Nov 30, 2011

A FEW MURDERS


"The caretakers will leave at midnight, locking us in here until they come back in the morning. Once the door is locked, there's no way out. The windows have bars that a jail would be proud of, and the only door to the outside locks like vault. There's no electricity, no phone, no one within miles, so no way to call for help."

Nov 29, 2011

SHITTY FLICKS: THE UNDYING

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


The Undying is the greatest concept for a Tropic Thunder/Grindhouse fake trailer there ever was. The only problem, however, is that it's not a joke, but a real, honest-to-Gosh movie. With a story so confoundedly ludicrous, and acting so questionable, it truly feels that the movie should have actually been a parody sketch instead of 100 minutes of poorly conceived fodder marketed towards repressed housewives.

Picture, in your best Don LaFontaine trailer narration voice, the following log line:
SHE'S a widow, desperate to put her life back together after the accidental death of her husband.
HE'S the displaced spirit of a long dead Civil War soldier who happens to reside in her new home.
Together, they will overcome centuries of separation, the pain of heartbreak and loss, and at-odds racial faux pas.
They are...THE UNDYING.
Barbara (Robin Weigart) has just moved into her new home—a Civil War era house somewhere in the Pennsylvanian countryside. You see, after her husband tragically died by literally falling backwards off a curb into traffic, she felt she needed to get away from it all. It is there she meets Henry (Franklin Ojeda Smith), the generic cool old black guy who owns the property and is renting it to Barbara, so that she may stay up late, cry into her ice cream bucket, and remember that one time her husband died by literally falling backwards off a curb into traffic.

Henry tells Barbara of the alleged ghost that is said to haunt the old house—a confederate Civil War soldier named Elijah who was gunned down by two Yankees while in the love hole of his lady.

Images for this movie are almost non-existent,
so please enjoy this Elijah from the feature film Unbreakable.

Meanwhile, Barbara begins her new position at the local hospital, where she is constantly hit on by her new boss, Dr. Lassiter (Jay O. Sanders, who slimeballs his way through the role of Slimeball). It is there she meets her highly unlikely love interest: Jason (Anthony Carrigan), a coma patient who apparently lived a very mean life of fists and cursing—so much that his wife, Betty (the ludicrously attractive Paolo Mendoza), is eager to pull his plug.

And so they do! Jason flatlines and the doctors and nurses do doctor and nurse things until wait a minute what's this oh gosh I guess Barbara is a little insane, because she kidnaps Jason's dead body, impossibly stuffs it into her SUV (along with the gurney), and drives him to her home. It is there she lays the body out and invites the ghost of Elijah to hop in and take him for a test drive.

Well, he does, and for the first half of the movie, not only does Elijah the Ghost ride in Jason the Body, but he sports a beard and wig so fake that even an "Unsolved Mysteries" actor would be embarrassed. The look this poor actor sports is reminiscent of Jesus Christ, the Geico Caveman, and Charles Manson, with the added bonus of clearly being brand new out of the beard bag. Why the filmmakers chose THIS look for the modern male, and not the Civil War soldier, who in flashbacks is played by the baby-faced and hairless body of a boy straight out of "The Hills" is beyond me, but that's okay, because if that were the case, I would have less to laugh at.

 
Actor Carrigan bravely chooses to portray this broken-down spirit without any emotion whatsoever, so that when he says stuff, you almost kind of care what he's saying sometimes. His performance will go down in history as the most affecting and heartbreaking since Larry Drake's  role as 'morgue slab corpse' in an episode of "The X Files." He also uses a sometimes there/sometimes not southern accent.

The musical score does what Elijah does not—attempts to force you to feel anything at all. While certainly not a bad score, there is hardly a single moment of silence in the film. Even scenes of Barbara walking down the hallway, or looking through files, is complemented by stirring music.

This isn't radio, folks—it's cinema. It's okay to have silence from time to time.

Elijah is understandably mystified by his new surroundings—what with being knock-knock-zoom-zoomed 150 years into the future. He points out the window to Henry, Barbara's black landlord, and asks, "Is that your house nigger?"

Barbara goes on to explain that the Civil War is over—the south having lost—and that the n-word isn't used anymore, because we all have equality; there is no longer any such thing as master and slave, and we are all neighbors, regardless of our skin color. Elijah, who in his first life was a fervent confederate soldier, fighting with great passion for an ideal in which he powerfully believed, says, "Oh," and then drops the matter entirely.

You can imagine where it goes from here:

"What's this thing?" (A coffee maker.)

"Say, Abraham Lincoln is on your money? Better not react." (He doesn't.)

"You mean voices and faces come out of this magical noise box? I better instantly accept this and begin watching public domain programming for hours on end." (He does.)

The two lost souls begin a romantic affair, which when considering their ten-year age difference, is more than creepy. Barbara spends much of the time rubbing her face against Elijah's fake beard, not quite meeting his lips with her own, and moaning a little too loudly.

Soon, Barbara begins to suspect that Elijah is responsible for a nearby murder. And only one measly day after they BOTH drive by this very same murder scene and see the body covered in a white sheet, Barbara asks Elijah, "Did you know a girl was murdered recently?" to which Elijah responds, "No."

As if the filmmakers could sense my joy, Barbara cuts off Elijah's long hair and heavy beard, turning him into a typical hispter douchebag, complete with hipster douchebag rim glasses. This transformation then decreases the appearance of his age to roughly fifteen, making the remainder of their intimate scenes even creepier.

A computer generated image
of how a Civil War soldier would
appear today (backwards).

The ending eventually occurs, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and then lets us turn the movie off. Then you sit back and realize you've learned a little more about the world, each other, and yourself (and beards).

