Mar 31, 2014

SURPRISE DENOUEMENT


I consider myself a mature person. Not in the sense that I'm stuffy and bitter and don't approve of ass humor, but in the sense that I like to think I make sound and logical decisions. I exercise good common sense. I think reasonably, and attempt to keep all emotion out of my decisions about and reactions to certain developments that pop up in my life. That, to me, is the actual sign of maturity. 

So, having said that, I'm allowed to laugh at whatever I want, and in whatever situation I so choose.

The Phantom Carriage is a phenomenal film. Serious film buffs should definitely seek it out if they have not yet made themselves familiar. Considering its age, you can likely find a public domain version somewhere on Internet to stream for free, but I'd advise you to check out the Criterion version to experience the film alongside the experimental film score created by artist KTL, which really makes the film much more eerie and unnerving.

Because I'm lazy, here's a copy-and-pasted synopsis:
The last person to die on New Year's Eve before the clock strikes twelve is doomed to take the reins of Death's chariot and work tirelessly collecting fresh souls for the next year. So says the legend that drives The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen), directed by the father of Swedish cinema, Victor Sjöström. The story, based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, concerns an alcoholic, abusive ne'er-do-well (Sjöström himself) who is shown the error of his ways, and the pure-of-heart Salvation Army sister who believes in his redemption. This extraordinarily rich and innovative silent classic (which inspired Ingmar Bergman to make movies) is a Dickensian ghost story and a deeply moving morality tale, as well as a showcase for groundbreaking special effects.
Being that this is a Swedish film, the occasional intertitle card that pops up on screen is, quite obviously, in Swedish.

By now, you have to be wondering where all of this is going.

Well, here's my point:

At the end of the film, in which lead bastard David Holm has learned the error of his ways and breaks down crying in front of his wife, the film ends, on a powerfully emotional note. We're overjoyed to learn that he is a changed man. He's been reunited with his family. Everything is going to be okay again.

We cut to black. 

"The End" pops up on the screen, but obviously, it doesn't specifically say "The End," but instead, the Swedish translation of "The End."

Which is:


Thank you, and good night.

Mar 28, 2014

BORDER CROSSING

There was a couple from Texas who were planning a weekend trip across the Mexican border for a shopping spree. At the last minute their babysitter canceled, so they had to bring along their two-year-old son with them. They had been across the border for an hour when the boy got free and ran around the corner. The mother tried to find him, but he was missing. The mother found a police officer, who told her to go to the gate and wait. Not really understanding the instructions, she did as she was told. About 45 minutes later, a Mexican man approached the border, carrying the boy. The mother ran to him, grateful that he had been found. When the man realized it was the boy's mother, he dropped him and ran. The police were waiting for him. The boy was dead, and in the 45 minutes he was missing, he had been cut open, all of his organs removed, and stuffed with bags of cocaine. The man was going to carry him across the border, as if he were asleep.

Mar 27, 2014

REVIEW: LIZARDMAN


Haha. What is this?

Man, I swear...one just never knows what's going to show up in one's mailbox. And something like this...something called LIZARDMAN (a title that deserves to be shouted)...well, it's not something I'd normally watch.

"Oh, lord," I'd normally say, "some dude running around in the cheapest Creature From the Black Lagoon knock-off costume? I'd rather eat a hot dog from Sonic."

But, why couldn't I put it down? Why, when I should have thrown it in the drawer where I keep all the other screeners I've either watched or for which I couldn't even muster up the enthusiasm to watch, did I tear the plastic off this thing and give it a watch?

I still don't know, but I'm kinda/sorta glad I did.

First things first:
Haunted by a terrifying incident in his past, billionaire Bill Hansen seeks revenge by capturing his nemesis—the scaly crypto-creature known as the Lizardman. Enlisting a team of mercenaries and a television personality, Bill sets out to prove to the world that the Lizardman really exists. But when the creature breaks loose at a press conference, all plans are off as the bloodthirsty monster wreaks havoc on the city of Los Angeles.


LIZARDMAN is that puppy who shits in your shoe. (I think I've used this analogy before, but, just go with it.) You want to be mad at it. You don't want to think logically that the puppy is small, still learning, and, my favorite, means well. Your emotional side takes over and you throw out all the calm rationale; instead, you just want to know: "why is this puppy fucking with me?"

