Friday, May 11, 2012

Fool's Views (4/30 – 5/6)

Hey kids,

Once again, I find myself completely blessed by the company I keep and their adventurous, idiosyncratic tastes in cinema. Several of the newer horror features were sneaked via peeking over Film regular Jason Coffman’s shoulder as he winnowed his way through a pile of screeners, while a couple more were among the score of flicks smuggled home courtesy of Belgian blood brother Gert Verbeeck. There was also a mixed bag crop multiplex harvesting contributing to the pile; not nearly as much ripe fruit this time out, but to everything there is a season, I suppose.

Also managed to polish off my HorrorHound articles and get those turned in, so that’s off the to-do plate. Next up, memorizing my lines for this summer’s production of Inherit the Wind with Festival Theatre and shooting a potentially nifty student film about the notorious “MK Ultra” experiments of the 1950s. Good times and never a dull moment. Keep you posted!

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



Absentia (2011)  d. Flanagan, Mike (USA) (1st viewing)

Seven years after the disappearance of her husband, grieving widow Courtney Bell is in the process of legally finalizing his “deceased in absentia” status when he begins to appear to her in increasingly disturbing visions. At the same time, her drifter sister Katie Parker has a number of strange encounters with individuals (including genre fave Doug Jones) in and around a creepy underpass tunnel. Writer/director Flanagan conjures an intriguing horror story with some serious smarts and well-conceived characters going for it, mostly balancing out any obstacles that accompany its clearly diminutive budget.

(Last week, we ripped on The Devil’s Rock for their lousy marketing materials – looks like Absentia drew the short straw this time out. DVD cover art has nothing to do with the film.)

Cat, The (aka Lao Mao) (1992) d. Lam, Ngai Choi (Hong Kong) (1st viewing)

My deepest appreciation to Gert for foisting this one on me. If you’ve ever wondered, “What would it be like if an extraterrestrial cat and his humanoid compatriots were forced to do battle against a crazy blob-like creature, and you didn’t quite know if the furry feline was on the side of nefariousness or righteousness?”, this is the off-the-charts wacko celluloid fever dream for you. To properly celebrate Lao Mao’s giddy vibe defies my feeble powers of description, but for a glimpse into Blisstown, this link to the film’s mid-act rumble between the titular meow-meow and a government-sanctioned hit-dog should serve the turn.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009)  d. Soska, Jen / Soska, Sylvia (USA) (1st viewing)

As one might guess from the title and lead characters dubbed “Badass,” “Geek,” “Druggie,” and “Goody Two Shoes,” subtlety is not the order of the day when approaching the Soska Sisters’ feature debut. On the one hand, there is truth in advertising, since there is in fact a deceased prostitute in a motor vehicle’s posterior storage facility, and much outlandish and surprisingly gory comedic mayhem ensues from said situation. That said, it also seems to be born out of the same tired ready-made neo-exploitation cauldron that has worn out its welcome (at least in this Fool’s eyes), and so I watched with quaint amusement as opposed to the shock and awe presumably intended. Continuity, quality sound, and production value in general are gleefully pitched to the wind, with a sense of “Hey, we’re making a low budget exploitation movie - !#$!#@ off!!!!!” and that’s all good and fine. But I’m more than a little interested in seeing what the twisted twins can come up with for their next service with a net actually in place.

Lonely Place to Die, A (2011)  d. Gibley, Julian (UK) (1st viewing)

In spite of the fact that I’ve never been able to quite get over Melissa George’s too-short upper lip (seriously, this bothers no one else?), this thriller concerning a group of mountain climbing chums who stumble onto a vicious kidnapping plot turns out to be an extremely well-assembled piece of machinery with effective plot twists and surprises. John Boorman’s Deliverance meets Ron Howard’s Ransom comes close to capturing the vibe (coming from someone who is a big fan of both).

Magnetic Monster, The (1953) d. Siodmak, Curt (USA) (1st viewing)

Clever little egghead programmer about a newly invented radioactive element that plays havoc with local machinery and, to make matters worse, continually drains the energy around it in order to double in size every 12 hours. In spite of brainiac Richard Carlson’s incessant voiceover, things definitely take off in after all the exposition is out of the way and the path is clear for he and fellow lab coat King Donavan to chase the mysterious property down and find a means of arresting its growth before it (all together now) wipes out life on Earth as we know it. Strange that this nifty sci-fi curio has flown under the home video radar this long (now finally available through MGM’s Limited Edition Collection), especially considering its pedigree: Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space), Donovan (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), co-writer/director Siodmak (The Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein), producer/co-writer Ivan Tors (TV’s Sea Hunt & Flipper) and an early appearance from character actor extraordinaire, Strother Martin.

Raven, The (2012) d. McTeigue, James (USA) (1st viewing)

“John Cusack is Edgar Allan Poe” isn’t really that great of a tagline, but when you couple it with “from the director of V for Vendetta” and a reasonably thorny narrative following a serial killer who seems to be both taunting and drawing inspiration from the infamously troubled scribbler, well, things get a little more appealing. Screenwriting team Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare’s fanciful and fictionalized telling of Poe’s final days does have its memorable moments of suspense and grisly payoff, particularly when focusing on the murders themselves as Cusack throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of amateur detective, especially once his lovely fiancée Alice Eve becomes a pawn in the game. Purists be damned, I thought it was all right.

