Friday, September 9, 2011

Fool's Views (8/22 – 8/28)

In the waning hours of hours of August (and with West Virginia and Romeo & Juliet on the horizon), it was Netflix streaming, Chicago’s Public Library, Kitley’s Kryptic Army and LifeSource’s video library that provided viddying fodder for the Fool. With another flick each from Heston and Jackson logged, several civilian revisits and a couple fresh Frankensteins that had ne’er crossed my path, as well as vengeful samurai and mutant vamps getting their licks in, the playing field was kept bumpy and jumpy, just the way we like it.

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


Screamtime (1986)
(1st viewing) d. Armstrong, Michael/Long, Stanley
A so-so anthology film composed of a trio of British chillers of equally middling nature, held together by the goofiest and laziest of conventions: a pair of NYC thugs rip off a video store at the opening and then we watch the movies through their eyes at home. The first segment centers on an aging Punch n’ Judy show operator seeking vengeance upon the hoodlums that trashed his puppet stage, a story that packs zero suspense but plenty of unintentional laughter as we watch full-grown adults assaulted by a 2x4 packing hand puppet. The central piece features a young couple moving into a new country estate, with the wife soon visited by horrifying visions of murder and death. (While we’ve seen this scenario before, it does yield a genuinely surprising twist ending.) The final story is a bit of a yawner, as a young funds-seeking hot-rodder plans to rob a pair of old ladies, then finds himself the victim of a haunted painting. Not a complete waste of time, but no need to bump it to the top of the queue.

Stake Land (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Mickle, Jim
The minds behind 2006’s Mulberry St. are back, revisiting the same apocalyptic themes with roving bands of mutated vampires standing in for their debut feature’s bloodthirsty man/rat creations. Infused with superlative camerawork, astonishing makeup effects and remarkably well-drawn characters, the result is one of the finest horror features of the year. The script, co-written by Mickle and lead actor Nick Damici (terrific as the stoic vamp-killer “Mister”), consistently surprises with its nimble combination of humanity and horror, and the capably glammed-down cast (Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris, and an unrecognizable Kelly McGillis) are up to the challenge, fully inhabiting their roving band of survivors characters with nary a false note. The open roads and fields of rural Americana have never felt as bleak and wasted, as leached of life as the littered victims that strew the countryside. An incredible independent effort, required viewing for any budding horrormeisters who think it impossible to create a worthwhile end product with limited financial resources. Highly Recommended.

Frankenstein '80 (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Mancini, Mario
Probably the only Frankenstein feature in which the monster visits a prostitute and actually pays her in cash...before raping and killing her anyway. As the titular mad scientist, former muscleman Gordon Mitchell steals a formula (the "Schwartz Serum," which resembles blue Romulan Ale) to create a reanimated, piecemeal, sexually ravenous monster none-too-subtly dubbed "Mosaic." This by-the-numbers Eurotrash effort blatantly follows the blood n' boobs stopwatch formula: Introduce a female character, get their clothes off, messily do away with them, then return to the "plot" for another 15 minutes. Rinse, lather, repeat. John Richardson, best known for his loincloth-clad heroics alongside Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., headlines as a reporter carrying on his own investigation into the crimes while the lovely Dalila Di Lazzaro keeps her clothes on here as Frankenstein's niece, perhaps prepping for next year's role as the female monster in Flesh for Frankenstein. Bizarre, inconstant moments of "comedy" are provided courtesy of a nicotine-starved police inspector ranting at his underlings, and future f/x wiz Carlo Rambaldi's special effects primarily consist of applique scars and red karo syrup-soaked livers, hearts, kidneys, etc. being flung about. Not a great film by any stretch, although watching a female butcher clumsily bludgeoned to death by a cow femur has its unexpected pleasures.