Well, I want to know: Why is LIZARDMAN fucking with me? What is it doing inside my head right now? Why does it deviate from overly camp to something being executed with a completely straight face? Is it...joking? Is it trying? Is it doing both, or neither? Is this even happening? Hey, where am I? (Jack Handey, for the win.)

Director Peter Dang (awesome name) hails from the school of Fred Olen Ray, so that should at least offer up a hint as to the thought process behind LIZARDMAN. Camp? Sincerity? Trash? Treasure? Gay? Straight? Canadian? Communist? Libertarian? 

LIZARDMAN refuses your labels. It refuses your attempted cataloging. It simply is. It exists. And it's about a man-tall mutant lizard running around North Carolina (and then, later, L.A.) Everything about LIZARDMAN is cheap. Hilariously cheap. You'll recognize no one, marvel at not a single special effect, and not ask yourself a single time, "Gee, how'd they do that?"

But there's no denying LIZARDMAN is fun. It scratches that itch you didn't know you had. Fans of both Z-grade trash as well as "so bad it's good" connoisseurs will certainly find something to enjoy. Never boring, never testing the boundaries of what's "too" straight-faced ridiculous, and surprisingly, at no points poorly made (except for that awful CGI blood), LIZARDMAN is actually worth a damn.

Watch it. Point and laugh, or point and blow kisses. Enjoy it.

One more time, for the cheap seats:

LIZARDMAN!


Mar 25, 2014

MAX HEADROOM

The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion was a television signal hijacking in Chicago, Illinois, on the evening of November 22, 1987. It is an example of what is known in the television business as broadcast signal intrusion. The intruder was successful in interrupting two television stations within three hours. Neither the hijacker nor the accomplices have ever been found or identified. 

Mar 24, 2014

"REALISTIC"

In rural southern Illinois, a toy company began selling "realistic" baby dolls to expectant mothers. Apparently, after one mother had her child, the toy baby would start crying. Eventually, the "rocking motion" advertised to calm it down wouldn't work, and you couldn't get it to stop without shaking it. Eventually when it started crying the parent would have to beat it, and the beatings and thrashings would have to get harder and harder to get it to be quiet. The only thing that seemed to shut the baby doll up permanently was to bash its head against the wall to destroy whatever mechanism triggered the crying. On more than one occasion though, neighbors called the authorities to report child abuse, and when the police arrived they found the bloody remains of infants smeared across the walls and the floor. In most cases the mother couldn't understand why the police were there; she just "got rid of the stupid doll," as she rocked a baby-shaped bundle in her arms.


Mar 22, 2014

BAD DREAM

"Daddy, I had a bad dream."

You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows.
Your clock glows red in the darkness; it's 3:23.

"Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?"

"No, Daddy."

The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully.
You can barely make out your daughter's pale form
in the darkness of your room.

"Why not, sweetie?"

"Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream,
the thing wearing Mommy's skin sat up."


For a moment, you feel paralyzed;
you can't take your eyes off of your daughter.
Then, the covers shift beside you.


Mar 19, 2014

REVIEW: THE DINOSAUR EXPERIMENT


As the opening credits roll on the film you're about to watch and review, and you find yourself saying, "Well, at least Lorenzo Lamas is in this," you know you're in trouble. If, from the earliest onset, you get a gut feeling that you're about to spend 90 minutes undergoing cinematic mediocrity, and you consider the presence of the guy from "Renegade" to be a positive, well, Jesus.

Jesus Christ.

A group of strangers find themselves all stranded at a road-side diner/gas station (conveniently all within minutes of each other) when the old weird hick guy/scientist who lives in town shits the bed and allows his experimental velociraptors to escape. The strangers must band together to fight off the dinosaurs all whilst trying to stay awake in their own film.

Hold onto your butts.


A horror/comedy hybrid that contains neither horror nor comedy, The Dinosaur Experiment attempts to be a strange assemblage of Jurassic Park, Tremors, The Hangover, and something Roger Corman might have produced in between Ensures. The film features a collection of flat, bored performances meshed with over-the-top, scenery-chewing, kitchen sink performances, all making for a wildly uneven experience. Every line of dialogue designed to elicit a laugh instead induces a groan, and every character archetype is not only present and accounted for, but the subtle approach to their archetypal construction is turned down to negative 11. 