I give writer/director Steven Peros credit for making a movie he clearly believed in. This was certainly not a movie made for the masses, and the story he had hoped to fill with white-knuckled thrills hides somewhere within the unintentionally hilarious pastiche of badly realized "horror" scenes and tired jump scares. He avoided violence unless necessary and attempted to rely on Gothic horror as his guide, and for that he earns points, but alas, the movie is more Lifetime than Robert Wise. Ultimately, it's the story of a woman learning to overcome grief, but more importantly, learning the lesson that she doesn't need a man to make her happy. (Are you listening, Twilight ?) 

Plus, let's face it: the Geico Caveman making a threatening face will never be threatening at all. 

Don't take my word for it - watch the trailer. See the hair for yourself. Go on, look at it! It's amazing!

Nov 27, 2011

FINALE

It must have been pretty amazing seeing Carpenter's original Halloween back when it first came out in 1978 - back when every little technique and scare was fresh and original.




Nov 25, 2011

LITTLE PIGS

 
"Have you ever had a single moment's thought about my responsibilities? Have you ever thought, for a single solitary moment, about my responsibilities to my employers? Has it ever occurred to you that I have agreed to look after the Overlook Hotel until May the First? Does it matter to you at all that the owners have placed their complete confidence and trust in me, and that I have signed a letter of agreement, a contract, in which I have accepted that responsibility? Do you have the slightest idea what a moral and ethical principle is? Do you? Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to my future if I were to fail to live up to my responsibilities? Has it ever occurred to you? Has it?"

If we don't, remember me.

Nov 22, 2011

PURE HATE

“In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and, last but not least, I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry.”
- Carl Panzram

More.

Nov 21, 2011

SHITTY FLICKS: WEASELS RIP MY FLESH

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.

God knows where I first heard about Weasels Rip My Flesh. Whether it was Amazon’s “if you liked that bullshit, check out this bullshit” feature, or a friendly fellow bad movie connoisseur on a message board, all I can say is: I owe you a blow job. Weasels Rip My Flesh is, without a doubt, one of the greatest bad movies I have had the extreme pleasure of watching. Even that title — Weasels Rip My Flesh — who’s saying that? Who is the person acknowledging the ripping of their own flesh by weasels? Is there a person out there calmly recording their thoughts in a journal?
“Dear Diary: Mondays always suck. Weasels rip my flesh, and they leave pooooop tracks all over my bedspread. It’s cuz they walk in their poop and then walk on my bed. Mom’s gonna flip LMAO.”
The beauty of Weasels Rip My Flesh, much like all other bad movies that get it right, is that no matter how ridiculous and absurd onscreen action can get, everything is played 100% seriously. You start to wonder if director Nathan Schiff took a page from the whacked-out journal of Andy Kauffman and made this movie as a joke,to entertain the tens of people who made up the cast and crew of this abomination. In subsequent interviews, however, he comes across as such a pretentious and arrogant bastard that the joy comes in knowing he meant every goo-filled, out-of-focus second.

Nathan Schiff’s magnum opus begins with (I swear to God) a model rocket sitting in a sort of diorama, but please know this is supposed to be a real rocket. Called THE COURIER (we know this thanks to the adorning thick, black ,and crooked stick-on letters), this space rocket sits on an unknown planet, surrounded by flaming rocks and is on a very dangerous  space mission (kitchen table): to collect sample of blue goo to bring back to Earth for God knows what reason.

Unbeknownst to the astronauts, their space mission was
minutes from being aborted by their angry mother.

One of the rocket’s flaps slowly opens to reveal a space crane (hair clip), which slowly extends out of the hatch on a hydraulic lift (branch cutter) to collect said goo. The crane then drips the goo into a toxic waste materials container (sippy cup), after which the Courier takes off, revealing its fire-spewing engine (light bulb) as it fades off into space and back to Earth.

After the director films a wall painted with stars (space), the Courier enters the Earth’s atmosphere (courtesy of a sloppy cut and some shots of spinning clouds), encounters a malfunction, and crash lands into a lake.

Two young boys, with thick Long Island accents and even filthier mouths, find the wreckage of the rocket, marked with a hilarious hand-scrawled “Danger: Radioactive Contents” warning. The boys retrieve what looks to be lcoffee thermoses from the water, all the while having this conversation:

BOY #1: Look what I found! [picks up thermos]  What the hell is this?

BOY #2: Bring ‘em up heeh! What’d ya foind?

BOY #1: I dunno, dey was floatin’ around da wawda!

BOY #2: I ain’t neva seen nothin’ like dis befoow.

BOY #1: Open it!

BOY #2: [seriously] Yah I might open dis.

Suddenly, and without warning (or even a shot of a weasel), the younger boy shrieks off-screen in pain.

BOY #2: What happ'd??

BOY #1: Some’in just bit me in the leg!

BOY #2: Holy shit ya see where it went?

BOY #1: What if it has rabies or some’in?
DANGER: BEWARE OF INCOMPETENCE

The older boy finds the hole that contains the biting creature and he decides that the best revenge is to fill it with the gunk he someone knows is inside the container. The younger boy protests, “Don’t go near it, ya’asshole!” Well, th’asshole does, and he pours the suddenly bright geen and liquid goo down into the hole. Then they leave, ignorant of the fact they have created a new breed of weasel too monstrous for words and too ridiculous for legitimate celluloid.

Meanwhile, down in the hole, a very fake or dead weasel lays surrounded by black newspaper that we’re supposed to think is cave wall, as an off-screen crew member feigns a living animal by rocking the weasel prop back and forth. The green goo pours directly onto the weasel’s face for a few moments, and thanks to some fancy-ass stop-motion animation, we are able to witness the terrifying transformation from non-flesh ripping weasels to Weasels Rip My Flesh. The transformation is horrendously out of focus, as is literally every other shot in the movie that is a close-up. An unblinking and obviously plastic looking eye gurgles around in a bit of jelly before we sloppily cut to the finished product: something that looks nothing at all like a weasel, and more like the head of a squid.

