Miller’s doomed gun shop owner to Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield’s law enforcement officers bantering like an old married couple. Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton carry the day as our heroes with their earnestness if not their god-given charisma, and Arnie nails the one-liners like a pro.
They're Watching (2016) d. Lender, Jay / Wright, Micah (USA) (1st viewing)
I probably would have never heard of much less seen this nutty offering (in the cinema, no less!) had it not been for the urging of amigo Jason Coffman. Because after Sharing the Scare for nearly nine hours out in Aurora, why NOT go see some found-footage horror/comedy about a home improvement reality show filming an episode in Romania the same weekend that Batman vs. Superman comes out? There’s not a whole lot to report except for that the characters are all pretty annoying and disposably two-dimensional as they proceed to annoy the superstitious, torch-bearing locals to the breaking point… and then, around the 80-minute mark, everything goes completely batshit and what was merely tedious becomes something glorious and grotesque even within its painfully low-rent CGI confines. The mayhem only lasts for about 10-15 minutes, but it’s a pretty fandamntastic quarter hour while it lasts.
The Witch (2015) d. Eggers, Robert (UK/USA) (1st viewing)
Brilliant and terrifying, artfully rendered and exquisitely performed, writer/director Eggers’ “A New-England Folktale” examines social paranoia and religious fanaticism through a supernatural lens, and the results are utterly breathtaking. It’s as though you were watching a production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible where the unbilled supporting characters were actual witches, reducing all of the human characters to mere pawns. Marvelously authentic production design, cinematography (much of it by natural light), and soundscapes support the award-worthy central turns by Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, and Kate Dickie, with special notice for the menagerie of four-legged beasts stealing the show at every turn. The best movie I’ve seen thus far in 2016, horror or civilian.
Battletruck (aka Warlords of the 21st Century) (1982) d. Cokeliss, Harley (New Zealand) (1st viewing)
The first of many cinematic delights in a care package supplied by gregariously generous Belgian blood brother Gert Verbeeck, this Kiwi Mad Max rip-off is entertaining for seeing ex-Warrior Michael Beck buzz around on his tricked-out motorcycle, dodging the titular 18-wheeled behemoth commandeered by James Wainwright. However, Annie McEnroe is sooooooo supremely terrible as the damsel in distress that she nearly single-handedly ruins the entire experience.
A Most Violent Year (2014) d. Chandor, J.C. (USA) (1st viewing)
I’ve been a huge fan of Chandor since his debut one-two punch of Margin Call and All is Lost, and his third feature manages to be completely different and yet maintains the same excellent attention to detail and well-drawn characters. Oscar Isaac stars as Abel, an up-and-coming heating and oil distributor in early 80s NYC, an industry and location buried in corruption and criminal codes. But Abel is different; an honest-to-gosh straight arrow, he will have no part in any duplicitous dealings, much to the chagrin of his nails-tough wife Jessica Chastain, herself the daughter of a small-time mob kingpin. Watching Abel wrestle with his conscience as the walls close in on him (a mortgage deadline, a war on his delivery truck drivers, a D.A. breathing down his neck) is electrifying, and we find ourselves saying alongside the superlative supporting cast, “It’s okay, just do the wrong thing. It’ll be easier all around.” Three for three, J.C.
Sound of My Voice (2011) d. Batmanglij, Zal (USA) (1st viewing)
Intelligent little thriller about a pair of would-be investigative journalists attempting to infiltrate a religious cult run by a mysterious woman (Brit Marling, who co-scripted with Batmanglij) who claims she’s from the future. Taut sequences feed off one another until the eyebrow-furrowing conclusion, causing you to rethink all that has gone before.
BIG MUSICALS ON THE BIG SCREEN
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) d. Jewison, Norman (USA) (2nd viewing)
There may be better ways to celebrate Easter Sunday than to hang out in Strawdog Theatre’s Hugen Hall and sing along to this rock opera retelling of the Messiah’s last days, but I doubt it.
West Side Story (1961) d. Wise, Robert / Robbins, Jerome (USA) (2nd viewing)
Due to a fluke sold-out 70mm screening of Lawrence of Arabia at the Music Box, the femalien and I decided to purchase “consolation prize” tickets for this Oscar-winning screen version of the Broadway hit. I hadn’t seen it in probably 30 years or more, and as such, I had forgotten how compelling and transcendent a moving picture it is. Though leads Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood singing voices are dubbed, it’s done so proficiently that if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know. Russ Tamblyn is simply electrifying as Riff, the leader of the Jets street gang, ably matched by George Chakris’ fiery Bernardo, head of the opposing Sharks, and Rita Moreno as Bernarndo’s sassy, saucy girlfriend. (Chakris and Moreno both won the supporting acting Oscars that year, though how Tamblyn was not even nominated is puzzling.) The dance numbers are spellbinding and the cinematography downright innovative, from the very opening credits revealing the NYC skyline. Nice to rediscover a classic.
Blackfish (2013) d. Cowperthwaite, Gabriela (USA) (1st viewing)
Captivating and infuriating condemnation of Sea World’s complicity and cover-up of the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at the teeth and flippers of their prize killer whale Tilikum. My only complaint is that, unlike Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove, Cowperthwaite and her team don’t go far enough in expressing just how torturous it is for these animals to be kept in concrete prisons and taught to do unnatural tricks, focusing instead on Sea World’s desire to keep their trainers in unsafe conditions despite the all-too-obvious risks. I’m less concerned with the safety of the men and women complicit in this inhumane behavior than I am about the welfare of the animals themselves; after all, humans have a choice in the matter.
Somm (2012) d. Wise, Jason (USA) (1st viewing)
As with most stories of obsession and pursuit of perfection, this examination of four wine experts studying to achieve the distinction of “Master Sommelier” could easily be written off under the “how important is this in the grand scheme of things” clause. (I mean, identifying the region, year, etc. of a bottle of wine is a fine party trick, but beyond that... As long as it tastes good, who cares?) Luckily, director Wise has chosen a quartet of unique personalities who try to answer that question as well as every other one that could pop up on their exam flash cards, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama.
DOUBLE SPIN KICK OF SHO KOSUGI
Pray for Death (1985) d. Hessler, Gordon (USA) (1st viewing)
Rage of Honor (1987) d. Hessler, Gordon (USA) (1st viewing)
After becoming THE GO-TO NINJA ACTOR following his debut in 1981’s smash hit Enter the Ninja, Japanese martial artist Sho Kosugi had a string of low-budget action flicks throughout the 80s, including these two star vehicles directed by former horror helmsman (Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Scream and Scream Again, and, ahem, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park) Hessler. Pray for Death is notable for having, in the form of screenwriter and character man James Booth, one of the most despicable bad guys ever to grace the silver screen. In order to maintain the shock impact, I won’t catalog his evil deeds, but suffice to say my jaw unhinged numerous times while watching, just after uttering, “No freaking wa....” Rage of Honor is an attempt on Kosugi’s part to leave his masked assassin persona behind, attempting a James Bond by way of Jackie Chan adventure story playing a DEA agent tracking a drug ring. It’s forgettable but fun big-bam-boom entertainment, with yet another slimy, yet impeccably coifed, antagonist played by Lewis Van Bergen. Both are available from Arrow Video HERE:
2016 Totals to date: 62 films, 46 1st time views, 31 horror, 8 cinema