"If you're gonna have a horny frat-boy character, he should be, like, at least twice as horny," this film screamed in my face.

What you've got here, ultimately, are a random hodgepodge of characters, half of them pretty girls clad in the skimpiest costumes possible (but don't worry it makes sense in the context of the film LOL) wandering from one set-piece to the other so their arms/heads/hair can get ripped off. There's even a funny black pimp character, whose every line is automatically funny because he's got a purple suit on and is wearing an obviously fake wig. (He dies on the toilet just like that dude from that other, better movie about dinosaurs made by that guy who produced Real Steal.)

(Oh, and: Spoiler.)

hu·mor ˈ(h)yo͞omər/ - (noun)
1. the quality of being amusing or comic, esp. as expressed in literature or speech.
"his tales are full of humor"

The visual effects are pretty decent, considering the budget on this project was obviously quite low, and I'm actually quite pleased to see an attempt at keeping the under-explored dinosaur horror sub-genre at the very least active. The problem is that's not nearly enough to even so much as recommend this as a one-night rental.

Experience filmmaking 15 minutes in the making: The Dinosaur Experiment.  

But from here it looks like a six-foot turkey.


 

Mar 16, 2014

BEAUTIFUL AND RADIANT

My mom had many interesting stories involving paranormal activity, but this one was always the most fascinating.

Her and a girlfriend would always walk to and from school together when they were in high school and they had befriended an old lady who lived on their route. They would help do small chores and the lady would always offer coffee, tea, cookies, crackers etc. Well this one day, they saw her dressed immaculately. She was hanging clothes on one of those clothes line trees (whatever they're called) and my mother decided to help while her friend continued home. My mom would say that she looked beautiful and youthful and would comment but the lady never spoke of the occasion. Finally the women asked my mother to go inside to get something (I don't remember) and when she returned, she was gone. She went back in and saw her son whom she had met from previous visits.

She asked if he had seen how beautiful his mother had looked but the man seemed upset and almost agitated, ignoring my mother and frantically going through the house. My mother, confused, followed the man and asked where the woman was. He had told her that she wasn't there. She said that was impossible because they were just out back helping with the clothes on the line. She described how beautiful and radiant she had looked. Then she described the dress she was wearing. The son's face dropped and then took my mom upstairs.

On the women's bed was the very dress my mom saw her wearing. My mom told the man as such and he explained that she had passed away over night. This is the dress he picked out for the old lady to be buried in.

Story source.

Mar 12, 2014

THE MAN IN THE BLACK SUIT

Even before he reached me, I recognized the aroma baking up from the skin under the suit—the smell of burned matches. The smell of sulfur. The man in the black suit was the Devil. He had walked out of the deep woods between Motton and Kashwakamak, and now he was standing here beside me. From the corner of one eye I could see a hand as pale as the hand of a store window dummy. The fingers were hideously long.

He hunkered beside me on his hams, his knees popping just as the knees of any normal man might, but when he moved his hands so they dangled between his knees, I saw that each of those long fingers ended in what was not a fingernail but a long yellow claw.

"You didn’t answer my question, fisherboy," he said in his mellow voice. It was, now that I think of it, like the voice of one of those radio announcers on the big-band shows years later, the ones that would sell Geritol and Serutan and Ovaltine and Dr. Grabow pipes. "Are we well-met?"

"Please don’t hurt me," I whispered, in a voice so low I could barely hear it. I was more afraid than I could ever write down, more afraid than I want to remember... but I do. I do. It never even crossed my mind to hope I was having a dream, although I might have, I suppose, if I had been older. But I wasn’t older; I was nine, and I knew the truth when it squatted down on its hunkers beside me. I knew a hawk from a handsaw, as my father would have said. The man who had come out of the woods on that Saturday afternoon in midsummer was the Devil, and inside the empty holes of his eyes, his brains were burning.