Spirit of the Beehive, The (1973)
(1st viewing) d. Erice, Victor
According to Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, this is the story of "a lonely little village girl who sees Boris Karloff's Frankenstein in the town hall and becomes entranced by the monster. Her sister convinces her that the monster is still alive and she treks off into the countryside to find him." Now, doesn't that sound like an awesome movie? Unfortunately, while the above scenario does in fact occur over the course of the story, it's far from what the film is actually about. There's a five minutes worth of Frankensteining - the rest is all meditations on life, death, war, loyalty, childhood, fidelity and imagination. It's a slow-moving, thoughtful, worthwhile effort, but not at all what I was expecting and decidedly not a monster movie.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009) (1st viewing) d. Nishimura, Yoshihiro/Tomomatsu, Naoyuki
With not a serious bone in its bloody body, the directors of Tokyo Gore Police and Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies join forces to yield this absolutely bonkers tale of high school female rivalry taken to supernatural excess. Everything is exaggerated to cartoon levels, with arterial sprays greasing the narrative wheels as a comely bloodsucking exchange student sets her fangs on the object of the vice principal's daughter's affection. When the romantic rival is sent toppling to her death by the immortal anemic, her father (a relative of the infamous mad doctor) takes it upon himself to reassemble, revive and reprogram his offspring into an unstoppable killing machine. The first act introduces dozens of seemingly unrelated (and completely politically incorrect) tangents, all of which are eventually Mixmastered seamlessly into the final reel. Another low budget, high energy splatterfest from the East, an ideal late night beer n' pizza flick.

Lovely Bones, The (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
Having not read Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel upon which it is based, I cannot respond to complaints regarding its screen version’s worthiness as an adaptation. But overall, it’s a pretty hit and miss affair; the scenes of Stanley Tucci’s homicidal recluse or Saoirse Ronan’s fresh-faced spirit narrating her adventures from the beyond keep the proceedings work well. But the clunkier sequences featuring Susan Sarandon’s monster-in-law (the montage of her “tidying up” feel like they come from a completely different movie) or Mark Wahlberg’s grieving, obsessed father ring false and lose viewer goodwill. Fans of Heavenly Creatures will undoubtedly see parallels between this tale of a young girl’s small town murder and Jackson’s breakthrough art house hit, in particular the blend of realistic drama and CGI-enhanced fantasy, so it’s no surprise that the property should strike his fancy.

Henry V (1989) (4th viewing) d. Branagh, Kenneth
In honor of closing week of the show (and since the femalien and I had stopped halfway through a few weeks back), took another visit to the incredible ’89 screen version. So good.

Prestige, The (2006) (2nd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher
Two turn-of-the-century magicians (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman) wage an ever-escalating war of wits and bloodshed against one another, destroying each other’s lives and livelihoods in the process. Nolan’s direction and script (co-written with brother Jonathan) lure us by revealing just enough of the trick to keep us captivated, then shows us how the trick is accomplished in the final reel. Watching it a second time around is the equivalent of watching another movie altogether (as with Memento) – Nolan’s cinematic magic trick seems less impressive once you know how it’s done, to the point where you kick yourself for not figuring it out earlier.

13 Assassins (2010) (1st viewing)d. Miike, Takashi
Superb production values, strong ensemble performances, spraying arterial streams, and showstopping battle sequences are the order of the day. Miike spends an hour setting all his pieces in place, then tips the scales and lets the next hour play out with swords and pikes and arrows piercing all manner of human flesh. A worthy, flawlessly executed epic, more astonishing for its conventional nature than anything else, considering its outré helmsman.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) (2nd viewing) d. Hyams, Peter
All the answers to the questions posed by Stanley Kubrick’s landmark feature are addressed, without considering that mystery was half the magic. The cartoon Cold War backdrop feels terribly dated, and while the visual effects and sci-fi thriller elements are not bad, the whole thing feels clichéd and forced, despite the best efforts of the notable cast (Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban). Really, REALLY meant to watch this last year; seemed almost beside the point now.

Will Penny (1968) (1st viewing) d. Gries, Tom
Novelist-turned-director Gries serves up a worn and darker version of the cowboy’s life, with Charlton Heston as a battered and aging loner who finds himself rescued after being left for dead by Bible-thumping hostiles Donald Pleasance and Bruce Dern. Nursed back to health by homesteader Joan Hackett, Heston is inexorably drawn to her, but denies himself love, knowing he can never give her the life he feels she deserves. While a little heavy handed at times, it’s an engaging character study without conveniently happy endings.

2011 totals to date: 348 films, 214 1st time views, 163 horror, 30 cinema
Charlton Heston movies: 6

Tales of Frankenstein - 1 episode


  1. A few i've seen and a few I need to see. I though Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl was great fun, and I did enjoy The Lovely Bones

  2. Yep to VGvFG, but LB only managed to be half a good movie for me. There were just some really weak moments that annoyed me.