This new weasel monster bursts forth out of his hole and hauls-ass to the nearest street, where it is promptly run over by a dim-witted looking man, its arm being severed from its mutant body. After examining the odd appendage, the man quickly wraps the arm in a mattress cover from his trunk (?) and gets back in his car with it, leaving the audience to wonder just what this man up to, if perhaps he’s somehow abreast to the situation at hand, and if these filmmakers are kidding.

The man arrives home with his new meaty friend and he calls his pally named Jake, whom he tells to come over at once to witness whatever exciting thing he has for him.

My guess?

Brown mutant arm.

While waiting for Jake to show up, the man puts on some dish gloves, takes out some pliers, and begins to perform a severely half-assed dissection of the arm. We cut to a close-up, and wouldn’t you know it, one of his hands does not have a glove. But don’t worry, once we cut back to the medium shot, he does again.

Phew, that was close. This movie was almost questionable.

"Just tell the bully you're not afraid," Billy's mom
had said. It was the last thing anyone had ever said
to him not in Heaven.

The man pries off a piece of bone, drops it in a mason jar, and brings it to his living room, where he pokes and prods at it with a series of instruments.

Say, I have a question, curious man: who the fuck are you?

Jake arrives and questions the man, whose name we find out is Fred, about the arm. Fred regales Jake with the story, and caps off the story with inviting Jake to come see the arm for himself.

But it’s missing.

“Who would believe this? An arm that…moved by itself?” Jake asks, and then looks dumbly offscreen, waiting for something to happen.

And then something does: the arm flops across the floor and scratches at Jake’s foot. Jake reaches down to his bloody wound and moans as Fred grabs the phone to call an ambulance.

“I would like to report an injury and some very strange goings-on,” Fred calmly explains into his phone. Jake, now completely taken over by weasel fever, grabs Fred by the throat and strangles him from behind, as he spews white foam and moans some more.

With an amusing cut in the soundtrack to allow one of our characters to emit a single “UGH,” crazy Jake grabs a knife and saws off one of Fred’s incredibly realistic (haha, right) looking arms. He then stumbles out into the wild and runs off into the wooded distance.

This is where we meet Boy in Blue Camp T-Shirt, and his dog, Rusty. As his canine companion runs off and discovers the dismembered bodies of our previous strongly-accented precocious boys, Blue Shirt runs off to, I assume, tell a fu-manchued policeman,. Meanwhile, Rusty continues to sniff at what used to be annoying Long Islanders.

"Late again, eh, Cameron? Probably smoking and
shaving if know you."

And then we meet Inspector Cameron, the bad-assiest bad ass in Weaseltown. Cameron likes to smoke cigars, shave, and strut. And strut he does, over to his holster to randomly whip out his gun, look adoringly at it, and then put it down again. Hmm, I guess he’s a cop. Thank God he did that. I mean, how the fuck would we know otherwise?

Cameron fields a call, assuring whoever it was that called that he would be right there. He dresses in a sharp blazer, gets in his car, and drives to a non-descript plain, “the scene of at least fifteen murders” according to Cameron himself.

Once there, Cameron and his partner are accosted by the goofiest looking man in the world with a gun so tiny it makes me uncomfortable. The movie makes no attempt to give this man an identity, so his name henceforth will be Goofy, because it's a pretty appropriate moniker.

He forces them to march to a hill of dirt, where he demands they dig until they reveal a hatch that leads into an underground lab. In a moment of pure amazement, and with the courtesy of a continuity-murdering cut, the exterior shot of the steel hatch magically transforms into an interior shot of someone’s very plain basement window that in no way resembles the hatch we just saw. You might as well shoot a scene where a character says “look at this egg,” show a close-up of an egg, and then in all other shots, use a banana.

“Go up deh staihs, and don’t do anything funny. I like killing people,” threatens Goofy. He sits them down in someone’s 70s shag living room, complete with wood-paneled walls and a red lamp. Truly, this is a secret scientific laboratory.

"Sally, isn't that the guy who finger-banged you at the prom?"

“This place looks like some kind of laboratory,” lies Cameron, casually withdrawing a cigar from his jacket as if he was hanging out with old friends.

“Come with me,” says Goofy and leads them into the back to show them what he’s been working on: a very normal looking weasel. The men react as if they are seeing something bizarre and out of this world (I think we are supposed to think it looks huge), but all we see is really just a normal weasel.

Goofy sits them back down in the shag room, pours everyone a glass of whiskey, and details the exploits of his secret science stuff. His plan: to create many species of mutant creatures and, I guess, take over the world? He doesn’t really go into specifics.

Cameron expresses hesitation in drinking his booze, fearing a sinister plot to overpower him, but when Goofy downs his own cup, Cameron feels safe enough to proceed.

Fuck, it was drugged. Cameron and his partner pass out, and these two dolts are such horrid actors that they can’t even make passing out look realistic. Cameron chooses to lay his head on the table while his partner’s head falls back, and he slowly, slowly falls to his side.

Goofy smiles, leans into the camera way too close, and we...

CUT TO:

A body on a gurney. And not just any body. Cameron’s partner’s body.

Shit.

To think, we grew so attached to him, what with not knowing his name and everything.

Goofy enters, undresses his sinister plotting brown button-up shirt (shudder) and puts on his official doing science stuff blue button-up. He withdraws a syringe from a tin coffee cop (haha), collects a sample of tainted weasel blood, and injects the man’s body with the needle.