Mar 11, 2014

REVIEW: HAZMAT


One might think that the slasher formula has been done to death, and maybe it has. Having just watched (out of morbid curiosity) Texas Chainsaw 3D, I remarked to a friend during the first twenty minutes, “Critics are absolutely right to disrespect the horror genre when this is the kind of output that filmmakers and studios are giving us.” And I still feel that way. If you’re going to go back to the same well, whether it be the same tired character of Leatherface, or the same tired well of “get kids, put them in location, let loose the bad shit,” for the love of Tobe Hooper, please do something the least bit original, or clever, or hell, just inject a bit of life into it. More often than not, studios are proving that they are simply not up to this challenge, but yet it’s the smaller productions that are.

Scary Antics,” a riff on the real life show “Scare Tactics,” (which, last time I looked, was hosted by Tracy Morgan), isn’t doing so well. Despite having made it to its third season, the network is keen to pull the plug, leaving its creator David (Todd Bruno, the love child of Jason Bateman and…Jason Bateman) struggling to find a way to keep it afloat.  Then you’ve got co-creator/make-up girl Brenda (Aniela McGuiness) wanting to leave the show behind just as much as the studio wants to kill it, her excuse being professional growth, but really, because David probably won’t commit to her ever since they were, are, or had, a thing. And meanwhile, David’s trying to produce an episode in which a kid named Adam (Reggie Peters) is setting it up for himself and his friend Jacob (Norbert Velez) to be on "Scary Antics" in an effort to get Jacob, who became obsessed with the paranormal following his father’s death, to snap the fuck out of it and be Adam's BFF again. With hidden cameras around nearly every turn, the “skit” begins – that of Jacob leading his friends around an old abandoned factory where many years earlier a fire had broke out and killed everyone. Convinced the place is haunted, Adam allows Jacob to guide them through and tell them his ghost stories, knowing that the “antics” portion of the show will be kicking in soon.

And then Murphy’s Law happens.


Conceptually, HazMat is very similar to 2001’s Halloween: Resurrection, but that’s about where the similarities end, because while Halloween: Resurrection is a giant piece of cinematic shit, HazMat is not. I admit that I was ready to write off HazMat from minute one, just because I’m embittered and cynical, and based on the synopsis, I said, “Oh boy – here we go again.” But as HazMat played on, I found myself actively engaged in the events unfolding. The ensemble cast was solid, at the very least, though there were a couple performances here and there not entirely ready for prime-time.  And I was pleased to see actual thought had been put into the script. Attempts at drama and development are present and accounted for, though I’m not entirely sure every character arc was ultimately fulfilled. I especially appreciated every attempt at closing a potential plot hole was made. ("Why don't they just use their cell phones to call for help?"  "Why don't they just wait it out, knowing the network will eventually send out the police of their crew doesn't return?")

And can I just say, despite my earlier condemnation regarding the asphyxiation of the slasher genre, that a part of me is secretly pleased movie maniacs are still finding new costumes and masks to put on before separating heads and limbs from torsos? There’s something about that I  find strangely comforting. It harkens back to a similar time in the genre when filmmakers just wanted to have a bit of fun, gimmicky and played out though it may have been.

Triple threat Lou Simon (writer/director/producer) has done a fine job making something out of nothing. The shooting location lends as much as it can, despite it having been a much smaller set than the film lets on. The film isn’t terribly violent, as most of the deaths are obscured by quick cutaways before we cut back to see the damage left by the maniac’s blade, though we do get a money shot or two, and they are pretty excellent. Since we focus on a small group of characters, more time is spent with them, and some of them last longer than you might suspect.


No one ever wants to watch the credits roll on a film and say, “That was terrible,” because all that equates to is having wasted 90 minutes of your life, so while it’s obviously preferable to think the opposite, it can be even more rewarding when a film comes along that defies nearly all of your expectations.

HazMat will be available on DVD come April 1.

Mar 9, 2014

OLD MACDONALD HAD A FARM

Back in 1994 my brother Josh was working as an on-site technician for a large phone company. His role was twofold: Firstly to set up new lines, and secondly to find the problem with and fix broken landlines.

He was based in a small town, but most of his time was spent catering to farmers in the nearby areas. The problems were usually hard to find but easy to fix. Sometimes Josh had to walk half a mile up and down dusty roads to find where a particular cable was broken – and the repair didn’t even take ten minutes.

