Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fool's Views (5/14 – 5/20)

Greetings, comrades!

Well, surprisingly enough, I’ve managed to stay just ahead of the game in terms of finishing up the previous week’s Views for the past month or so – posting a nanosecond or two prior to the current week’s closing bell. I know, it shouldn’t seem like such a monumental accomplishment, but for longtime Fool followers, you know that it is not out of the ordinary to see a month go by with nary a peep from the Doc. So, I’m going to give myself a little virtual pat on the back here, in the hopes that positive affirmation leads to more of this pleasing punctual behavior. With, of course, the threat of whips and chains lurking just around the bend should productivity fall off.

Glancing back, it looks like we’re tracking slightly ahead of last year’s stats. Not terribly surprising with the BIFFF factor in place (which certainly accounts for 2012’s disproportionate cinema tally), but still pleasing to see. Have to see if we can keep up the posts along with the pace.

Anyway, it’s significant that I invoke my recent Belgian excursion as this week was a veritable travelogue (thanks in no small part to Jon Kitley of Kitley's Krypt), with pics climbing in the player from India, Russia, Italy, Spain, Korea, England, Africa, two efforts from our northerly Canadian neighbors as well as a number of home team efforts. My cinematic passport runneth over, and you, faithful readers, are the bemused benefactors of my toils. Hope you find a few underviewed gems below to add to your respective to-see lists.

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



Blood Rites (2011) d. Booraem, Dorothy (USA) (1st viewing)

Nebraska-based microbudget filmmaker Booraem has concocted a crime drama dipped in a black magic candy coating, the results being satisfyingly twisty and twisted. When a drug deal goes south (hey, even cornhuskers need a buzz now and again), the remaining members of the team hightail it back to an abandoned warehouse to regroup with a trio of Bible-thumping hostages in tow. Whilst licking and/or tending to their wounds, tensions rise, tempers flare, mysterious dark forces arise and exits literally disappear, leaving the small band at odds as options slowly, messily run out. Booraem and co-writer/co-producer/cinematographer Chad Haufschild make the most of their limited resources without overextending, and while their serpentine script may have a few red herrings too many, there’s no denying their creative impulses both in concept and execution. From the welcome early dose of down-home nudity to the histrionic bloodbath conclusion, adventurous horror fans should demand their Rites post haste.

Mother's Day (2010) d. Bousman, Darren Lynn (USA) (1st viewing)

In this day and age of title reappropriation, it consistently confounds me as to why someone would go through the trouble of acquiring the rights to “remake” a lesser-known film when the final product bears only the slightest resemblance to its source material. Such is the case with Saw II, III, IV and Repo! The Genetic Opera director Bousman’s latest, a gleefully nasty home invasion movie that resides miles away from Charles Kaufman’s early Troma black comic rape/revenge flick. Rebecca de Mornay earns her matriarchal top billing status, lording over a brood of amoral offspring who wage an assault on the new owners (Jaime King, Frank Grillo) of their recently repossessed domicile. As one might expect from Bousman’s pedigree, there is no shortage of squishy, squirmy gore moments, though they are handled in an intriguingly offhand way, at times relegated to the background or edge of frame. The impressive body-count-to-be performances are all capable enough, though character motivations are sketchy as they attempt to serve screenwriter Scott Milam’s dicey high wire between gritty realistic set-pieces and outlandish thriller scenarios. The end result is a relatively entertaining but decidedly mixed breed.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) d. Craig, Eli (USA) (2nd viewing)

An joyously funny and inspired riff on the “hillbilly” survival subgenre, pitting two unwitting backwoods good ol’ boys (Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) against a fun-loving bunch of co-eds who mistakenly interpret circumstances and appearances, leading to a number of incredibly splattery and hysterical vignettes. There’s not much not to love about this feature debut by sometime actor Eli Craig – it’s got smarts, blood, heart and laughs. Highly recommended.


