Nov 30, 2012

THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO AMPUTATION


Click to embiggen.

Source.

Nov 29, 2012

REVIEW: ABOLITION


The idea of the anti-Christ has been a huge part of the genre, at the very least, since the Christian timeline. Obviously I don’t just mean mass media, but in culture itself. This idea that the son of the devil is out there, or will be out there, and will bring about the end of times, has always been a powerful presence in the Catholic faith. It has extended itself to classics like Rosemary’s Baby, and more directly, The Omen. It would seem that Abolition is the next step.

Playing out more like a sequel to The Omen, Abolition (meaning “the end”) is about a lowly anti-Christ named Joshua (Andrew Roth). He is not outwardly evil, nor is he purposely amassing followers to bring about the apocalypse. No, it turns out the anti-Christ is a lowly and dour maintenance man, born of what I suppose should be called demaculate conception. After the building in which he works and lives is condemned, he finds himself living on the street amongst those others who were displaced. He begins to amass followers without even trying, and flipside shades to biblical stories are presented; there isn’t just the aforementioned scene of virgin conception, but the story of Jesus breaking five loaves of bread to feed thousands of people is also re-interpreted as Joshua begins to hand out sliced bread to the indigents surrounding him. There’s nothing miraculous to be seen here—instead, the indigents begin to claw at each other like animals, desperate to satisfy the hunger in their stomachs. The scene soon grows so violent that Joshua ends up fleeing.

After a near-deadly altercation with a street hood, Joshua collapses on the steps of a church, where he is found and cared for by Matthew (Reggie Bannister, in an atypical role). As the two become more acquainted, Joshua explains that he used to be the maintenance man at another building, so Matthew invites him to oversee maintenance in the apartment building that he owns. One of this building’s inhabitants, Mia (Elisa Dowling), is presented as a conflicted but potential love interest for Joshua after he saves her from a rape attempt. Filling out the cast is Caroline Williams as Joshua’s mother, aka the woman in the opening of the film who goes to bed, has a bunch of nightmares, and wakes up preggers. Seeing as how she’s the mother of the anti-Christ, she’s got a few…problems.

Much like anything having to do with religion, shit eventually hits the fan.


There is a good idea somewhere in Abolition. I like the idea of the anti-Christ not really being that bad of a dude. I like that he’s conflicted and depressed, not because he knows what he is, but because that’s just his personality. I like that he’s not painted to be a generic villain, but that instead great attempts were made to actually make viewers feel…sympathy for the devil? (So, so sorry.) The problem is the film just doesn’t do enough with this concept, and so much of the running time is spent meandering along that when things start to get interesting, we’re only ten minutes away from closing credits.

Andrew Roth as Joshua gives a performance that, after a while, becomes exhausting. Viewers can only spend so much time with a broken-down character before it starts to take its toll. At least that’s the case for me. Roth is competent enough and carries all the scenes he’s in, but after a while, it somehow manages to feel like way too much as well as not enough.

As previously mentioned, Reggie Bannister gives a good performance as Matthew, which is propelled by the decidedly more serious tone of the film. While Reggie will always be best known for the Phantasm series as the guitar-plucking, 4-barrel-shotgun-wielding, skirt-chasing ice-cream man, his career has mainly extended primarily to bit parts in direct-to-video garbage. While nice to see him in something more grounded, it’s a shame the film itself wasn’t better.

Abolition unfolds at a pace that will seem downright punishing to even the most patient of viewers. I can’t say the film was ever boring, but you spend so much time waiting for the big pay off that when it comes, you’re nearly furious that you’re not given more to go with.


I will always give credit to filmmakers who wish to tell a story with less flash and gimmick. It’s evident here that co-writer/director Mike Klassen believes in his story, enough that he’s confident his particular pacing is worth the journey. I’m not sure I’d agree with the method.

Like that age-old belief, "How do you know that homeless man asking you for food isn’t Christ himself?,"  Abolition asks, "How do you know that lowly maintenance man you disregard on a daily basis isn’t going to bring about the end of everything?"

Unfortunately, in this case, you'll find it hard to care.


Nov 28, 2012

COMPANY

"Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead? Since [my son] Willie's death, I catch myself every day, involuntarily talking with him, as if he were with me."

Nov 27, 2012

CREEP

Three years ago I went to a national chess tourney with some friends. We stopped off at a restaurant, and there was this older man there who claimed he was traveling cross-country, meeting famous people and the like. So the friends I'm traveling with - their Dad tells me to go interview him for the trip. I had brought along a video camera, you see, to document the trip and the tourney. So I went over to him and sat down and offered him an interview about his travels. He seemed jovial at first, but when I brought up cameras he became alarmed as hell, and very unsettled. I had to promise him not to record him in any way. I was a bit put off, but I agreed. So I decided to try my best to remember the conversation after we had it and I would jot it down later.

So for the first half of the conversation everything went pretty all right. He told me stories of his travels on the road, close calls in towns, people trying to mug him, close calls hitchhiking with people who turn out not so normal (ironic really), and places he'd been. He also liked talking up religion a lot. So then he starts talking about one time he camped outside of a town in Minnesota. He tells me how he stops at this diner, and this girl there starts hitting on him. The story got really weird, and long story short, it turned into him trying to run away from this girl after she found him at his campsite and tried to rape him. But I chocked it up as a tale he told to spice up the conversation because he enjoyed my company, and I let it go.
 
But then he hit me with a zinger. He told me that he predicted what the girl was going to do. He told me he could predict things because he had power. He started talking about the Bible, God, and the second coming a lot. Then he got in my face and said he thought he could trust me. So he asked me if I wanted to know who he really was. I started getting really unsure about this whole thing, but I said sure. 
He took his hands and placed them on the table, laying them flat. On his palms were holes going straight through, from one side to the other. His feet had them too. He said he was marked as the Second Coming, and he was traveling the country bringing the truth and healing and helping others, and operating a website out of his van. He said he had not yet risen to power, but he would, and when he had met his quota, he would bring Heaven back to Earth. 
All I could think was "Holy shit, holy shit, this guy stabbed nails through his hands and feet. Please don't kill me, Mister. I've got so much to give." A friend of mine came over to tell me we were leaving at that point, and he also saw the "stigmata" on the guys hands. He just stared at it, like "Holy shit, does this guy think he's really Jesus Christ"? The guy told me his website. I looked it up later. It doesn't exist. I swear there was a van outside with a satellite dish though. I almost said there wasn't but then I remembered there was. He told us to be careful on our trip as bad storms would be coming and they would rain on the good and the wicked alike. Sure enough, on our way back days later, we ran through some pretty heavy, tornadic thunderstorms.

I'll never forget that shit as long as I live. I sat right across from a man who stabbed himself in the hands and feet with nails.

Story source.

Image source.

Nov 26, 2012

REVIEW: THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE (DIE FARBE)


I wish I were more familiar with H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve read only a sampling of his work – “Rats in the Walls” and “Re-Animator” – and, like Poe, found his prose to be simultaneously beautiful and antiquatedly tedious. I recognize both Lovecraft and Poe’s skills as literary legends, but perhaps it’s my simple-minded brain that keeps me from fully embracing their bodies of work. Regardless, they have my undying respect for contributing to the genre and elevating it with their presence.