One of those calls, in August of 1994, led him to a rather large family-owned farm. A girl called Kasey had called in from a neighbors’ house, saying that the family’s phone was dead. Josh drove out the next day.

I don’t know how it’s done now, but back then Josh told me that phone cables are buried together with other cables, sometimes even together with piping, in hollow tubes of either hard plastic or cement. In areas where that wasn’t possible the cables were usually placed on high poles. But in rural areas where not all houses were connected to the electric grid, it was sometimes more cost effective to lead the wire, covered in a thick plastic coating, simply along a road.

When Josh was called out to a farm those ground-led cables were usually at fault. A machinery drove over the cable, an animal ripped it or maybe some bored kid cut through it. Either way, those jobs kept Josh employed and so he didn’t mind slowly driving along country roads, stopping every few meters to stop potential breaks.

The MacDonald farm was an easy case. Already while on the route to their house Josh spotted the ripped cable. It was a clean cut and the separated ends had been pulled apart for several meters. Josh figures it was likely from a plow or similar device, a simple accident, likely done by the farm owners themselves.

He had all the right tools and Josh fixed the cable break within half an hour. Then he drove to the farm to tell the family the good news and make sure that the problem was fixed.

He arrived at the MacDonald farm around 4pm. The heavy wooden gate was open and so Josh drove his van straight inside to drive up to the house.

When he turned into the gate Josh saw a cow lying on the driveway. He was used to that. He honked the horn to shoo the cow away. Usually that worked but this particular, all-brown cow refused to move.

Josh slowed down, drove closer and tried the horn again – longer, this time. Still the cow didn’t move.

There was no way around the cow, other than to drive into a ditch next to the driveway and Josh didn’t want to risk breaking the car. Finally, just a few steps away from the cow, he stopped and let the motor roar. When the animal still didn’t react Josh carefully and well-aware that a diseased cow might attack him without warning, got out of the car. He grabbed his toolbox from the back, then slowly walked around the car to pass the animal from behind.

Only then, two steps in front of his car, did he notice the puddle of dark brown, dried blood around the animal.

The animal was lying, with its head on the floor and towards the direction that Josh had come from. He saw a large, gaping cut through the brown throat and three long slits through the enlarged stomach.

Josh was on edge, but not seriously worried. Occasionally farmers have to put pregnant cows down when the calf refuses to be born – and to get rid of a cow’s body is not easy and it can take days for the specialist to arrive.

Josh figured the MacDonald family or the veterinarian had tried to save the calf by cutting open the mother’s body, like a cow’s C-section, just without the anesthesia that humans would receive. Likely they killed the mother first, by cutting her throat, then, when the animal sank on the floor, they cut the body open.

From the looks of it, Josh concluded, they hadn’t succeeded. The bulge in the cow’s body was clearly visible; the calf without a doubt still inside. The skin had been placed back into its original position, only the cuts and a small gap between skin flabs was still visible. Josh resisted the urge to look inside the animal’s body.

Holding his nose, Josh walked around the cow and further towards the farm. The driveway was long. To his right was a pasture with several cows, some were standing, but most were lying on the grass, probably chewing the cud. To Josh’s left was a thick corn field that made him feel slightly uneasy.

Josh reached the farmhouse about five minutes later. He called out and rang the doorbell but there was no response. He knocked against the wooden door and called out again. He thought they might be out, trying to organize the removal of the cow’s body in the driveway.
To make sure that they weren’t just not hearing him Josh turned to the right and circled the house. He glanced through the windows while he passed them, first the kitchen, then a living room window, but everything inside seemed calm and dark.

At this point, before he saw it, Josh told me, he began to feel uneasy. There was nothing unusual, except the dead, pregnant cow, but still he felt a tingling in his legs and back, like a warning of bad news.

Then he turned the corner.

Josh only saw the scene for a few seconds, but he says he still remembers it today in vivid detail; like a photograph burned into his brain.

A large dog lay on the back porch. His body was slit open lengthwise and the organs and intestine were pulled out.