Guardpost, The (aka GP 506) (2008)  d. Kong, Su-chang (South Korea) (1st viewing)

When the titular South Korean Army bunker falls incommunicado, an investigative military team is sent in to assess the situation, only to discover a pile of hacked, dismembered corpses and a single deranged survivor. With only a single rainy night to get to the bottom of things and the clock ticking, team leader Cheon Ho-jin (with gravitas to burn) digs through tattered records and gore-streaked remains for answers; rest assured when they ultimately reveal themselves, it ain’t pretty. Kong, who impressively served up 2004’s military-minded R-Point, works overtime with his flashback-laden narrative, dropping viewers into past/present scenes with little or no warning. Unfortunately, this disorienting effect only manages to confuse more often than not, as the underdeveloped, similarly clad characters seem interchangeable, especially when factoring in the hallucinatory supernatural forces at play. Despite oodles of claustrophobic atmosphere, and an energetic ensemble whose enthusiastic shouts and screams fill the soundtrack as bunker walls run red, the amount of head-scratching elicited during the excessive two-hour run time ultimately proves a little painful.

Threads (1984) d. Jackson, Mick (UK) (1st viewing)

For American viewers growing up in the 80s, the 1983 TV-movie The Day After was the ultimate in nuke scare flicks. Little did I know that the Brits had returned fire with an even more impressive response over their own airwaves the year following, as if to say, “No, this is how you do grim, bleak, apocalyptic terror and desperation.” With a superb cast of relative unknowns and a documentary style approach, director Jackson and writer Barry Hines unflinchingly portray the days leading up to a nuclear holocaust and its effect on the working class city of Sheffield, England. But it’s after the electrifying and devastating blast sequence that the real horror begins, as beloved characters disappear unexpectedly or suffer agonizingly slow deaths from radiation, starvation or exposure to the nuclear winter that befalls civilization. The long term effects extend 15 years into the onscreen future, with mankind reduced to a mumbling, fumbling, hobbled species; the children of the bomb inheriting a barren and fruitless landscape. One can only suspect that world leaders moved their hands a little further away from the red button upon seeing this. An undeniably impressive effort, now available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.

Uncle Sam (1996) d. Lustig, William (USA) (1st viewing)

After his body is returned home, KIA Desert Storm vet Sam Harper (David Shark Fralick) rises from his coffin confines on July 4th to wage war against the citizens of his American-as-apple-pie hometown, to the disbelief of his idolizing nephew Christopher Ogden. Turns out “Uncle Sam” wasn’t such a good guy in life, and in his inexplicably resurrected form, he’s twice as nasty, bumping off former friends and neighbors right and left wearing a – you guessed it – red, white and blue top-hat-and-white-goateed costume. Working from a script by noted rabble-rouser Larry Cohen, Lustig paints a cartoonish and violent paean to the supernatural slasher subgenre, with all the nutritional value and culinary daring of a cinematic cheese dog on a stick. Wants to be good, dumb fun, but mostly just ends up being dumb and dull, despite the game efforts of Isaac Hayes, Timothy Bottoms, Bo Hopkins, and Robert Forster.


Candle for the Devil, A (aka It Happened at Nightmare Inn) (1973)  d. Martin, Eugenio (Spain)
(1st viewing)

Two spinster sisters (Aurora Bautista, Esperanza Roy) attempt to keep a tight moral rein on themselves and their inn’s residents, but – in a reflection of the repressed morality during Franco’s rule in Spain – lust and murder roils just below the surface. When British tourist Judy Geeson’s trampy sister gets “accidentally” bumped off in the opening sequence, it sets in motion a series of events that have Bautista and Roy hacking up bodies late into the night. Exquisite camerawork and mood by Martin, whose wildly entertaining Horror Express was released just the year prior.

