Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fool's Views (7/1 - 7/31) (Part 1)

Whew! What a loaded-to-the-gills summer we’re having. Trips from coast to coast for Enlightened Warrior Training Camps, quickie vacations to New England to see the in-laws and the outlaws (aka our friends), and nonstop fitness sessions for the brave and the misguided alike. And yet, somehow we still managed to sneak in a few flickers both on the big screen and in the occasionally sweltering confines of Chez AC.

Since my rambling this month took a turn for the gabtastic, I’ve broken up this month’s Views into two, count ’em TWO installments for your reading pleasure. Hope you can handle the suspense. Hey, is anyone still there? Hello? Hello? Echoooooooo….

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



The Binding (2015) d. Krieger, Gus (USA) (1st viewing)

Intriguing religious horror effort mirrors the Old Testament fable of Abraham being ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac, only to have his hand stayed at the final moment by an angel in the world’s most notorious “just kidding” incident. Here, a young priest (Josh Heisler) is awakened by a vision he believes to be The Big Man Upstairs, instructing him that unless he puts down his newborn daughter, the end times are nigh. Understandably, this does not sit well with his lovely bride (Amy Gumenick) who insists that he sleep on the couch and see a shrink ASAP. Writer/director Krieger handles the faith-based scenario realistically and respectfully with a fine balance of drama and growing dread (although fewer cheap shock dream sequences would have been appreciated), and he is well served by his two leads and character man Leon Russom (TV’s Prison Break) as the parish head who wants to believe in miracles but not ones that involve infanticide. Available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973) d. Juran, Nathan (USA) (2nd viewing)

Making its home video debut after over 40 years, this silly howler’s easy-joke title is about the only inspired thing on the menu, but if you’re in the mood for some comfort food 70s scares it’s not a complete waste of time. A recently separated father and his fanciful, monster-kid offspring head off for a weekend of camping, whereupon dad gets chomped by the local toothy shapeshifter. Surprise, surprise, no one believes Junior’s claims that pater is now inclined to get a little hairy come the full moon, least of all his mom (Elaine Devry) who thinks it’s all a stunt to get the family back together. Lackluster re-teaming of director Juran and star Kerwin Matthews (a long, loooong way from their halcyon days of 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jack the Giant Killer) is chock full of clichés, minimal production values, and poorly disguised “day-for-night” shots where the shadows are as long as Matthews’ stuntman’s pelt. Including a subplot about a bunch of religious hippies turning on and freaking out might have been one-off screenwriter Bob Homel’s idea of social commentary and/or satire; it doesn’t help matters much but, hey, it’s different. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Homel also plays our zany ranting guru Brother Christopher.) Kudos to Shout! Factory for digging this relic up and giving it a high-def presentation (sadly absent any extras).

Ejecta (2014) d. Archibald, Chad / Wiele, Matt (Canada) (1st viewing)

Perfectly serviceable but unremarkable low-budget sci-fi flick involving a man (Julian Richings) who claims to have been visited by extraterrestrials 40 years ago, a meet-cute that left him emotionally scarred to the point where he only sleeps 2-3 hours every few days. Well, seems the little pasty-skinned black-eyed bastards are coming back, thanks to a solar ejecta taking out one of their spaceships and crash-landing it in our hero’s backyard, an event that brings out the military’s Area 51 goons to contain and conceal. There are some good ideas and a terrific central performance by Richings (Cube, Wrong Turn), but the uneasy mix of mysteriously assembled found footage and overwrought underground bunker interrogation scenes (Pontypool’s Lisa Houle is annoyingly forced and miscast as a sadistic baddie) keep this one from reaching escape velocity.

Hellhole (1985) d. De Moro, Pierre USA (1st viewing)

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of this “women-in-prison flick filtered through a mad scientist lens” prior to its landing on my desk from Shout! Factory, but darned if it doesn’t deliver the exploitation goods along with a pleasant dose of self-awareness and campy humor. Mary Woronov and Marjoe Gortner star as a pair of scientists looking for a chemical alternative to surgical lobotomies, experimenting on the unwitting inmates of the local women’s nuthouse. Into their clutches stumbles comely Judy Landers, suffering from amnesia after witnessing her mother’s murder at the hands of hit man (and fashion criminal) Ray Sharkey, who is still looking to tie up loose ends. Russ Meyer starlet Edy Williams is Sharkey’s lascivious, frequently topless partner in crime, as comfortable in a mud bath as she is duking it out in the shower with the resident bull dyke. Director De Moro isn’t shy about using colored lights to snazz up the cavernous basement sets, and Woronov’s patented brand of camp and fabulous wardrobe keeps the fanciful goings-on in context. Sharkey’s liberal and loopy extemporizing isn’t always as successful, but he’s an undeniably memorable villain.

Humongous (1982) d. Lynch, Paul Canada (1st viewing)

Standard cabin-in-the-woods yarn, with a group of teens trapped on an island when their boating expedition goes belly-up. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s an overgrown homicidal maniac residing in the basement and the fitful body count begins, working its way from the most annoying characters on down to our inevitable final girl (Janet Julian, then known as the “new Nancy Drew,” replacing Pamela Sue Martin on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries) There aren’t any stellar gore highlights in this Canuxploitation outing and it’s painfully padded, but unlike all previous home video releases, Katarina’s Nightmare Theater’s recent Blu-ray presentation means you can actually SEE what the hell is going when something is actually going on. Of interest to ’80s slasher completists, but others can probably sit this one out. If director Lynch’s name seems familiar, it’s because he directed the original Prom Night with Jamie Lee Curtis (as well as a handful of Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: TNG episodes).