Right next to the dog’s body laid the bodies of an older couple. The man’s body was naked, his head separated from the body and placed between his leg. Two large cuts went through his body, one from the throat to the groin and one from left to right through the abdomen. His intestines were pulled out and placed to the left of the body, near the dog.

The woman’s body was dressed, but the clothes were cut open. A deep cut went through her throat and a large sideways cut through her abdomen. She too was gutted. But what Josh remembers the most, the thing he still has nightmares about, are the bloody spots where her breasts should have been. There were two straight cuts, as if someone had carefully sliced the breasts off her body.

Both, the man and the woman’s eyes and mouth were sewn shut with a thick, dark thread. The man’s lips were split in several places, as if he had forcefully opened his mouth, but the thread had been stronger than his lips.

Josh threw his toolbox on the floor and ran.

He turned back around the corner, ran back onto the driveway towards the dead cow.

While running he saw that some of the cows on the pasture were looking at him, following his movement. But most of them were still on the floor. Most of them still hadn’t moved. Around one of them he noticed a large, dark puddle on the grass.

Josh ran so fast that he twice nearly fell over stones or potholes. He stumbled towards the cow, curved to the left around the body and ran around the back of his car to get to the driver’s seat.

Just before he reached the driver’s door Josh stopped dead in his tracks. The cow was still there. But the flap of skin was pushed further open. The bulge was gone. Inside the cow’s abdomen, where Josh had thought was a calf, was now just a large, gaping hole.

Panicked Josh ripped the car door open. He screamed when he felt the thick, brown-red liquid on the door handle. Still he pulled the door open, looked inside the car and jumped on the driver’s seat. He felt a large, squishy ball exploding when his feet pressed on the accelerator.

He looked down to his feet to see what it was – and just in that moment noticed movement in the corn field to his left. He slammed the key in the ignition, turned it, heard the motor howl, threw the car in reverse and hammered his foot through the squishy mass back on the accelerator.

The movement in the corn field came closer. The car moved backwards and swerved; Josh was barely able to avoid driving into the ditch at the side of the driveway. He slowed down to regain control over the car, saw the corn being pushed aside, then pushed again hard on the accelerator.

The car sped backwards, through the wooden gates and back on the country road. Back in the driveway, just when he was out of the driveway and backing onto the road Josh saw a figure emerging out of the cornfield, a few steps away from the cow. He swears the figure looked like a teenage girl with dark hair, covered from head to toes in dried blood.

Then Josh sped off.

Josh walked into the police station with the cow’s heart still stuck around his right foot.

The newspaper articles said that the MacDonalds didn’t have any children. 



Story source.

Mar 7, 2014

SHITTY FLICKS: RAGING SHARKS

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. 


Shark movies are the cat's pajamas. Whether they're the good ones (Jaws) or the bad ones (all the rest of 'em), there's just something so rockin' about seeing the same stock footage from Discovery Channel being utilized in every single direct-to-video shark movie. Now, this time, we have a real treat: stock footage of Corbin Bernsen, as gnarled as ever, ending every scene he is in with holding onto submarine innards and looking pensive.

The plot: 

Corin Nemec, who is basically Eric Stoltz, but affordable, works on an underwater observational laboratory, the Oshona. He shaves everything on his face except his neck. He is married to Vanessa Angel, who has seen better days.

Nickelodeon presents:

Together, they deal with Alien rocks that fall from space and land in the ocean (after crashing through a ship, of course, for some neat funky explosions). The sharks near the crack become RAGING and attack people near and far, because GOD, alien crack just DOES THAT TO SHARKS.

The cast is filled out with bad American actors and bad Bulgarian actors. Among these characters are several portly gentleman and an annoying blonde chick, who says stupid things in an annoying manner.

Sometimes the sharks are represented by plastic heads, other times by stock footage, but it's always brilliant, even when the stock footage shows the shark swimming just below the water line, despite the fact that the action is supposed to take place several hundred feet under water.

Due to the rage of the sharks, some divers are attacked while doing special neato science things for the lab. The hairy-necked one himself was not present at the time of his attacks, for he had to drive around on L.A. roads, giving him a reason to be away from the lab.

His tired wife calls him and informs him of the eating, and he says, "I'll be right there." Then he just magically shows up in the lab, with the help of Captain Corbin Bernsen's nuclear sub.