Because of this, I had no real idea what to expect as I sat down to watch The Colour Out of Space. My exposure to Lovecraft at that point had been the aforementioned short stories, as well as other more modern fare that directly homages and honors the author, like Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, or Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. Lovecraft writes of slimy, distorted, indescribable monstrosities from other worlds – both in a sci-fi as well as a more general horrific sense. Reading a quick summary of the original short story confirms that the film adaptation is mostly loyal, but obviously has to punch it up a bit to expand the story to an appropriate feature length.


Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise), of Arkham, Massachusetts (a popular Lovecraft setting), is investigating the disappearance of his father (Ralf Lichtenberg). This investigation leads him all the way to Germany, where he meets Armin Pierske (Michael Kausch), who recognizes a picture of Jonathan’s father…not the recent one he has been using to canvass, but another that depicts him as a young soldier. The two sit down as Armin begins to relate the tale of “the colour,” what it did to the countryside after it crash-landed out of space in a meteorite, and how his father comes into play. It would seem that this meteorite contained a radioactive element that caused nearby produce to double or even triple its size – and that's not all; insects, too, rapidly expanded, and bees grew to the size of rats. Lastly, its exposure to human beings left them in catatonic, near-mad states, and once that occurred, there was no redemption for them.

While I can’t speak for the source material (my assumption comes from Lovecraft stories with which I am already familiar), I am sure The Colour Out of Space unfolds in the same sense as the short story; meaning, it probably takes its time. The adaptation sure does – but not in a detracting sense. Like the types of literature and films its honoring, it unfolds one piece at a time, like any good mystery should do. And despite the horror and sci-fi presence, at its core the film is a mystery. Shot in black and white, it recalls the dreary and mystical world of film noir, made most popular during the early 20th century. This choice of black and white was not obvious to me right away – I at first assumed that the filmmakers chose a black and white canvas due to the completely unique aspect of “the colour” said to be wreaking havoc across the land. For a color that had no place within the earthly color spectrum, I assumed this was the filmmakers’ way of skirting such an impossible task as creating an entirely "new" color. I should have given them more credit. “The colour” does make an appearance, and it appropriately remains the only object in the film to be colorized – artificially, obviously, which definitely lends it a very unnatural appearance. No, the filmmakers chose a black-and-white palette to lend it a foreign and almost dream-like look. And it certainly works, at times coming dangerously close to recalling The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.


Admittedly, The Colour Out of Space did not grab me at first. I was interested in the story, but not invested. And unfortunately the scenes in which our characters spoke English (German is mostly utilized) sounded very tinny and echoey, as if the characters’ dialogue had been recorded in a phone booth. (The film is a German production, so perhaps the scenes featuring English dialogue were reshoots in order to make international sales more appealing?) I can’t imagine this was a purposeful choice, for if it was, there is no clear reason for it. However, I eventually began to lose myself in the story. As previously mentioned, each layer was peeled back to reveal a new development – the giant fruit, the monstrous bees, and catatonia of the nearby residents – and I found myself very intrigued.

If I had one word to describe The Colour Out of Space, it would be ambitious. Our filmmakers clearly did not have a very large budget, but their sprawling, international story feels bigger than life. What scant CGI effects there are look damn good and comparable to what you’d see in modern theaters, and because they are particularly placed throughout the script, the scope feels bigger in recollection. The direction by Huan Vu (a German Asian! I know! Crazy!) is well-assured, and at times even beautiful. The acting for the most part is more than satisfactory. A few minor characters have a couple lines that don’t sound at all convincing, but luckily our leads feel completely genuine. (You will stare at the young version of Armin Piersk and swear it’s Frederik Zoller, star of the fake Nation’s Pride in Inglorious Basterds, but you’d be wrong.)

Fans of Lovecraft would be missing out if they did not give this adaptation a try. Additionally, fans of film noir, German expressionism, sci-fi, and classic tales of horror should also check it out.

Nov 25, 2012

BUY ME THIS: PET SEMATARY PROP

This is Judd's (Fred Gwynne) mechanical head from the 1989 Stephen King classic horror film Pet Sematary. The bust can be seen as undead child Gage (Miko Hughes) slices Jud across the mouth with a scalpel in the process of killing him. The bust is made out of urethane over a foam core and has been painted and detailed to appear as if it were the real actor complete with white sideburns and hair around the lower back of the head. The open mouth is covered in dried fake blood and has a cut across it. The most exciting part of this piece is the top piece of the hollowed-out head is exposed with two black levers inside that when manipulated, move the mouth up and down. There are also thin plastic tubes still connected that were used to pump blood through the mouth, completing the gruesome effect. This head is mounted on a small wooden base, is labeled “Fred Gwynne” at the bottom, and measures approximately 19" x 15" x 11" (48cm x 38cm x 28cm). This piece is in good condition.
Wow.

Buy it for me!

Nov 23, 2012

REVIEW: THE HUNT


Historical and classic literature remains with us to this very day, not just in their original textual form, but in other ways—re-realized, re-envisioned, and redistributed.  One need look no further than “Sons of Anarchy” to see a very modern, bloody, and bad-ass retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. AMC’s massively popular “Breaking Bad” carries shades of both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as the soul-to-the-devil legend of Faust. Even Twilight, the most absurdly terrible thing to happen to both literature and cinema, unfortunately must be associated with the bloodsucker that started it all, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (sans glitter and organized vampire baseball games).

The reason I bring this up is because there’s another dark tale from our literary past that often resurfaces in film—that of the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, a morbid tale of men hunting down their favorite kind of pray in a forest or jungle landscape: other human beings. This tale has inspired some massive contributions to our genre, including Predator, Battle Royale, the absurd Van Damme actioneer Hard Target, and The Hunger Games (along with scores of others, whose titles get more and more cheesy the further we go back).

Thomas Szczepanski's survival film The Hunt is the latest re-appropriation of Connell’s story, and it surely won’t be the last. While it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it provides enough thrills and shocks to warrant a viewing.

*

A young tabloid reporter named Alex is on his last leg at his paper. Readers no longer care about the dog-fucking women he interviews and shoots for his articles, and the editor demands he bring her something of substance, or he’ll be without a job in one week’s time. Desperate for any kind of lead, he visits his girlfriend, a local stripper/fetish sex-worker to see if she can point him towards any of her regular clients that could make for a salacious story. One thing leads to another and he finds himself drawn into the world of human hunting, run by a team of anonymous and extremely wealthy men. The game is simple: three victims, their tongues cut out to prevent being able to blow the lid off the whole thing, have small cases locked to their wrists and are sent out into the woods, where they are to be hunted down and killed. If they are, the successful hunter wins whatever awaits them within the locked cases; essentially, the “bets” that the hunters made before the start of the game. Alex, masking his true identity, takes part in the game to see just how far these men are willing to go in the name of the ultimate sport.

The Hunt landed unceremoniously on video earlier this summer, which is somewhat of a shame, given that the film is more than competently directed by Frenchman Thomas Szczepanski. With the film being 75 minutes, he has a lot of story to tell within that amount of time. And while the crux of that story is told in a way that’s at least aesthetically thrilling, what could have been an exemplary take on the story, had it been more fleshed out, instead becomes merely satisfying. The Hunt never fails to entertain on a superficial level, being that you’re watching a team of men hunt another, not going easy on their pray once they catch up. In that gleefully sadistic way of which only the French are capable (see Haute Tension, Inside, Martyrs), The Hunt, too, spares no expense when it comes to bloodshed. Though it is not consistently violent, when violence does occur, it has no problem with going over the top.