Devil's Wedding Night, The (1973) d. Batzella, Luigi (as Paolo Solvay) (Italy) (1st viewing)

Mark Damon pulls double duty as a pair of twins (one intellectual, one a hedonistic bounder) who venture to Transylvania’s Castle Dracula in search of a mysterious bejeweled ring, encountering instead the jewel that is Rosalba Neri (aka Sara Bay) hanging out with her sexy lesbian zombie servant Esmeralda Barros. Moody castle interiors, flashing fangs and a bevy of comely female flesh make this by-the-numbers vamp tale a satisfying enough Italian dish. Notorious sex-n-horror maestro Joe D’Amato reputedly spent some uncredited time behind the camera as well.

Night God Screamed, The (1971)  d. Madden, Lee (USA) (1st viewing)

Any film would have a hard time living up to such an mind-blowing exploitation title, but despite its amazing-on-paper plot description, this 1971 home invasion flick doesn’t even come close. A harried wife (’40s star Jeanne Crain, in her penultimate feature role) witnesses her minister husband’s brutal crucifixion at the hands of a Manson-like cult – complete with Manson-like flower power leader. After her testimony sends several members to death row, she finds herself a target for the remaining killer hippies, and, during the titular night in question, they proceed to terrorize her and the group of twentysomething-looking “kids” she happens to be babysitting. Madden’s inability to generate any kind of palpable tension or suspense sinks the ship almost as soon as it launches, but the economy-grade emoting ensemble doesn’t do anyone any favors either.

Vengeance is Mine (aka Sunday in the Country) (1974)  d. Trent, John (USA) (1st viewing)

Canadian oddity pits Ernest Borgnine’s god-fearing farmer against three ruthless bank robbers on the run (the slimiest of which played by a very hairy and scary Michael J. Pollard). I say “oddity” because Borgnine seems to have the upper hand at all times in dealing with the gang, and it is his questionable enthusiasm for doling out down-home justice that lends a certain chewiness to time-honored home-invasion tropes. Hollis McLaren co-stars as Borgnine’s conflicted free spirit granddaughter, growing ever more concerned with her elder’s dark tactics. An enjoyably complex, morally ambiguous yarn that only chickens out in the final reel by pandering to the lowest common denominator – had the story ended five minutes sooner, it might have been something truly special instead of the forgotten relic is has become.


Ghajini (2008) (1st viewing) d. Murugadoss, A.R.

Anyone who sits through the first 15 minutes of this Bollywood blockbuster (reportedly the highest grossing Hindi film of all time) would be forgiven for decrying its blatant similarities to Christopher Nolan’s Memento. After all, we’ve got a protagonist (Aamir Khan) with incurable short-term memory loss who has covered his body with “reminder” tattoos in his search for the murderer of his beloved (singing star Asin). Sound familiar? But what sets Murugadoss’ three hour epic apart – aside from the requisite musical numbers – are the extensive and charming flashback sequences where we get to see our hero encounter and fall for the fetching and impulsive girl of his dreams. It’s a rom-com, gritty action flick, musical and tearjerking drama all rolled into one supersized flatbread sandwich. Dig in.


Dersu Uzala (1975) d. Kurosawa, Akira (USSR) (1st viewing)
Naked Prey, The (1966) d. Wilde, Cornel (South Africa/USA) (1st viewing)

Two features that, in spite of their surface differences, share a number of interesting similarities. While Kurosawa’s Oscar-winning entry focuses on the titular Japanese tracker befriended by a Russian survey team in the Siberian forests, producer-director-star Wilde takes to the African jungle as an ivory hunter (dubbed simply “Man”) whose expedition leader offends a local native tribe, a misstep of courtesy that results in Wilde being pursued by vengeance-seeking warriors. Both depict protagonists struggling to survive in harsh environmental landscapes, beset by homicidal humans alongside beasts of the wild. Both showcase lone but innately skilled foreigners in foreign lands, who show remarkable resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Both share a gift for showcasing Nature’s great power and savage beauty, and both were the results of frustrated (creatively and financially) auteurs who left their respective homelands to create remarkable and justifiably celebrated works of art. Both come Highly Recommended.

2012 Totals to date: 224 films, 194 1st time views, 121 horror, 67 cinema

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