From time to time, sharks swim around, just to let you know they're there. Whether it's computer-multiplied shark footage or hilariously fake looking wobble fins covered in shoddy carve nicks, the sharks are there in all of their brilliant and artificial glory.

In a bizarre turn of events, one of the characters announces the revelation that the sharks are in rage-form because they are protecting the gooey alien space ship. Despite this revelation, the sharks up and leave to Bermuda Beach to randomly attack surfers and divers. But then they come back and rage some more. Probably because they love space rocks.

"Hey, Bill Maher! Quit talkin' to your mom and get over here!"

A random smarmy lawyer man shows up and is smarmy, having heard about the shark attack, and gives our Eric Stoltz look-alike grief. Then Eric Stoltz's doppelganger and Vanessa Angel look at the space rocks together.

Vanessa Angel delivers a line twice, in the same exact way, one right after the other. 

"Well, find out what it is, OK?" 

"Well, find out what it is, OK?"

Eric Stoltz's hairy-necked twin calls for Matt, the scientist, who is in an unseen upstairs room, and who is also already in the process of entering the scene as he very flatly says, "Coming Mike."

The two discuss scientific bullshit that they spoon-feed to the audience, because lets face it: if you're watching this movie, you don't really know much about anything.

There are some profound lines delivered throughout the movie, such as:

"The Bermuda Triangle: don't they know how many ships have gone down here?"

"You idiots stumbled across it and triggered a beacon that shot into outer space."

and

Q: "Have you tried saturating it with deuterium?"

A: "Deuterium? No... Deuteriummmm......Of course!!"

During the movie, there is a shark autopsy performed. Inside the mouth of the shark sits an obvious tongue, which sharks do not in any way possess. But, then again, these RAGING sharks rewrite the big book of sharks that these filmmakers obviously failed to read.

"No, Punjab. The sharks will not eat us. We are made of shit."

Smarmy man turns out to be evil smarmy man and chases down our cast of characters, killing them one by one. He rattles off some bullshit about working for the CIA and that his cover up of the aliens was essential to our existence as we know it. Then he is sort of killed by a harpoon gun, which is apparently an essential tool in an underwater sea lab.

The film ends as brilliantly as it begins. ALERT explodes on the lab's computer screens with the same authenticity of a screen saver as explosions begin for no apparent reason.

Said aliens from the movie's intro beam down to the wreckage containing their rocks while the Oshona sits with no power or oxygen, due to said unexplained explosions that have crippled the lab.

Aliens, relishing in their beam of space light, sit and look around, set to a soothing operatic film score that totally does not belong anywhere near this movie.

As the dorky couple, trapped inside the Oshona, take their last breath, the aliens begin glowing so bright that orange light fills the screen. Just when it looks like curtains for our two lame marine biologists, we suddenly see them in full-out scuba gear, swimming away from the Oshona.

How did that happen?

You'll be on the edge of your seat, waiting for the explanation that never comes.

Also swimming away is the evil smarmy man who was clearly killed with a harpoon gun earlier in the film. Despite the giant harpoon in him, and the nearby aliens, and being several hundred feet under water, drowning, and surrounded by raging sharks, he still deems it necessary to attempt to kill the good doctor and his exhausted wife.

But don't worry. Mr. Smarm is instantly shoved in the plastic mouth of a plastic shark, and screams in his weird hoarse-voice.

Does this movie suck?

Yes. It does. A lot.

Did I love it?

Yes. I did. A lot.

And if the movie wasn't retarded enough, the DVD also provides content for you to scratch your head at.

I'd recommend watching the "Behind the Scenes" featurette, because you'll get to see everyone say with a straight face how good the movie is and why the audience will love it. They even go so far as to legitimize their claims with, "I think the audience will respond to the story because we're not just giving them sharks and/or aliens, but we're actually bringing together what has previously been two different and distinct genres."

You'll see one of the actors boast about his background in karate and how he did all his own stunts.

You'll see director Danny Lerner mutter unintelligibly in his unintelligible native dialect.

You'll see what has become of Vanessa Angel when she isn't covered in wholesale stage de-aging make-up.

The official cause of death for Hank was simply "Face Fart."