*

There are very interesting themes at play here, especially being that the men in charge of the game are presented as extremely wealthy (which isn’t a new addition to the story, but could have been much more exploited thanks to the present-day chasm between the middle and upper class.) Not to mention that as the camera pans across the walls the first time we see the mansion which houses what could be called home base of the game, snippets of antiquated paintings and portraits of stately men very subtly suggest that the hunt is anything but new—that, perhaps, it’s been going on for centuries.

Szczepanski is more interested in spinning a stylistic tale than poking at your moral fibers, though there is one specific sequence in the film that’s absolutely due for praise: in a moment where Alex finds himself in the midst of the game, splashing river water across his face in an effort to shock him back to reality, he spies one of the intended victims staring at him from the other side of the river. Alex stares at this victim for a long time, a peculiar look on his face, as the victim, unsure of what’s about to happen, looks back in fear. It’s a great moment because we, as the audience, have absolutely no idea how Alex is going to respond. We already know that Alex is already kind of losing his mind in the thick of the game’s madness. And we also know the sole reason he’s even involved in the game is to save his career, the goal behind that, of course, being money. Well, before him sits a wad of cash in the case chained to the victims’ arm. Will Alex blow the lid off the story, as is the reason he is there in the first place? Or will he push all that aside and join the game, in hopes of hitting it big?. Presenting this question in the form of this scene was an extremely purposeful choice, and it’s expertly handled by the filmmaker.

Unfortunately, the film suffers form that age-old adage: We simply aren’t provided enough background on Alex for us to care about him as a character. All we really know about him is he’s a muckraking reporter who is dating a sex worker, and whose only motivation in life seems to be keeping his job at the tabloid. Except for some sex, Alex and his girlfriend don’t share any scenes together that make us feel like they are anything beyond roommates. Really, there’s no emotional moments shared between either of them at all, so all we’re left to root for is an empty shell of a man who could escape the game as just as easily succumb to it—and we, the viewers, wouldn’t really care either way.

A brisk running time, some thrilling action scenes, and all kinds of bodily harm will ensure that viewers will certainly have a good experience, but those hoping for some more socially relevant themes might find themselves disappointed.

* Images from the film are impossible to find, so my thanks to Basement Screams for the use (stole 'em) of its screen grabs.


Nov 21, 2012

HIS DECEITFUL WILES

O God, creator and defender of the human race, look upon this Your servant, whom You did make in Your own image and call to share in Your glory…

Hear, holy Father, the cry of the Church suppliant: let not Your child be possessed by the father of lies; let not Your servant, whom Christ has redeemed by His blood, to be held in the captivity of the devil; let not a temple of Your Spirit be inhabited by the unclean spirit.

Hear, O merciful God, the prayers of the blessed Virgin Mary, whose Son, dying upon the Cross, crushed the head of the serpent of old and entrusted all men to His mother as sons: let the light of truth shine upon this Your servant, let the joy of peace enter into him, let the Spirit of holiness possess him, and by inhabiting him render him serene and pure.

Hear, O Lord, the supplication of blessed Michael the Archangel and of all the Angels ministering unto You: God of hosts, drive back the force of the devil; God of truth and favor, remove his deceitful wiles; God of freedom and grace, break the bonds of iniquity.
 
Hear, O God, lover of man’s salvation…free this servant from every alien power…

I adjure you, Satan, enemy of man’s salvation, acknowledge the justice and goodness of God the Father, who by just judgment has damned your pride and envy: depart from this servant of God, whom the Lord has made in His own image, adorned with His gifts, and has mercifully adopted as His child.

I adjure you, Satan, prince of this world, acknowledge the power and strength of Jesus Christ, who conquered you in the desert, overcame you in the garden, despoiled you on the Cross, and rising from the tomb, transferred your victims to the kingdom of light…

I adjure you, Satan, deceiver of the human race, acknowledge the Spirit of truth and grace, who repels your snares and confounds your lies: depart from this creature of God, whom He has signed by the heavenly seal; withdraw from this man whom God has made a holy temple by a spiritual unction.

Leave, therefore, Satan, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; leave through the faith and the prayer of the Church; leave through the sign of the holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

Nov 20, 2012

DESPAIR

"Oh, the terrible struggle that I have had against sleep so often of late; the pain of the sleeplessness, or the pain of the fear of sleep, and with such unknown horror as it has for me! How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams."

Nov 19, 2012

SHITTY FLICKS: UNDEFEATABLE

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.


Cynthia Rothrock is Kristi Jones, a street-fighter who spars in alleys in order to make money for her baby sister to go to college. Her hair will change dramatically from scene to scene, haphazardly, and for seemingly no reason.

John Miller is Nick DiMarco, a no-nonsense cop whose loose early-'90s wardrobe is no match for his early '90s non-personality. He often works out using a large bow-staff with a pink ribbon tied around his waist.

By themselves, they are just people.

Together, they are Undefeatable.

Our story begins with Anna, a tearful, flowered-dress housewife confiding to her psychiatrist, Dr. Simmons, about the abusive ways of her husband, Paul (aka Stingray). She tells of his sociopathic tendencies, of the physical abuse, and his cold demeanor. This scene so desperate to drip with drama is intercut with the husband in question, who resembles a thick-faced and insane Jerry Seinfeld (the one from the '80s with the mullet), beating the hell out of a fighter in a ring. Stingray stares into the camera, seething with crazy, dripping with sweat.

Thick blood spews from his adversary’s mouth as he delivers a deathly elbow-drop to his back, all shot in glorious slow motion.

Jerry Seinfeld wasn't paid a million dollars per episode because
of his show's popularity; it's because he was crazier than a
shithouse rat, and NBC executives were terrified.

Dr. Simmons urges Anna to leave him, for her own safety as well as for the sake of the “plot.”

Well…she does. But more on that later!

It’s time to meet Nick DiMarco, the flattest male lead you’ll ever see in a moving picture.

Two punks attempt to knock over a convenience store, brandishing their weapons. During this, a small child hands a can of COCA-COLA over the counter, unaware of the current situation.The COCA-COLA can, which contains COCA-COLA, hovers in our line of vision for several seconds.

One of the thieves pushes the small boy, who slides an impossible distance across the floor, right into the legs of Nick DiMarco.

“Maybe you’re too much of a chicken shit to pick on someone your own size,” Nick says drably, as if speaking to his cat.

Fighting ensues, as one of the thieves brandishes a cartoonishly large blade.

“SUCK MY DICK!” he oddly bellows, swooping in for the kill.

A quick point of Nick’s gun right into the thief’s cock causes him to give up pretty quickly.

Nick’s partner enters, unconcerned, and manages,“C’mon, Nick. We’ve gotta go!”

Nick DiMarco wows yet another patron with his
Human Doll impression.

Meanwhile, Kristi Jones and her entourage of Asians meet a black gang in a back alley, ready to fight. In what appears to be goofy, ridiculous tradition, the Asians begin to clap their hands in unison as the black gang stamp the wall behind them, also in unison.