"I BIT BOY BUTT TODAY. BOY BUTT THIS BIG.
IT WAS FULL OF SMELLING."

Cameron awakes, shackled in some kind of boiler room. Being the master of Weaseltown that he is, he withdraws a cigar from his pocket with his mouth, lights the cigar with an open water heater flame, and then burns the rope off his arms, which, up close, looks like frayed underwear elastic. After he burns through what he could have just ripped apart by hand, he makes his escape. Grabbing a randomly placed butcher’s knife, he opens one of the canisters containing a weasel specimen and hacks it apart. It makes a weird moan noise and then bleeds out, just like my old ball-and-chain.

Cameron then grabs a can of gasoline, sniffs it to make sure he’s got the right stuff, and then splashes ALL of the canisters containing random bits of diseased weasel. He lights it up and watches it burn, as the sound of old war footage plays inexplicably in the background.

Goofy randomly talks to himself, convinced that the mutant weasels hold the key to eternal life, finally letting us know what he’s been up to.

But it’s too late.

Goofy sees his burned weasels and becomes enraged. A battle to end all battles ensues; Goofy with a crowbar, and Cameron with his gun. Only one will be victorious. Well, as one could assume, the guy with the gun wins.

Sort of.

After Cameron gets his cheek scratched with the crowbar, he shoots the fleeing Goofy in the back, who is then attached by his big mutant Frankenweasel monster. The monster rips a huge wound in his back, smashes his head against the wall, and spews goo all over the place. Goofy, making a last-ditch effort to save himself, inserts a surgical probe directly into the Hole of Weakness of Frankenweasel’s face.

And this works like gangbusters! Only not. Frankenweasel attacks Goofy again, this time ripping off his arm. Cameron, having had enough of this, opts to just leave the secret laboratory.

But his terror is not over yet.

ANOTHER monstrous weasel, the one the men earlier looked at in horror, bursts through the ground and rushes at Cameron, who takes out his gun, points it, and does that thing that cowboys do in movies where they use their palm to keep pulling back the hammer to shoot as fast as they can. The only problem is the gun doesn’t make a single bang or boom, so clearly John Wayne Cameron is not.

He grapples with the giant mole puppet for a little until Frankenweasel bursts through the ground and fights the giant weasel puppet to weasel death. Then they both suddenly catch fire.

Why?

Why not?

Weasels Rip My Flesh, ya know.

"Well, my specialty is in giant freak armadillos,
Dave, but yeah, I definitely see some inflammation here..."

Goofy, having survived his third brush with death, stumbles out of the lab and runs to the nearby lake. Cameron sees him and follows close behind, as Goofy looks longingly at the water, assuming this is his only means of escape. He wades out into the water, but alas, Cameron comes for him, ready to spread some Weaseltown justice.

“A boy like you has got to realize his limitations,” says Cameron, stealing a line directly from another movie about a bad ass cop fighting giant weasels: Magnum Force. The two men whip out their guns, but Cameron beats him to the draw, shooting Goofy twice in the chest, and rightfully assuming the threat is over. Instead, Goofy draws his gun and cheaply shoots Cameron in the leg. Cameron crashes to the ground, grasping his wound that pumps tomato soup. And just when we think it’s curtains for Cameron (and in one of the best "why the fuck did that just happen?" endings of all time), an unrealistically small Great White Shark LUNGES out of the water and RIPS Goofy’s arm off.

Yes, writer/director Nathan Schiff really ends his non-shark movie with a SHARK ATTACK.

Cameron barely has a chance to stumble off into the sunset before THE END flies at the screen.

Stupid, violent, ludicrous, amateur, including sharks, and 64 minutes. That’s how I like ‘em.


Nov 19, 2011

TO MAKE US DESPAIR

“You don't blame us for being here, do you? After all, we have no place to go. No home... Incidentally, what an excellent day for an exorcism...”



Nov 18, 2011

MUSIC FOR FILM: RAVENOUS

 

Ravenous will be the subject of an upcoming Unsung Horrors post.  In the meantime, listen to one track from one of my favorite film scores. Tonally, the score is all over the place - from goofy to vintage patriotic to adrenalin pumping to downright creepy (like this one).

Nov 17, 2011

EXORCISM


Anneliese Michel complained of seeing disturbing visions while saying her prayers. Later, evil voices giving her commands followed. Finally, Anneliese began showing an aversion to religious iconography. An older woman, a friend of the Michel family, noticed this while on a pilgrimage with Anneliese. She said that Anneliese smelled “hellishly bad” and took her to see some priests. Many of them said Anneliese needed a doctor. However, one eventually said Anneliese needed an exorcism and an exorcism was eventually granted.

In 1975, Anneliese Michel and her parents stopped seeking medical advice and gave over Anneliese’s fate to the Roman exorcism ritual ... Anneliese herself said that Judas, Nero, Hitler, Cain, Lucifer and others were inside of her. Over the next ten months, Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt performed 67 exorcisms for the tormented girl.

There are claims that Anneliese spoke several different languages (or the demons and evil souls that possessed her did) during the exorcisms ... She allegedly urinated and defecated on the floor frequently, also licking up her own urine. She ate insects, growled at religious icons and sat under her kitchen table barking for two days.

Anneliese Michel died of dehydration and malnutrition on July 1, 1976. The 23-year-old woman weighed 68 pounds at the time of her death ... Forty-two of the exorcisms were audio-recorded...


 




Nov 16, 2011

UNSUNG HORRORS: THE CALLER

Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre.

