Friday, October 7, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/5


Freeway Killer (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Murlowski, John (USA) 85min
Biopic on titular serial killer William Bonin who, after murdering numerous young men in late 70s/early 80s SoCal, became the first person to be executed by lethal injection. The film succeeds largely thanks to a genuinely unnerving lead turn by Scott Anthony Leet, who plays Bonin as a social misfit, charismatic without being charming (though a little “Hollywood crazy” at times). While the performances tend to be a little rough and/or mannered, but it’s the awkward, unschooled nature of things that hits closest to the bone. It’s clear that they’d like to emulate Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (even to the point of securing Michael Rooker for a cameo), but it’s closer in tone to that film’s less-realistic, more movie-like sequel. The main narrative focuses on Bonin’s schooling of young recruit Cole Williams in his murderous ways, then forced to choose between his new protégé and old partner Dusty Sorg. Eileen Dietz shows up as Bill’s mom, talking about her “demons.” (Cute, guys.)

Duel (1971) (3rd viewing) d. Spielberg, Steven (USA) 90min
Steven Spielberg’s debut feature (originally shot as a TV movie-of-the-week, then expanded for overseas distribution) is a master class in suspense and screen action, tension and release. Driving his red Plymouth Valiant, Dennis Weaver passes a grimy semi truck on the California highway, unwittingly sparking an ever-escalating conflict of tires, sweat and asphalt. Richard Matheson’s adaptation of his short story is also a wonder, creating 90 minutes of worthwhile dramatic action that never feels padded. Weaver is electrifying as the everyman – his character is even dubbed “David Mann” – under assault in an all-too-imaginable scenario for road trip veterans. (In fact, I’ve been meaning to revisit this since last year’s two-week trek across the Southwest – scenes from this and The Hitcher running endlessly through my head.) Jack A. Marta’s daring cinematography is key, as is Frank Morriss’ tight editing. A suspenseful and ultimately terrifying 18-wheel monster movie that will keep you nervously glancing in the rear view mirror.

Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) (1973) 2nd viewing) d. Sharp, Don (UK) 85min
If you think biker thugs are bad, just try them when they’re undead. One of Fangoria editor Chris Alexander’s favorite wackjob UK flicks, focusing on The Living Dead motorcycle gang whose helmet skull logos resemble bunny rabbit heads more than unfleshed craniums. (And the neon pink lettering is a nice touch.) Right from the outset, leader Tom is convinced that killing himself is the next big thing, the great trip. Soon, he does just that, and then resurrects himself from the grave – riding his motorcycle out from six feet under no less! After convincing the rest of the gang to do themselves in and come back as immortal minions, the mischief really begins. Yes, it’s all as silly as it sounds. All sorts of occult dealings (Mom apparently sold Tommy to the George Sanders’ devil as a youngster, hardly the kind of secret any child wants to hear) keep the ball bouncing when the tires aren’t squealing though it must be admitted that despite the frequent wild and trippy moments, things do get a little old after a while. Sanders’ final role, and it’s no great stretch that the Oscar winner’s realization of what he had stooped to here might just have been enough to push him over the edge.


Objective, The (2008)
(1st viewing) d. Myrick, Daniel (USA) 90min
Myrick, one of the co-directors of The Blair Witch Project, presents an incredibly atmospheric tale populated by U.S. troops in war-rattled Afghanistan. When CIA agent Jonas Ball shows up, requiring a handpicked crew for a top secret mission, the muscular crew of bearded roughnecks head out into the dusty wild…only to encounter “intelligent lights” that appear, disappear and when provoked, transform into force fields that evaporate everything in their path. It’s a well-mounted twisty spook story, with the dwindling squad battling apparitions, UFO’s, hallucinations, enemy fire and relentless elemental assaults. So it’s rather maddening that rather than a satisfying ending, we have a resolutely oblique WTF conclusion flipped our direction, one that openly challenges viewers to form their own conclusions. This daring but ill-advised move has likely kept this flick from being touted more highly in horror circles – I know I’ll only be recommending it with reservations. Curiously, the credits read “Introducing Jonas Ball,” despite the actor having starred as Mark David Chapman in The Killing of John Lennon in 2006.

Outpost (2008)
(1st viewing) d. Barker, Steve (UK) 90min
Set in modern day Eastern Europe, Ray Stevenson’s band of mercenaries accompany a mysterious operative into a deserted Nazi bunker, one that holds an even more mysterious machine that possesses the ability to unify fields – as in “Unified Field Theory.” This metaphysical mechanism was apparently developed by the Axis powers in order to create undying supersoldiers, and wouldn’t you know it, when the mercs turn it on, everything goes to hell with Nazi zombie/ghosts laying waste to everything in their path. And contrary to popular belief, the head shot just ain’t gonna do it in this case because these undead shamblers don’t go down…period. Gritty and washed out cinematography, coupled with top-flight turns from the entire male ensemble, earns a lot of goodwill, but in the end, one wishes for a plot that made just a tad bit more sense and amounted to more than just another downbeat zombie flick.

First Time Views: 12
Repeats: 10
Total Films: 22

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