I guess it’s to make sure the audience knows how hardcore this scene is doing to be.

Well, Kristi wins the fight and goes to collect her money when the cops—you betcha, one of them being Nick!—show up to spoil the fun.

The Asians descend to the local college campus to meet Kristi’s sister, Karen. The Asian gang jokes that their high IQs make it impossible for them to enroll in college (?) before becoming morose and remembering the whole reason they're even there is to tell Karen that her sister has been arrested.

“The cops swept the neighborhood and arrested anyone under 30!” they claim, which is hilarious, seeing as Rothrock is clearly much older than 30.

Back at the station, Nick interrogates Kristi, trying to find out who has been organizing the street fights. Kristi plays it cool and dumb and Nick lets her go, citing, “That kid’s okay.”

Yep…that 37 year-old kid.

Anna, still in her flowered-dress (it’s important to keep noting that), nervously cooks over a steak as her abusive love, Stingray, returns home.

“Hi Anna!” he happily exclaims, moments before savagely and robotically raping her over the kitchen counter. And with each thrust, Stingray’s mind wanders to the fight earlier that day, as his unshelled lobster meat-looking hair flops around on his square head. The rape continues and he dreams of punching black men. He also calls Anna “mommy.” (As the rape ensues, check out the giant box of Kit Kats on top of the fridge. Thanks, corporate sponsors!)

Stingray, having completed both his fuck and his steak, leaves to collect his money from the day’s fight from his “agent” (I guess), Lou.

Rape Face™

Stingray returns home to find a note from Anna saying she has left him. He then flips out and throws stuff for several minutes, all in completely cheesy slow-mo. It even shows an exterior of the house as we hear him continue to break shit and scream, which is a device I thought was reserved only for comedies.

I guess this counts.

As insane as Stingray was before, now it’s safe to assume that he’s totally and completely flipped shit.

“Anna…I’LL FIND YOU” he bellows into the mirror, but then breaks the mood and applies layer after layer of hairspray to his already-stagnate hair as he trades smoldering stares with himself in the mirror.

And find her he does. Or at least he thinks he does.

In a nearby parking garage, an Anna-looking woman in a flowered dress is necking with an Asian prep. Stingray demands "Anna" come home with him, obviously confusing everyone, and it leads to a fight. Unfortunately for the Asian man, but fortunately for all of us, his eyes are plucked out and he’s thrown over the ledge, breaking his fall on an SUV.

Stingray takes "Anna" back to his warehouse, where he proceeds to chain her up and punish her for leaving him, which is just more chains, only this time whipped at her back. She doesn’t much like it.

Her body is later found in a port-o-potty, where Nick and his partner are investigating.

“The sick bastard poked her eyes out!” his partner exclaims. They trade steely glances, decide on a course of action, and they both leave in amusing and distracting symmetrical unison.

Kristi, meanwhile, is back doing what she does best: fighting. Her latest opponent, Bear, tries his best, but just like any investor who put money into this movie and expected a return, he didn’t have a chance. Kristi’s Asian entourage looks suitably pleased.

Bear ends up flat on his back, signaling his defeat. He then leaves with his flowered-dress wife, which catches the attention of Stingray. (Have you noticed a trend yet?)

Bear tries his best, but ends up failing at fighting for a second time, as Stingray crushes the man’s trachea.

Later, Stingray spies a third Anna: Karen, Kristi’s sister, who is by far the weakest actor in the film (and that’s saying something). Karen’s Asian companion attempts to intervene, but is promptly tossed into a pole.

Things don’t end well for Karen.

Meanwhile, Kristi practices swirling and twirling in her backyard with a set of steel weapons that I believe are called “stupid things.” These candy cane-shaped tools couldn’t be less intimidating if they were made of twisted cinnamon bread. Clearly the filmmakers didn’t just make these weapons up, and I am sure they legitimately exist, and in a GOOD movie, I would have accepted their odd construction and moved on, but we’re not in a good movie.

We’re in Undefeatable.

Stingray's habit of spitefully tasting wedding cakes in
front of the bridal party lost him many catering jobs.

Nick drops by with the unfortunate news of Karen’s demise, telling her she must come identify the body, which is very obviously a male's body covered under heavy make-up prosthetics. Rothrock attempts to transition from twirling stupid things, which she is good at, to acting, which she is not. The result is tremendously pleasing.

Kristi notes a series of scratches on her sister’s body, which is a result from a martial arts move called the “Eagle Claw.”

Kristi leaves, thirsting for vengeance, and finds Eagle Lee, a Wang-Chung looking dude in full fire-engine red windbreaker regalia, and master of the “Eagle Claw.” The fight, which for some reason takes place overtop a fleet of barrels, doesn’t last long; Nick shows up, playing the concerned potential-lover role, and breaks it up.

At Karen’s funeral, Kristi stands over her sister's supposed-to-be fresh grave, which clearly has been there for years, the thick, unmowed, undisturbed grass being the dead giveaway.

Thanks to the help of Dr. Simmons, Anna’s shrink, Nick and his partner end up at Stingray’s house, hoping to bring him in. They do not, and that’s good, because this leads to Lou going to Stingray’s warehouse hideaway, where he finds a fish tank full of eyeballs.

“Why would Stingray have a fish tank full of eyeballs?” he honestly asks himself aloud.

After that, he finds a dead girl shoved in a container, and he figures it’s probably time to peace out.

And peace out does - out of Earth, that is, thanks to a bit of strangling via Stingray's rippled arms.

After that, Stingray finds Dr. Simmons at her office. Simmons attempts to fight him off (why does every single person in this movie who isn’t supposed to be playing a fighter still know how to fight?) but it doesn’t really work. Once that fails, a bit of mind-fucking is in order, first pretending to be Anna, and then his mother, a la Friday the 13th: Part 2.

You know your movie is in trouble when you’re stealing from a Jason movie.

Regardless, her “I’m your mommy” thing works primo…a little too well, even.

He grabs her and bends her over a table.

“C’mon, mommy. I wanna play.” He then starts feeling her up.

Ew, Stingray. Gross.

"My son Treat Williams is a chip off the old block,
ain't ya sport?"

He then chains her up and leaves to buy food. Dr. Simmons manages to finagle her ringing phone out of her purse and answer it with her foot. It’s Kristi on the other end, and Dr. Simmons shouts her location.

Kristi swings by and immerses in a breathtaking fight with Stingray, featuring slow motion, flying boxes, swords versus her “stupid things,” and even a scene of slow-mo raining packing peanuts, which I’m sure Quentin Tarantino, the dumb shit lover, awed over more than once.

Nick and his partner show up and ruin the choreographed fighting with a boring shootout, which results in his partner's death and Stingray's escape.

“Breathe, you bastard,” Nick urges emotionally to his partner, but in the way that Nick shows emotion, which is...not.

Nick and Kristi begin to leave the hospital where Dr. Simmons is staying after her encounter with Stingray. Not because of sudden epiphany or suspicious behavior do Nick and Kristi suddenly turn around and head back to the shrink's hospital room, but because of a forgotten pair of sunglasses.

Once there, they see that Stingray has kidnapped Dr. Simmons.

Again.