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Matthew Parkhill
2011
Sony Pictures
United States 

The Caller, based on the lazy synopsis on the back of the case, should not have been a good movie. And when I tell you that the starring role was originally given to Brittany Murphy, and that Luis Guzman (whose two previous roles were in Old Dogs and a direct-to-video sequel to Waiting) plays the role of the surly-but-lovable gardener, well, I completely understand your misgiving.  The title alone alludes to something more visceral in nature. It harks back to other phone terror based movies from the past, such as When a Stranger Calls, Black Christmas, and Scream. But the fact is The Caller is a great movie. It has an original premise, and while it's one that could go off the rails at any minute, the smart writing and the believable acting by the cast (including Guzman) keep it grounded. It's a movie more focused on psychological scares, and except for a scene here or there, is never about violence. Really, at its core, it's about the terrible things a person is willing to do to preserve their own self-prescribed idea of a perfect life... and in our protagonist's case, to ensure their own survival.

Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevr, thankfully replacing Brittany Murphy very early in production) is in the process of divorcing from her abusive husband,  Steven (Ed Quinn), and she moves into a less than desirable apartment in San Juan. The walls are green and the appliances are ancient, but she's finally on her own. Her only company is Dexter the dog, apparently the only thing she was able to salvage from the split with her husband. Her surroundings could be better, but she dresses up her new place in an effort to make it home, and she soon finds company in the apartment complex's gardener, George (Guzman, in an atypical and understated role).

One day, Mary receives a call from Rose, an older woman from the sound of her voice. Rose seems to be looking for someone named Bobby, and is desperate to talk to him. Mary explains that she has just moved into the apartment and that Bobby no longer lived there. And this marks the beginning of what will be a dangerous "friendship" between Mary and Rose. For you see, Rose calls back, again and again. She claims to have driven by the apartment and saw Bobby with her own eyes, which obviously makes no sense to Mary, as she knows she is the only one living in that apartment. Rose breaks down and explains that she and Bobby were to be married right after Bobby returned home "from Vietnam." Mary goes on to ask Rose's age, and she replies 41, which obviously doesn't jibe. The Vietnam war having ended forty years ago, that would have made Mary a mere one year old at the time of the lovers' vow to marry. Mary explains this with frustrated indignation and hangs up. Rose soon calls back...with an idea — a way for her to prove to Mary that through inexplicable events, the two have connected via Mary's apartment phone through forty years of spanning history. Rose claims to have drawn something on the inside of Bobby's apartment pantry in her time and she orders Mary to look — to see what she has drawn. Mary hangs up and checks the pantry. She sees nothing. She scoffs and goes to bed, but finds herself unable to sleep. She goes back to the pantry and this time scrapes away at the wallpaper and reveals a picture...of a rose.


The phone rings. The two women — separated by forty years of time — begin a brief, unlikely friendship. Rose explains that Bobby had always been a womanizer, but she felt too weak to leave him. Mary tells her that for Rose's own good she should simply "get rid of him." Well, Rose takes that advice to heart. She gets rid of Bobby. And the next day, Mary opens her pantry door to see that it's much smaller than it had been the day before, and that a small section towards the back has been bricked off. But the bricks aren't new looking. They look quite old. Forty years old. Rose really took Mary's advice, after all.

Our plot kicks into high gear. A sick game of cat and mouse begins between the two of them. Mary wants only to be left alone, whereas Rose is lonely and wants a friend. And it escalates to a showdown you may or may not see coming. 

The Caller is a remarkable combination of the underrated Dennis Quaid flick Frequency, and your more typical horror fare such as Single White Female or Misery. We can even throw in a bit of Donnie Darko for good measure. And it all works. When working with "time travel" movies, one always runs the risk of falling victim to the plot holes that usually inundate the subgenre. There seem to be an infinite amount of things that can go wrong, or not make sense, or contradict, in movies where time travel is involved. The Caller, knowing this risk, stretches its time travel motif to the extreme without it ever spilling over into the "well this would happen / and that would happen" argument movie nerds love to vilify. As strange as it is to say, the unusual plot of the movie — Mary being stalked by a woman forty years in the past — is handled in a believable way.

This is Lefevr's movie and it's up to her portrayal as Mary to carry the film. And she does, beautifully. Much like many other horror movie leads before her, she had to find that right balance of the terrorized victim and the proactive hero unwilling to lay down and die. Lefevr's Mary is strong, cunning, beautiful, and even ruthless at times. And it all works in service to the film.

This is a movie that plays the slow burn tactic to profound effect. The majority of the movie is Mary and Rose on the phone with each other. The movie hinges on this. And if this didn't work, ultimately the movie would fail. It never falters. This is where the casting of Rose comes into play. Lorna Raver (most famous for her role as the crazy gypsy from the even crazier Drag Me To Hell) had perhaps the most difficult job on the film: finding that balance between sounding sweet, helpless, and even maternal, as well as creepy, sinister, and downright fucking evil. For a large portion of the movie, Rose's villainy can only be exuded through her voice on the phone, and she does so with great skill.

Not helping matters is Steven, who routinely shows up to remind Mary that though she may have moved out, and though their divorce is pending, he will never let her ago. Needless to say, Mary is not having a good year. 



Rounding out the cast is Stephen Moyer as John, who nicely fits the ensemble, and it's refreshing to see him in the role of the protagonist — a man who grows to care for Mary and tries his best to help her when shit hits the fan. Kudos should be given to Moyer for choosing the role he did. The director states that he was originally up for the role of the abusive husband, which he could have played swimmingly. Instead he opted for the less showy role — the one of the hapless male who gets sucked into all the goings-on, all because he becomes fixated on Mary at an early point in the film (and any man would.) We've seen this character type many times before: the disbelieving man who opts to believe the antagonist is crazy until it's too late. Instead, almost from the very beginning,  John is aware of Mary's claims, and while he is not totally on board, he tries to help her make sense of it all. He is clearly aware that Mary is in trouble and wants nothing other than to help. 