Society (1989) d. Yuzna, Brian (USA) (1st viewing)

Confession time: I love “best of” lists, especially when it comes to films. Though, when Time Out London spat out their 100 Best Horror Films list (usually a fairly well-traveled road), I was genuinely surprised to see a trio of titles that I had not yet seen, including two that I had never heard of (1985’s Come and See and 1984’s Threads, though the former apparently is more war film than horror. Whatever.) Anyway, this long-winded intro serves as the explanation for how it was I finally came to sit down in front of the YouTube to viddy the oft-discussed but elusive directing debut of Re-Animator producer Yuzna. While the satirical spin of alien creatures inhabiting the rich bitches of humanity has its merits (as do the oh-so-80s fashion and dialogue), it’s Screaming Mad George’s surreal and grue-tastic final reel special effects that viewers will take away. Would it be on my personal top 100? Doubtful, but I’m glad I finally saw it anyway.


50/50 (2011) d. Levine, Jonathan (USA) (1st viewing)

Solid based-on-real-life dramedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as our likable protagonist given the diagnosis that he’s developed a malignant cancerous tumor in his spine and his chances are, well, half n’ half. Co-writer/co-producer Seth Rogen is also pretty darn funny, and the rest of the ensemble (Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer, Angelica Huston and even Anna Kendrick) lend solid support.

Bridesmaids (2011) d. Feig, Paul (USA) (2nd viewing)

Still damn funny. Though I will say, the shock value of Melissa McCarthy’s character certainly fades on a second go-round. Starting to doubt her Oscar nom worthiness now, although I’m also thinking that perhaps Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo deserved the Best Screenplay statuette instead of the Woodman. And watching the deleted scenes and the "Line-o-Rama" special feature on the DVD, you realize that the true underrated bridesmaid of the pack is the delightfully tawdry Wendi McLendon-Covey, whose best lines were left on the cutting room floor. Someone make her a star NOW please.

Conquest (1983) d. Fulci, Lucio (Italy) (1st viewing)

Swords, sandals, babes, muscleheads, monsters, magic, and not a lick of sense between ‘em. I can’t believe I’m calling this a “civilian” film, but it’s not quite horror either, so… Watched this the same night as The Cat, so our batsh*t crazy barometer was already shattered – I’m thinking if we’d watched it any other time, it would have seemed much, much more bonkers. Still, good times from Fulci following his unholy early ’80s quartet of Zombie, City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetery and The Beyond.

Corman's World (2011)  d. Stapleton, Alex (USA) (1st viewing)

Stapleton amasses an endless parade of talking heads for this informative documentary on independent film mogul and recently minted Honorary Oscar recipient Roger Corman. True, for anyone who's been a genre fan for a while then a lot of will represent well-traveled ground. But just as I was when Spinetingler: The William Castle Story came out (full with just as many familiar anecdotes for any relatively well-versed cineaste), I'm glad this doc exists to inform the uninformed of Corman's legacy. Although, what the hell is Eli Roth doing in there? No, seriously. What. Is he doing. In there.

Hunger Games, The (2012) d. Ross, Gary (USA) (1st viewing)

I’ve not read the books and I had a (small) chip on my shoulder that they essentially lifted the Battle Royale plotline and somehow turned it into a blockbuster PG-13 movie. That said, taken on its own merits, the film is…not bad. Unsurprisingly, it plays like a young adult novel – which perhaps says more about what is now considered YA fare than anything else.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998) d. Herzog, Werner (Germany/UK) (1st viewing)

Award-winning documentary on German ex-pat Dieter Dengler who came to the U.S. and joined the military in order to be trained as a pilot, only to downed on his first combat mission in Vietnam, where he spent the next several months being tortured in a Vietcong POW camp. On camera, Dengler is surprisingly stable and upbeat in recounting his experiences, some of which Herzog chooses to re-enact in the Vietnam jungle – that must have been a surreal experience for all involved.

Pirates! Band of Misfits, The (2012)  d. Lord, Peter / Newitt, Jeff (UK) (1st viewing)

Though Nick Park is not behind the camera here, the Aardman animation genius and wit is still in full flower. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain, a good natured knucklehead who wants nothing more than to win the Pirate of the Year (or is that Yaaaaar) Award, and his avuncular, salty dog crew want nothing more than to enjoy Ham Night with their skipper. Plenty of goofy set pieces and character tics to go around, and when Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) come on the scene, it’s a jolly roger good time for all.

Wrath of the Titans (2012) d. Liebesman, Jonathan (USA) (1st viewing)

A textbook example of lazy sequel making – no character advancement, by-the-numbers plot, soulless CGI action sequences, and two-dimensional heroes and villains in a perfunctory 3D world. Yawn.

2012 Totals to date: 204 films, 176 1st time views, 108 horror, 67 cinema


  1. In spite of the fact that Come and See is a war film, it's one of the most horrifying movies ever made. You should see it, but hide the razor blades. Threads is similarly lacking in genre signifiers, but it, too, is singularly horrifying. These are movies that stand as reminders that "horror" is an emotion first.

  2. THREADS is available on YouTube, still working on tracking down COME AND SEE. I know that you tend to throw an even more inclusive net than I when it comes to horror, but because "horror" is so subjective an emotion, it's hard to know where one should draw the line or if a line should even be drawn.

    I've had the same conversation regarding SCHINDLER'S LIST's opening battle scene, which is more gory and intense than a dozen so-called horror flicks, yet people who shun the genre due to its violence and bloodshed have no problem settling down to Spielberg's meat grinder because of its "importance."

    Bottom line, being a cineaste, I'm going to check out both and I'm thankful to Time Out London for bringing them to my attention, whether they belong on the list or no.