Dr. Simmons breaks free of Stingray and flees, with Kristi hot on her heels to provide assistance of the female variety.

And then this glorious, fan-fucking-tastic piece of cinema happens:


After the fight, Kristi, Nick, and her Asian men gather at Karen’s gravesite, where Kristi makes her amends and pledges never to fight again. The Asian entourage looks sad at this news, but Kristi drops the bombshell that she has enrolled all of them at the local college. Then Nick drops the bombshell that he has enrolled HER at the local college.

Everyone yells in happiness and the movie ends in a group high-five before they have time to realize that they are all going to have to pay a shitload of money for college classes that they didn’t pick, let alone desire.

Until next time…I’ll be keeping an eye out for ya.

SEE YA.

Nov 17, 2012

GRIEF

"There must be millions of people all over the world who never get any love letters. I could be their leader."

"Realistic" Charlie Brown by  Tim O'Brien.

Nov 16, 2012

UNSUNG HORRORS: THE FIRST POWER

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. Robert Resnikoff
1990
Orion Pictures
United States

I struggled with whether or not to include this particular entry of Unsung Horrors for a long time. It’s a movie that I have unashamedly loved since I was very young (as it was one that used to run near-constantly on what eventually became the CW). The reason I struggled with it is because no one ever talks about it. Not critics, not horror sites, and not even like-minded, casual film geeks. It’s almost like a phantom – some forgotten tome from the very early '90s that may have gotten lost in the so-called listless decade in which people seem to think nothing notable in the horror genre was released. Because of that, it’s hard to gauge if The First Power needs to be defended (It Ain’t That Bad) or rightfully praised (Unsung Horrors). But then there’s another problem. I have no objectivity because I’ve been watching this thing since before my ability to detect quality over something I merely like was refined. (And there is a difference between liking a film and said film actually being good.) So, is The First Power a good movie? I honestly can’t say. It does, after all, star Lou Diamond Phillips, who somewhere after Young Guns became kind of a walking punch line. And it does contain immortal serial killers, psychics, and cats eating pizza.

In the interest of remaining optimistic, I think it’s fair to include it here. Those who disagree can sound off below.

Lou Diamond Phillips plays Russell Logan, a Los Angeles detective who specializes in tracking serial killers. His latest target is Patrick Channing, aka The Pentagram Killer (Jeff Kober, most recently of “Sons of Anarchy” fame). He likes to kidnap girls and carve pentagrams on their bodies while wearing his creepy face mask and saying prayers in reverse. A routine stake-out in hopes of capturing Channing ends with the attack of a female detective, and Logan pursues the killer, getting stabbed like crazy town in the process and left severely injured. Still, Channing is arrested and put to death for his crimes.

Time passes, Logan recovers from his wounds, and everyone celebrates Channing's demise, including Logan. But then he receives a phone call from the mysterious woman who has been assisting all along with the investigation. Turns out Logan has gone back on his word, breaking the agreement that had been forged between them – she would continue providing Logan with information to help catch Channing only if he promised that he would be taken alive, and would not be put to death. (Oops.) Turns out, Channing’s reign of terror is only just beginning. With his spirit freed from his corporeal body, Channing now has the uncanny ability to body jump from host to host and cause all manner of havoc.


Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith, of Sleepaway Camp 3!) plays a psychic (aka the mysterious woman) who makes a damn good living as such. Logan hunts Tess down after the body of that female detective who had been earlier attacked by Channing is found covered in Channing-style knife graffiti. At first assuming Tess must be in on it, Logan begins to slowly believe in the “other” world that allows such things as the psychic powers Tess possesses, or the abilities that allow Channing to do what he is doing.  

Along for the ride (for better or worse) is Logan’s partner, Ollie Franklin (probably the most popular and recognizable character actor of all time, Mykelti Williamson, responsible for Bubba in Forrest Gump, among many, many others). His screen time is unfortunately limited, but he manages to slip in at least one "kiss my black ass," which I believe was a requirement in every cop procedural movie featuring a black actor made during the 1990s.

I love The First Power, first and foremost and above all else, because it’s creepy.  It’s a combination of several horror staples – serial killers, the supernatural, and religious mythos.  It combines all of these in a (heh, I was about to say believable) clever manner and they work well enough together that they become believable (in a strictly cinematic sense). But it's also well aware of itself, and writer/director Robert Resnikoff is wise to inject a bit of humor into the story, both in dialogue and in circumstances. It's an interesting juxtaposition in that The First Power can be pretty grisly, eerie, and dark. But then it will take a break and let Logan or Tess or even Channing say or do something ridiculous that will let the air out of the powder keg a bit to settle things down. The use of humor is slight, but appreciated...until the third act, in which Channing possesses another character and goes ape shit inside Logan's car as he and Tess try to make a break for it. In this scene the puns fly fast and furious, and Channing goes from being a murderous, demonic killer to a huge pain in the ass.

Incidentally, this scene ends in a wicked car crash.

Full disclosure: The First Power is not perfect, is nowhere near it, and at times severely stretches the concept of disbelief. After all, what are you supposed to do when the killer rips a ceiling fan off the wall, separates it from its wires and power source, and still manages to turn the damn thing on and pursue our characters, anyway? Or how are you supposed to react when the climax of the film, which takes place in a sewer, involves a gigantic vat of acid that’s there for some reason?

Because The First Power wants you to be be thrilled as well as have fun. As "no shit" as it may sound, The First Power knows it's a movie. ("No shit!") It exists entirely within the world of cinema, and so tropes we've come to easily accept in more traditional cop-hunting-a-killer movies are gleefully included here, like the hard-drinking loose-cannon detective, the killer with a gimmick, and the out-of-nowhere love interest. But that's all okay, because it works just fine.

There is no better scene in the film that more aptly sets the tone than the one which takes place in the third act. Sister Marguerite, a minor character vital to the conflict, has a deep seated knowledge and obsession with the world of cults and devil worship, so much that she is chided and considered an outcast at her convent. Logan begs for her help and Sister Marguerite soberly agrees. For Logan's reference, she recites the three powers (backwards for some reason): the third power is the ability to possess other human beings; the second power is the ability to tell the future; and the first power is resurrection. Marguerite believes the Devil himself has granted Channing the first power, and only one thing will stop him. She goes to a cabinet and retrieves an ancient looking crucifix. She holds it, almost as if in awe...and then this happens:

"Mind if I ventilate?"

And the reason I say this is a perfect summation is because The First Power is not here to make you think. It's not here to stoically depict a battle of good and evil a la The Omen. It's not here to test your faith like The Exorcist. It's not here to present you with a existential battle for the soul. The First Power wants to fucking stab the killer to death with a God knife.

And I am totally fine with that.

Appropriately, this snippet from Vincent Canby’s New York Times review made me laugh, even though it’s knocking the very movie I am praising:
The action is fairly constant and some of the special effects are good, but the whole thing is seriously stupid. A rational thought is as fatal to this movie as the crucifix (which hides a knife) is to the changeable Patrick Channing.
To really enjoy what's at the core of The First Power, you’re supposed to push all that aforementioned cheese aside and remember the really eerie moments instead, like when Channing, being pursued through a church after having taken over the body of a priest, stands on top of the benediction table at the altar and mocks the Christ crucifixion; or his creepy reiteration of “see you around, buddy boy” at several key moments; or even the incredibly impressive (and very real) stunt in which a man jumps five stories off a building, lands on his feet on solid concrete, and then walks away – all in one shot.