SPOILER:

As much as I didn't want to discuss the ending for the uninitiated, there's a particular aspect  of it I feel compelled to bring up. When the ending sequence first begins, there is a brief moment of disappointment. "Oh," you say to yourself. "They're doing this?" There are both pros and cons about the movie's end, but really the cons begin to fizzle the more you consider the mental state of Rose for her to do what she has done. In the last five minutes of the movie, Rose is no longer just a voice on the phone. She is a physical villain, smashing through Mary's door with a machete. And yes, while watching this at first, I myself thought it was a cheap ending. To me it seemed to go against everything the movie had established up to that point: how these two characters could be threats to each other, though they were separated by forty years. But the more I thought about it, the more unsettled I became. Basically, it boils down to this: 1970s Rose dominates most of the film. She is the villain. Only in the last five minutes does 2011 Rose show her face. So what you are left with is the realization that Rose waited forty years from the time she first "met" Mary in an effort to finally kill her, once and for all. For forty years, every single day, I'm sure, killing Mary was the only thing on her mind. It's a last-second twist that you're either totally on board with, or not.

I'm on board. All the way.

END SPOILER:


Not surprisingly, reviews for the movie have been mixed, a sad number of them dipping into negative. Reviewers have accused the movie of having no style,  and being a ho-hum combination of movies we've all seen before.

Reviews like this make me throw my hands up in defeat. If a clever premise, great acting, and psychologically fucked villains can't satiate the horror-craving masses, than I honestly don't know what can.



Now Available:
The world’s oldest celebration comes to life in The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween, an anthology that honors the darkest and strangest night of the year. Each story is designed to be intrinsically and intimately about Halloween—its traditions, its myths, and its effects—and they run the gamut from horrifying to heartbreaking. Halloween night is the tapestry through which a haunted house, a monstrous child, a late-night drive to a mysterious destination, and other tales are weaved. Demons are faced, death is defied, and love is tested. And not everyone makes it out alive. The End of Summer has arrived.

MEMENTO MORI: PART IV

Cruel Death! The young leaves droop and languish;
Evening's gentle air may still restore -
No! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish -
Time, for me, must never blossom more!
- Emily Bronte






Nov 15, 2011

MUSIC FOR FILM: THE FOURTH KIND

 

Atli Orvarsson should be scoring a lot more movies than he is. One of the most underrated composers I've ever come across.



Nov 14, 2011

'TIL DEATH

Carl Tanzler (d. 1952) was a German-born radiologist at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida, who developed a morbid obsession for a young Cuban-American tuberculosis patient, Elena Milagro "Helen" de Hoyos (d. 1931), that carried on well after the disease had caused her death. In 1933, almost two years after her death, Tanzler removed Hoyos's body from its tomb, and lived with the corpse at his home for seven years until its discovery by Hoyos's relatives and authorities in 1940.
Despite Tanzler's best efforts, Hoyos died of terminal tuberculosis at her parents' home in Key West on October 25, 1931. Following Hoyos's funeral, which Tanzler paid for, and with the permission of her family, Tanzler commissioned the construction of an above ground mausoleum in the Key West Cemetery that he visited almost every night.
Tanzler attached the corpse's bones together with wire and coat hangers, and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin of the corpse decomposed, Tanzler replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of paris. As the hair fell out of the decomposing scalp, Tanzler fashioned a wig from Hoyos's hair that had been collected by her mother and given to Tanzler not long after her burial in 1931. Tanzler filled the corpse's abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep the original form, dressed Hoyos's remains in stockings, jewelry, and gloves, and kept the body in his bed. Tanzler also used copious amounts of perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents, to mask the odor and forestall the effects of the corpse's decomposition.

More.

Nov 12, 2011

SHITTY FLICKS: NAIL GUN MASSACRE

Shitty Flicks is a new and ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


There are three certainties in life:

1. You will die.

2.) You will pay taxes before you die.

3.) If a movie has the word “massacre” in the title, it’s either going to be great, or bad (slash great).

This particular rule continues to apply when it comes to Nail Gun Massacre, the second best movie with “massacre” in the title to be set in Texas.

The movie opens at a construction site. The men are busy at work with their hands, doing what they do best: raping. With nary a scene of aggressive flirting or hesitant foreplay to lead into said rape, the movie literally fades from black into a rape. These flannel-shirted good ol’ boys are going to show a crying woman a good time, and boy, do they. Thankfully, we are spared most of this bearded assault, after catching a glimpse of what appears to be one of the men delivering several man punches directly into the woman’s vagina.

Thanks, cinema.

Later that…day (?), one of the rapers, Leroy Johnston, toddles around in his home, looking for his shirt—the one with the least amount of stains on them, I am assuming. As his fat wife hangs some fresh linens on a clothesline in the backyard, a hulking figure, The Nailer, dressed like a punk astronaut—decked out in black vinyl, black helmet, and tinted-black face shield—enters the house. The Nailer grasps—you guessed it—a nail gun.

The man turns to see this intimidating figure and puts his hand out in front of him in defense, which The Nailer promptly shoots, nailing it to the man’s forehead.

“Those are the worst headaches—the ones right between the eyes,” chortles The Nailer in a very inauthentic baritone voice. A few more shots finish Leroy off, but The Nailer continues to shoot nails into his redneck body and guffaw a wet, robotic guffaw.

After a bout of completely randomly ordered credits, we meet a young couple enjoying a roll in the sack. And while I can’t tell you what muddled words they exchanged, I’ll assume it was nothing important, considering bare tits were onscreen the entire time. The woman, very intent on having sex for an entire day, pokes and prods her breasts in his direction.