Jeepers Creepers (2001) d. Salva, Victor (USA) (2nd viewing)

Is it possible for a film to be a popular commercial success, spawn an equally successful sequel, and still be underrated? In the case of this stellar monster movie, I’d say yes. Unencumbered by needless backstory and enlivened by genuine relationships and characters, writer/director Salva delivers a thrilling, chilling ride from start to finish. In fact, the film’s first half hour – essentially a car chase straight out of Spielberg’s Duel (an inspiration that Salva openly cops to during the new interview piece on Shout! Factory’s double-disc Blu-ray release) – is far and away one of the most exciting openers in recent memory, full of rising tension without cheap jump scares.

Emerging from his souped-up rust bucket truck, the introduction of The Creeper (Jonathan Breck) as a shadowy, duster-wearing figure is one of many revelatory stages, finally revealing a humanoid but decidedly inhuman creature that feeds on its various victims’ various body parts “every 23 years for 23 days.” Out for an extended road trip home from college, brother and sister team Darry and Trish (well played by Justin Long and Gina Philips) stumble onto the beast’s menu and, over the course of the ensuing 90 minutes, prove equally terrified and resourceful in facing down their supernatural nemesis.

With a fair amount of gore and latex f/x greasing the wheels, Salva delivers the goods time and again, and when the final credits roll, genre fans will breathe a collective, contented sigh at a job well done. Still, it feels like JC gets taken for granted and/or passed over when discussing the “best horror efforts of the new millennium.” Here’s hoping that S!F’s top-shelf high-def edition creates a few more converts.

Lurking Fear (1994) d. Joyner, C. Courtney USA (1st viewing)

Writer /director Joyner, who cut his screenwriting teeth on such early genre faves as Class of 1999, From a Whisper to a Scream, and Prison before landing in the director’s chair for Full Moon’s Trancers III, teamed up again with producer Charles Band for this (very) loose adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story. Here, however, the cursed Martense family’s twisted legacy takes a backseat to action flick hijinks (car chases, gun battles, ladyfights, and great whopping explosions) and juicy overacting by Jeffrey Combs, Jon Finch, Vincent Schiavelli, Ashley Laurence, and Allison Mackie (a standout as Finch’s blonde femme fatale). Blake Adams plays our blank-faced hunky hero whose connection to a buried treasure in an out-of-the-way churchyard brings our disparate band of characters together. A not-bad time-waster with not-bad creature effects, despite a threadbare plot and various holes therein. Now available on Blu-ray from Full Moon Direct.

The Pack (2015) d. Robertson, Nick Australia (1st viewing)

As a fan of “animals attack” movies, I was stoked to hear of this recent effort from Down Under involving a pack of wild dogs terrorizing a local farmer (rugged Jack Campbell, doing a passable Russell Crowe) and his family. Unfortunately, not much thought seems to have gone into the specifics of the four-legged antagonists – this could have been any manner of threat (masked killers, zombies, redneck mutants) and the home invasion beats would have all played out the same. There are several points where the prowling pooches are evaded by merely hiding behind a door, whereupon I commented aloud, “What? Not one of them can smell around a corner? Have they all developed head colds? Gaahhhhhhhhhhhh.” The cast is more than capable, the cinematography sharp, and director Robertson knows how to build and release suspense well enough (although he could have certainly staged the attack scenes with a bit more imagination that just “push in close and turn up the snarling”). Much of the lack of luster falls to screenwriter Evan Randall Green, who should have dug a little deeper for something other than old backyard bones. You could do worse, but you could also do just as well tracking down the 1977 Joe Don Baker film by the same name. Available now from IFC/Shout! Factory.



Heroes (1977) d. Kagan, Jeremy Paul USA (4th viewing)

James Carabatsos, who also scripted the military-centric Heartbreak Ridge and Hamburger Hill, served up this drama about a PTSD-stricken Vietnam vet (Henry Winkler) who escapes from the psych hospital to meet up with his platoon buddies to start a worm farm. (Yes, you read that right. Hey, we all have dreams.) During his cross-country trek, he befriends a young and scattered runaway bride (Sally Field), with the two misfits predictably falling for one another. This was Winkler’s first leading role following his success as Fonzie on Happy Days and he makes the most of it, swerving from quirky affability to manic rage, with Field his capable romantic foil. Harrison Ford, having shot this before Star Wars came out, shows up for a welcome supporting turn (his last for a good long while) as Winkler’s car-racing Army buddy. Trivia: Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” was the original closing credits song, but was dropped for subsequent video releases due to licensing issues.

Night Shift (1982) d. Howard, Ron USA (1st viewing)

Howard probably thought he was doing his former TV co-star a favor when he hired Henry Winkler to play a harried stockbroker turned harried morgue attendant, but it’s Michael Keaton (in his big screen debut) who runs away with the film as loose cannon “idea man” Johnny Blazejowski, turning the hotel for stiffs into a swinging head office for a gaggle of good-hearted prostitutes led by Shelly Long. Oodles of quotable lines from Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel are well-served by the entire ensemble’s winning performances (including early turns by Shannon Doherty and Kevin Costner), while Howard keeps the mood light and energy hopping. The success of Night Shift marked a turning point for the young director, who followed with the hits Splash and Cocoon and the rest is Hollywood history.



1 comment:

  1. Ah...Hellhole. I haven't seen that film in (mumble mumble) years. I do so love Mary Woronov.