Lou Diamond Phillips turns in a very Lou Diamond Phillips performance. The actor has always been good, but beyond La Bamba, he’s never really been a part of any film responsible for critical acclaim. And like many other actors of his ilk, a few poor choices and a few stinkers at the box office left him with a near non-career, relegated to small indie productions or direct-to-video oddities (like another underrated little yarn called Route 666, about – wait for it – ghost/zombie prison chain-gang road workers).

Plus his wife left him for another woman, and that just has to suck.

Still, I like LDP as an actor, and it’d be nice to see him getting a bit more exposure. Some A-list actors deserve to disappear into obscurity (looking at you, LaBeouf) whereas others deserve to be rescued from it. All LDP needs is a Tarantino or Nolan-esque revival to grant the man the resurgence he deserves.

In The First Power, he is luckily playing a cinematic cop, for if this were real life, he would be the worst cop ever: he drinks, he can barely fight, he forces civilians on deadly car chases. He breaks into the homes of persons of interest, no warrant on-hand. He even has a shoebox of explosives just sitting around his apartment, filled with grenades, wires, and all kinds of boomy things. "A buddy on the bomb squad gave me this stuff for a rainy day," he explains, like this is the most normal and ethical thing in the world.

But who cares, right? God knife.

Jeff Kober as Patrick Channing is a big damn creep. He looks creepy, sounds creepy, and plays a very convincing deviant murderer. Somewhere in the world he is saying, “hey, thanks!” His isn't a career I've necessarily followed over the years, but after seeing him pop up in episodes of "The X-Files" and "The Shield," I always say, "Hey, it's that guy!"

Writer/director Robert Resnikoff has nearly no career to speak of beyond this. Funny, being that the The First Power doubled its budget during its theatrical run (according to IMDB). Even the biggest turkeys lead to more work for their directors, so long as the money rolled in (see Michael Bay’s entire career). But The First Power is Resnikoff’s sole feature credit as a director, and one of four where he served as writer. That’s kind of a damn shame, for the skills he showed behind the camera for this particular film would definitely have led me into seeking out more of his genre work. He stages several thrilling sequences, including the aforementioned church scene, or the horse-led stagecoach race through the city streets. Special mention must be made of the scene in which the body of a detective is discovered crucified and hung impossibly high off the ground under a bridge. The shot begins in a car-propelled push through a dark tunnel and ends with a sweeping shot to the mangled cop, and it's an effective introduction to the madness Channing will wreak upon those who tried to stop him the first time. Like action director John McTiernan, Resnikoff likes to shoot the eerier focal points of his scene from the protagonists' point of view. We, the audience, don't have the kind of omniscient view that we often do; instead, we see what Logan sees, or Tess sees. Some of creepiest things we see Channing do are shot very far off; one would think that might subdue the power of whatever nasty or fucked-up thing Channing's doing, but, very much the opposite. And given the kind of John Carpenter's The Thing-type identity paranoia that's present here, that's definitely an appropriate choice.

Speaking of Carpenter, composer Stewart Copeland turns in a nice subdued version of a Carpenter score, borrowing the style, but choosing to let the music complement a scene instead of assault the audience's senses with it. Additionally, the sea of demonic whispering and laughter that washes across various scenes featuring Channing are incredibly creepy and effective, especially when layered over the previously mentioned scene of Channing's mock crucifixion.

The First Power is the best definition of “turn your mind off” entertainment that I can think of. It doesn’t demand all that much of you, and thematically, there’s not all that much going on. For a movie about God and the Devil, it doesn't have much to say about either, other than: God good, Devil bad. But thrilling it is, creepy it is, and you’ll never be bored. Blood flies (as do homeless women), and not everyone makes it out alive.

The end of the film teases a sequel, and it’s one I would have enthusiastically watched. Unfortunately it never happened – likely because Robert Resnikoff got on a rocket ship and blasted off to space after finishing this film, as he never made another feature,

To close, I say again: The First Power is an enjoyable film. Is it good? I honestly don’t know. I’d argue that Friday the 13th: Part VII–The New Blood is a good film because I loved it when I was eight years old, and that love has been grandfathered into my more particular adulthood.

Unsurprisingly, the no-frills MGM DVD is out of print. Somewhat cheap copies can be snagged from Amazon, and I can only imagine Netflix has it available on disc. Give it a watch and see what you think – I’d be curious how first-time viewers react.

See you around, buddy boy.

Nov 14, 2012

SPRING CLEANING

"We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow."

Nov 13, 2012

REVIEW: WEREWOLF FEVER


How on earth does one properly review a film such as Werewolf Fever?

Because, just look at this:

 

Werewolf? More like…I dunno. Not a werewolf. (That looks nothing like a werewolf.)

Werewolf Fever is a movie I should be eviscerating. I should have hit the ground running here and made 30 jokes about how completely inept it was before I ever gave you a trite rundown of the plot. I should have said something like, “This movie is so bad it might as well have been some sort of pornographic film involving werewolves.” Or, you know, something zippy and fun, like that.

I don’t really want to do that, though. I’ll be honest: I enjoyed this farce. I enjoyed the extremely hammy story. I enjoyed the superbly terrible performances. And I enjoyed the gooey effects, consisting of a bunch of severed limbs, a terrible weasel-looking werewolf, and a lot of blood. All of Werewolf Fever’s on-the-surface shortcomings – the acting, the effects, and the awkwardness synonymous with low budget filmmaking – really did nothing but enhance my enjoyment.

Here is that plot rundown I mentioned earlier, which is as simple as it needs to be: A bunch of teens working at Kingburger Drive-In deal with a werewolf that comes stalking, killing any hapless individual that tries to escape. Arms and legs go flying, and people are turned into skeletons covered in chunky meat. Humor ensues – sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident – but it’s always welcome.

What I most appreciated about Werewolf Fever is that it is most definitely a throwback to the creature features of the 1950s, when werewolves reigned supreme. And the idea of the Kingburger Drive-In – where waitresses sport roller-skates and vintage muscle-car shows take place – harkens back to that bygone era. Adding to this homage is a minor character whose heart has been broken by one of the Kingburger waitresses, and who rolls through the drive-thru to recite a poem he had "written" himself, which is stolen from Stephen King’s It (the bulk of which takes place in the ‘50s, and which also features a werewolf). Said character wears a leather jacket and carries a switchblade. All he needs is some greasy hair and several claims of harassment from male masseuses and he is literally Danny Zuko. For me, this recapturing of 1950s werewolf cinema was the biggest selling point and the most rewarding aspect of Werewolf Fever.

Director Brian Singleton had very little money to work with – that much is evident – and what money he did have went to special effects. In that regard I can't judge too harshly. But if it were possible, I would have excised a couple gore gags and put that money towards developing a werewolf costume that was more...indicative of a werewolf. The film comes dangerously close to looking like Pekinese Fever.

But at the end of the day, I can't complain too much. It really didn't affect my enjoyment of the film, so, there's that.

"Mind if we obfuscate?"