“You’d rather go out and cut wood than stay here and play with these?” she asks.

Seems to be the case, as he throws on some clothes and vamooses, leaving her behind to stare awkwardly at the ceiling and then directly at the camera, waiting for the director to call cut.

Prefers Cutting Wood Over Tits guy (human name Brad), along with his partner, walk out into the woods with a chainsaw, ready to ignore bare tits and destroy nature.

Thankfully, someone shows up to help, pulling up behind the boys’ truck in an amber-colored hearse. It’s The Nailer, this time dressed in army fatigues, but still grasping the nail gun. One of the men, pissing on a tree, slowly turns when he hears someone approaching and splashes some fresh urine on The Nailer’s boots.

“Well, you just pissed me off,” replies The Nailer, with that voice that sounds like it was run through eight modulators and a washing machine.

The Nailer shoots a few nails into the man’s stomach, but then spies the man’s exposed, underwear-covered wang.

“This will stop that leak,” says The Nailer, and delivers a nail into his cock and balls.

The Nailer then quietly walks up behind Brad, who is busy sawing wood over a fallen tree, and shoots him, causing him to saw his own hand off and fall very fakely against a tree stump.

“You shouldn’t fall to pieces,” I think The Nailer says. If not, it’s probably just as shameless and tacky as the actual line, anyway.

"Brad man, I don't want to freak you out,
but the tiniest man in the world is right behind you..."

Moments later, the sheriff pulls up behind the now-dead boys’ sitting truck and calls it in.

The next scene, which takes place in a general store of sorts, is also completely unintelligible, thanks to the sound guy leaning against what sounds like the god damned refrigerator.

If asked to recite this scene as a monologue in an acting class, I would look forlornly at my audience, grasp at my suit lapels, and say “BRRRRAAAAAMMMMMMMMMM.”

The older woman working behind the counter recites her lines with as little emotion or enthusiasm as possible, all the while reading directly from her quite-visible script.

“Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?” she struggles, squinting her eyes to read the tiny print.

After this scene dies a slow death, the sheriff and the doctor check out the recently discovered grisly scene in the woods.

“Are you sure these two died in the same way Leroy Johnston did?” asks the doctor.

You mean…with nails? Nails shot into them?

It’s a safe bet, shit licker.

As the two men investigate the area, they moot over the idea that the killer might be Mrs. Bailey, a local woman who I guess is insane enough that she would be a suspect.

And we have our first red herring: Mrs. Bailey, an apparently eccentric local whom we never actually see in the flesh a single time in this movie.

Further down the road, a hitchhiker, dressed amusingly like Josh Brolin from The Goonies, flags down the hearse for a ride. Well, a ride he gets. WITH NAILS.

The hitchhiker falls to the ground, nailed in several places.

“You should never hitch a ride from a hearse. Unless you’re dying.”

The hitchhiker cries.

“You hitchhikers are all alike: stuck out on the road.”

The hitchhiker cries.

“It’s nice to see someone praying at their own funeral.”

The hitchhiker cries.

“[unintelligible] give you a vaccination.”

The hitchhiker cries.

The Nailer shoots a nail into the crying hitchhiker’s shoulder, which for some reason is the one that does him in. Then The Nailer walks away to read the next chapter in Henny Youngman’s One Liners for Nail Deaths.

Later at a construction site, two motorocyclers pull up, looking for work. The foreman sends them over to the Bailey house.

“See ya later,” the bikers yell.

“Yeah…SOONER THAN YOU THINK,” grunts the man, the camera close on his face, as the filmmakers beg you to believe he is the killer.

Red herring number 2: the foreman, also a person we never see again in this movie.

The bikers make it to the Bailey place, but instead of working, they lay around and canoodle with their incredibly unattractive girl mates. The two couples separate to turn their making out into sex, and one of those couples enjoys a session of stand-up sex against a tree.

"You guys wanna play a round of cornhole? Oh."

The Nailer shows up to make it a threesome, and fires some nails into some hands and tits, and as usual, recites a mini-monologue of tepid jokes which I’m not even going to bother transcribing.

Their friend comes into the woods after them, but runs into The Nailer, who orders him to hug the tree.

A few nails later, the man isn’t going anywhere, as he begs for mercy.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend, who I guess suffers from emotional problems, begins to immediately cry when he doesn’t return quickly. And boy oh boy, we get to watch this for several minutes, as sounds of rattles and woodblocks pepper the already tension-filled scene.

John, one of the guys fixing up the Bailey property, lunges onscreen in an attempt to scare the world, and attempts to calm the girl by saying, “It’ll be alright, okay?” over and over. This goes on for several minutes, as the actor playing John is most likely following the direction: “Just keep saying 'It'll be okay', and then look around, and don’t stop until I call cut.”

Said director probably then left to have an eggcream.

This is a 25 page script, ladies and gentleman—no bullshit—and it shows.

At a nearby construction site, two men have a nail gun fight.

For serious.

Think paintball, but with nail guns.

The Nailer pops up to play, warbling that iconic laugh, and shoots some nails into some faces.

And then for the next twenty minutes, we are literally forced to hang out with a boring couple (this must be where that whole 25-page script issue comes into play) and have no choice but to watch them eat in real time, discuss various things as the audio for the scene is recorded across the street, and finally end up fucking on their car hood in the woods.

Yes, kids—even sex can be boring.

The Nailer shows up during the coitus to help add some flavor to the scene.

And then this happens:

The Nailer, still in army fatigues and jet black face mask, with a pneumatic nail gun strapped to his back, mind you, fires the nail gun and startles the couple.

“What are you, a cop?” the kid asks, as I fight the urge to kick the TV. “She had an itch, I was just helping her scratch it.”

“Shut up, asshole,” says The Nailer, reading my mind.

“You’re not a cop, are ya?” says the man, his brain twitching a single time. “You’re the guy they’ve been talking about on the radio!”

Glad to see that the guy was aware there was a maniac on the loose firing nails into people in the woods, but still opted to hang out in the woods at night, anyway.

The Nailer gives them each some nails and leaves to find the next person on the list, which is a round, bald, bearded man who looks creepily like ultra-flamboyant interior decorator Christopher Lowell.

Having been cleverly hidden in his pool, The Nailer lunges out of the water and fires several nails into him, causing him to flop over his sizzling grill. The Nailer laughs the typical laugh, not at all out of breath from having to wait under the water for several minutes.

Polo.

The sheriff and the doctor finally piece together who has been doing the killing and they both set out to stop The Nailer once and for all.

Having passed from vendetta to just plain lunacy, The Nailer kills two women who I’m pretty sure didn’t have shit to do with anything.

“This’ll be a gas,” The Nailer exclaims, shooting the girls, one of whom literally falls down dead with her arms straight up in the air.

In the movie’s finale, The Nailer is pursued to the nearby mill, chased by the doctor and some girl whose name I don’t think was ever spoken aloud. The car chase turns into a foot chase, which leads up into a cherry picker and results in The Nailer falling clumsily to his death.

Turns out the killer was Bubba.

Say, who’s Bubba?

The end.




Nov 9, 2011

AND WHAT DO WE COVET?


“What do you look at while you’re making up your mind? Ours is not a reflective culture; we do not raise our eyes up to the hills. Most of the time we decide the critical things while looking at the linoleum floor of an institutional corridor, or whispering hurriedly in a waiting room with a television blatting nonsense.”

The art.

Nov 7, 2011

REVIEW: BOY WONDER


Movies like Kick-Ass and Defendor should be embarrassed that other movies like Boy Wonder exist. Though the movie hews closer to classic vigilante movies like Death Wish and even The Crow, shades of superhero DNA are inherent throughout the movie; it’s about a boy taking matters into his own hands when justice fails to locate the criminals responsible for the death of his mother. And the movie tells its story in a way that never sensationalizes what the boy does when he prowls the streets at night, hidden from sight in his black hooded sweatshirt. While Kick-Ass lends more towards kids beating the shit out of criminals, all the while getting the shit beat out of themselves, there’s never real danger in that movie. Because it’s supposed to be “fun” and “goofy.” In Boy Wonder, you feel for your protagonist and understand why he is out on the streets doing what he is doing, though you wish he wasn’t. You wish he could overcome the emotional torment that forces him to do the things he does. And that is the success of the movie.

In the film’s prologue, we witness through the boy’s eyes the death of his mother—seemingly the inadvertent casualty of a high-jacking gone wrong. We also go on to learn that the boy’s father is an abusive drunk, and responsible for the multiple bruises found on the boy’s body. Despite this, our protagonist, Sean Donovan, is a survivor (played with great brooding strength by Caleb Steinmeyer). He is a top student, though an introverted one, and has just one school friend to speak of. But like all high school students, he yearns to be accepted, as well as for the attention from the girl for whom he pines. His relationship with his father (years sober and calmed) is damaged because of their past. He spends his days at the local police station scrolling through mugshots of known criminals, trying in vain to locate the perp responsible for his mother’s death…or is he? Because when night falls, he slides on his black hooded sweatshirt and takes to the streets to locate people who feels has escaped justice (in "Dexter"-inspired fashion).

Meanwhile, a detective new to the precinct, Teresa Ames, notices Sean in a way that no one else has seemed to and almost immediately begins to suspect Sean of wrongdoing. Though the two begin to form an unlikely friendship, the idea of Sean living a double life is never totally out of Ames’ mind. Little do either of them know just how intertwined their past and future will become.


Boy Wonder is a brave movie, and a pretty remarkable film debut for Steinmeyer. It’s up to him to carry the movie—to make the audience feel his pain and to understand the gruesome things he feels he must do. And he pulls it off with ease. James Russo is also remarkable as Sean’s father, and while his part could have been more lazily written as the constant antagonistic drunk father, he is instead written as a man who has gone above and beyond to reform himself, and wants nothing more than for his son to love him the way the boy loved his mother. In fact, the acting is pretty stellar across the board, the only weak spot being Zulay Henao as Detective Ames. While not a bad actress, she is woefully miscast in the part of the hardened defective struggling to juggle a career and a broken family. Her pretty face betrays the past the screenwriter has given her, and her first scene in the movie (a fairly formulaic, and by now, cliché meeting of her new partner who accidentally comes off sounding racist despite meaning well) does not lend her any favors in trying to come across as an original take on a typical movie archetype.

I've read some reviews of the movie that call it "conceptually confused" between a superhero movie and a vigilante movie, and to a point, I can agree. However, I wouldn't describe it as "confused" as much as a careful hybrid of the two. And after all, what is a superhero if not a vigilante? Batman is a superhero, but is he also not a vigilante?

Boy Wonder takes its time in setting up each of its characters, leading to the climax that you may or may not see coming. Let’s face it, movies of today feel they need a twist, and when there’s one character whose identity remains mysterious throughout the movie, yet is ultimately responsible for the movie’s entire plot, you always go for the person you “least” suspect. In this case, it’s not a fault of the script, nor of the story the writer wanted to tell—but perhaps the movie would have been better off telling us upfront the sins of this character, so that Sean’s journey towards justice would have felt more suspenseful and heartbreaking.

GRADE: A-