Low budget filmmaking – especially horror – can be extremely polarizing amongst genre fans. Some factions love the approach while others loathe it. I’ve always been somewhere in the middle. Time and time again it has been proven that a budget does not equate to quality, but obviously that’s not to say that every low budget effort, even if the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place, was a slam dunk.

In terms of a general viewing, Werewolf Fever is neither a slam dunk, nor a condemnable piece of shit. It lies somewhere in the middle. But what I can say is that fans of low budgets and hammy monster costumes will find a lot to enjoy about it. It’s completely disposable entertainment, but that’s okay. So long as we enjoy ourselves.

Plus, I love that poster.

Nov 12, 2012

LIKE PICTURES IN A BOOK


No idea if this is legit or not, but if it is...this is pretty cool.

Stanley Kubrick's own notes made in a copy of  The Shining.

Click the photo to embiggen.

Stolen with love from The Daily Dead.

Nov 11, 2012

IT AIN'T THAT BAD – BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2

In this column, movies with less-than-stellar reputations are fairly and objectively defended. Full disclaimer establishes that said movies aren’t perfect, and aren’t close to being such, but contain an undeniable amount of worth that begs you for a second chance. Films chosen are based on their general reception by both critics and audiences, more often than not falling into the negative. Every film, no matter how dismal, has at least one good quality. As they say, it ain’t that bad. 

Spoilers abound. 


A sequel to The Blair Witch Project was probably doomed from the start, no matter what direction was attempted.

A direct-direct sequel? What, it turns out – oops – Heather, Michael, and Josh survived their encounter and fled that awful Parr house back into the woods for more dark-screaming?

No thanks.

Perhaps a group of investigators set out after having located the recently unearthed footage and try to find traces of the missing kids, this time bringing along their own camera crew?

Perhaps if the first Blair Witch had been released after Paranormal Activity, which had proven you could go back to the same well using the same schtick and find success, then maybe that would’ve happened.

But it didn’t.


Blair Witch’s success at the box office rang the dinner bell for an inevitable sequel, and so franchise owner then-Artisan Entertainment became intrigued by a pitch that would’ve made the first movie just that: a movie.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 takes place in an environment where The Blair Witch Project is recognized as the fictional narrative piece of pop culture phenomenon it legitimately was when it was released back in 1999. It follows a group of people so obsessed with the movie that they set out on some kind of Blair Witch Weekend Extravaganza to immerse themselves in everything that made them total suckers for the movie.

I give Artisan and director Joe Berlinger heaps of credit for trying it this way. You have to admit, it’s a pretty ballsy move by putting all your eggs in the basket of “you know that movie you love and which made the world come out in droves to see it? Turns out we’re retconning it all and having it be just a movie.” And it was even ballsier in picking documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost trilogy; Brother's Keeper) to take the helm of his first (and so far, only) feature film.

The screenplay by Berlinger and co-writer Dick Beebee (the House on Haunted Hill remake, “Tales from the Crypt”) is actually not just some kind of exploitative rehash of familiar horror tropes (or at least wasn’t meant to be), but was actually about our dependence on pop culture and the power of mass hysteria. All of the characters come from completely different walks of life – a former patient of a mental institution, an unstable weirdo (and hot) Goth, a married team of writers researching for a book, and a new age Wiccan out to dispel the notion that all witches are evil bitches – and yet they have all ended up in the same place, and it was their obsession and/or infatuation with The Blair Witch Project that led them there.

The best part of the film belongs to the opening five minutes (not including the terrible credit sequence), which is a compilation of news reports and entertainment talk shows discussing the explosive reaction to The Blair Witch Project – from MTV's Kurt Loder (remember him?) to Jay Leno – which is intermingled with interviews of “real” Burkittsville residents who discuss their love/hate relationship with the film. It’s an incredibly clever and intelligent opening to a film that is trying to tell its audience right off the bat, “We’re trying something different.”

Obviously, though it's shot traditionally, there still needed to be that amateur video aesthetic that made Blair Witch so successful and effective. And so elements of video captured by our cast becomes the catalyst for the film's conclusion. Because what the video shows them doing does not at all match up with what they're absolutely sure happened, according to their own memories. The things they experienced – and believed to be the real truth – are easily shattered when played on a computer screen in front of them. And what the video shows is them committing murder, participating in orgies, and offering sacrifices to the "real" Elly Kedward. But we, the audience, never saw these things. We saw a bunch of white kids drinking copious amounts of alcohol and each discussing his/her own ties to The Blair Witch Project. They were obnoxious and antagonistic and sometimes irritating, but never murderous. So how was it this footage was captured? Are we, the audience, being lied to? And if so, who are the perpetrators? The kids? The witch? Our own eyes? The true mystery lies in a statement made by Jeff, the leader of the Blair Witch Hunt, when he says "Video never lies. Film does, but video never lies." Work that around your noggin any way you see fit.

Unfortunately what was to be a more highbrow and classy affair was corrupted by Artisan Entertainment, who demanded that corny gore and Marilyn Manson complement the opening credits. Blair Witch 2 became a real Frankenstein affair, and Berlinger’s commentary on the DVD is quick to point out which scenes he was forced to include in order to appeal to a more broad (read: stupid) base.


In some regards, I am the lone cheerleader, and unendingly optimistic. But in others, don’t worry – I’m not delusional. For instance, I recognize that the acting is pretty atrocious. Though some members of the cast went on to other notable things (Erica Leehrsen did 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn 2; Jeffrey Donovan ended up with "Burn Notice"; Kim Diamond became Spike Lee’s muse), there is no short supply of horrendous acting and/or dialogue.

For instance:

“Witch bitch!”

“The witch…kills…children!”

"Fucking witch!"

Etc.

(But let it not be said bad acting has killed a horror movie. Mia Farrow’s flat and corny performance in Rosemary’s Baby didn’t deter its then-and-now legendary reputation, and Heather Langenkamp didn’t exactly graduate from the actor’s studio before taking on A Nightmare on Elm Street.)

BUT!

Lanny Flaherty as Sheriff Cravens gives the best performance…ever.

In the movie’s final act, in which reality (or is it?) is slowly meshing with fiction, there are some nice nods to the first film, such as the very greasy Rustin Parr-looking repairman saying, “I’m finished now,” after fixing a soda machine (although they did blow the line they were trying to homage, which was actually “I’m finally finished”). Additionally, his assortment of tools, when piled together, depict the infamous stick figure that became synonymous with the first film.

The resurrection (forgive the pun) of the Burkittsville Seven children murdered by Parr make several appearances as ghosts, and while the idea of including them is nice, and even appropriate, their make-up is beyond pitiful, and comes off like an elementary school Halloween parade. There are also nods to Kyle Brody (the 8th and only surviving victim of Rustin Parr) and Eileen Treacle, who was allegedly drowned by the witch in a very shallow creek. While these inclusions are clever, it also adds an additional layer in that, yes, the first Blair Witch was just a movie, but all of the events discussed in the film – Rustin Parr, the seven murdered kids, etc. – all allegedly happened. So what we're dealing with is a sequel to a movie that calls it just a movie, but which is based on a "real" history that was completely fabricated for said first movie. Still with me?

Carter Burwell turns in a clever and nature-driven score, using a combination of water and stones to create a patchwork of very woodsy-sounding themes.

Humor is a welcome presence from time to time, normally courtesy of Jeffrey Donovan, and I do also love that “Heather Donohue/light bulb” joke, where the punch line is screaming. (I have an affinity for very stupid jokes.)

As far as horror sequels go, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 gets a bad rap. It’s not as abhorrent as, say, The Exorcist 2, but it’s also not held up to legendary status (and fairly so). It’s big on ideas and nearly-but-not-quite ruined by a meddlesome studio throwing shit at the horror wall to see what sticks. Berlinger has a keen eye, and portions of the screenplay are clever and intelligent. I'd love to somehow see the original director's cut of this – I have a feeling it didn't include owl eating.

Because we'll never really know what Book of Shadows was originally meant to look like before all the studio tampering, it's hard to assign the appropriate level of blame to director Joe Berlinger. The end result is a somewhat irritating hodgepodge of ideas that, while based on an interesting concept, is ultimately dampened by lowest common denominator-type shock value, awful teen rock'n'roll (Nickelback yay!) and the typical amount of violence usually reserved for Friday the 13th. A shame, since the first Blair Witch's level of violence amounted to a couple of red squishy things wrapped in a shirt – and yet it still managed to be a box office and critical juggernaut – so why Artisan felt the need to cram in generic horror blood-n-guts is something we'll never really know.

A really great idea exists at the core of Book of Shadows, and if you can let the film be and examine it with a less discerning eye, sometimes you can catch glimpses of the director's original vision.

I urge you to revisit this particular fright flick. You might just be surprised.

Nov 9, 2012

THE GRAND FINALE

"I separated the joints - the arm joints, the leg joints - and had to do two boilings. I think I used four boxes of Soilex for each one; put in the upper portion of the body and boiled that for about two hours, and then the lower portion for another two hours. The Soilex removes all the flesh, turns it into a jelly-like substance, and it just rinses off. Then I laid the clean bones in a light bleach solution, left them there for a day, and spread them out on either newspaper or cloth and let them dry for about a week in the bedroom."

Nov 8, 2012

REVIEW: DUST UP


Boy, desert-set adventures just about always end with a grown man being roasted on a spit and then eaten by a bunch of meth heads, don't they?

But seriously folks...

Jack (Aaron Gaffrey) is a war-torn "high desert handyman" who lives in a trailer way out in the middle of a barren landscape. He is haunted by memories of his time spent in the marines during the (Iraq? Afghanistan?) war, in which an explosion kills a fellow marine and tears half his face apart, ripping out an eye in the process. His only companion is Mo (Devin Barry), a skinny white kid cavorting around in Native American garb and looking nothing at all like an actual Native American.

A routine plumbing call has him paying a visit to young mom Ella (Amber Benson), whose pipes are shooting out muddy crappy water. It's right around this point when Jack meets Ella's drug-addicted husband, Herman (Travis Betz), who is thousands of dollars in debt to the local drug king pin Buzz (the absolutely insane Jeremiah Birkett). As you can probably guess, Jack gets involved with all the goings-on of Buzz's drug underworld and things get a little bloody.


If there existed an alternate universe in which Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers collaborated on a script, which was then directed by a Natural Born Killers-era Oliver Stone, Dust Up would come as close to such a wicked threesome as that. A script filled with quirky characters and snappy dialogue is visualized on screen in the frenetic, yellow-tinted style that Stone eventually bequeathed to Tony Scott (RIP). It is a fun, gory romp that contains just as much charm as it does slimy, grimy set pieces.

And the film is funny. Legitimately so, but in that odd, screwball way similar to its cinematic soul mate, The FP. Most of the characters are over-the-top and outlandish, but it all exists in a world where everything is perfectly normal. Broad Dust Up is not. It is a very refined and specific type of humor, and general audiences need not apply. Because while it is often funny, it is also often crude, violent, and even disturbing. Basically, if you can't get behind one character strangling another to death, all the while jerking himself off and ejaculating on the victim's face - all done for both comedic and shock purposes, mind you - perhaps you better check out before you get in too deep. Because you will see things in Dust Up you might not be able to unsee.

Gaffrey as Jack seems to be having the least amount of fun, per his character, being that he is a lonely and isolated figure whose only companion is a half-naked fake Indian. His eye patch and constant lemon face are deceiving in the sense that Gaffrey is actually quite capable of holding his own as far as the humor element goes. Straight-faced humor is often a gamble, because if the humor itself is lame and ineffective, such a performance can come off as boring. But because of the completely diverse group of characters by which he is surrounded, his straight man schtick plays well when coupled with Betz's Herman, who has some of the best lines, or Barry's Mo, whose mere presence never really stops being ridiculous.

Amber Benson plays the sole female lead, and she is saddled with the archetype of the young mom with a dead beat husband who is just trying to hold it all together. Still, she's given some fun lines and is allowed to get into the thick of it when shit really hits the fan. I can't say I'm familiar with any of her work on "Buffy," but her ability for comedy wouldn't surprise any fans of the Joss Whedon favorite.

And Jeremiah Birkett - holy shit. He takes the generic stock character of the drunk king pin and turns him into a devious, misogynistic, sodomizing, bisexual-for-the-fuck-of-it, baby-threatening son of a bitch. He seems to be having a hell of a time playing one, as his performance is near electrifying. At several key moments he is eerily reminiscent of Bernie Mac (RIP), and somewhere I hope Birkett takes that as a compliment, because he definitely should.


As is the case with most low budget cinema, Dust Up isn't entirely perfect. The character work for this type of film is definitely well-done, and you get the sense that anyone on screen can get knocked off at at moment. (One particular sequence, in which one of the more colorful antagonists hops aboard a quad and chases our heroes as they run through the desert, shooting one bullet after another, is effectively suspenseful. The quick editing leaves the viewer unnerved that one of our protags could drop at any moment.) Dust Up, in that regard, works in making you care about its characters, as batshit insane as they may be. But what rubbed me the wrong way was the filmmakers' inclusion of what, to me, seemed like irrelevant defamation of the country's current economic crisis, which has been caused by those "living behind golden gates." And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm certainly not telling writer/director Ward Roberts to shut the fuck up and just make a movie. But these condemnations (straight from the maniacal Buzz) come so late in the third act that by the time he gives his speech to his crowd of meth heads, you begin to wonder why it was even included. The idea of "war is bad" literally occurs within the film's first frame, and its effect on Jack are felt throughout the running time. And that's fine. If a morality message had to be included, the war motif more than satisfied the job, and it felt natural and unforced. 

Filmmakers, more than any other artist, have long used cinema to condemn the actions of political systems. George Romero's been doing it for forty years, and he was not the first, nor the last. But in order for your point to have any validity, it needs to be organically weaved through your story. The third act inclusion feels like a late-stage attempt at giving Buzz some motivation and rationale behind his meth business and the Christ-like sway he holds over his meth head followers. It's not like it derails the film at all, as the majority of it is too silly and weird to take seriously, but on the flip side, this little detour into holier-than-though territory makes it stick out all the more.

But that aside, Dust Up accomplishes its number one goal, which is not to preach, but entertain. I can't say that if you have a sense of humor you will laugh and have a good time, because as I previously mentioned, this is not a film for everyone. Unless you find the idea of random sodomy amusing. And don't we all?

Dust Up hits video November 13.