In the end, everyone has learned a lesson. Aliens have learned to keep their eye on their space goo. 

Eric Stoltz has learned to copyright his face, so every time Corin Nemec makes a movie, he gets a check. 

Corbin Bernsen has learned to not wear a blindfold when he signs his contract. 

And we, the audience, have learned that there has never been a good movie with “shark” in the title. Because really, anyone who willingly watches something called Raging Sharks deserves to be disappointed.

Mar 4, 2014

THE MAIDEN

Photo of the “Llullaillaco Maiden,” a 15-year-old girl sacrificed during the Inca Empire for both purposes of religious rite and social control. She was chosen a year prior to her death, fed a ritualistic diet for an approximate twelve months to make her gain weight, then was drugged and left on the shrine at Volcano Llullaillaco, where she was left to die of exposure. For five hundred years, her body had been preserved at 82 ft. She is considered to be the best preserved Andean mummy uncovered.

Mar 3, 2014

UNSUNG HORRORS: JOY RIDE

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. John Dahl
2001
20th Century Fox
United States


“Storm’s coming. I like the rain. Keeps everyone inside. Washes everything clean.”

Though I’m a lover of all things horror in general, there are very specific sub-genres that I will gravitate toward more than others. Firstly is anything paranormal. If you’ve got ghosts in your film, made by people who seem to have given a damn, I’m there. Secondly is anything killer shark…or at least it was until the mid-2000s, until shark movies started being terrible on purpose. (That’s cheating; plus that approach never works.) Thirdly is horror on the open road. I’ve been fascinated by this kind of story for years. For someone like myself who is so completely embittered by having to contend with every manner of completely incompetent driver, I actually love being out on the road late at night. Years back, when immediate family temporarily lived a few states away and I would go to visit, I always made that drive late at night. For obvious reasons, traffic was always much lighter, and therefore caused me less strife, but there was another reason: Being out on the road so late into the night made it feel like a different world entirely. Something about the night sky and late hour made it feel as if you weren’t so much driving across state lines as you were sneaking across under the cover of darkness. Your only company was semi-trailer trucks and the few civilian sedans. I love stories that take place in this environment. Late at night in a foreign environment without access to immediate help, anything can happen. With your only line of defense being your car (if you’re lucky), you’ve got only your wits and your talents behind the wheel to depend on.

I remember going to see Joy Ride in theaters for the wrong reason – because, on paper, it sounded like an enjoyable piece of shit at which I could laugh and belittle, which is something I often did back when I had disposable income. I had seen the trailers for the film, all punctuated with a close-up on a CB radio as Ted Levine’s voice bellowed “CAAANDY CAAANE!” But a funny thing happened about ten or so minutes into the film: I was enjoying it quite a bit, and not in any kind of ironic way. It was just…good. Great, even.


Lewis (Paul Walker) has had a crush on his childhood friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski) since forever. Though both have torn off to different colleges, and separated by half-a-dozen states, the two have been quite consistent at keeping in touch, mostly with late-night phone calls. One particular night, at the end of the semester, Venna confesses she’s recently broken up with her current boyfriend and verbally wishes that Lewis owned a car, so he could stop off in Boulder, Colorado, and pick her up, so they could make the trip home to New Jersey together. Lewis looks down at his airplane ticket and lies to her, saying he does, indeed, have a car, and he’d be happy to stop off on his way home cross-country. After procuring a car, Lewis begins his drive…until hearing from his mother, who informs him that his older brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), has been arrested in Salt Lake City for drunk-and-disorderly. Lewis, being the dutiful younger brother, amends his plans to stop by and bail him out. Since Fuller hasn’t been home in years, nor even really keeps in touch with their parents, Lewis assumes he’ll be dropping off Fuller somewhere between Salt Lake and Boulder, but Fuller opts to stay with Lewis for the entire trip, as it would seem he, too, wants to go home to Jersey.

Along the way, the brothers stop off to have the car serviced, and while doing so, Fuller takes it upon himself to have a CB radio installed in the car. For a paltry $40, Fuller figures they can use the radio to keep in touch with truck-drivers to ask them for any potential cop sightings, thus making the trip go by just a little bit faster. While doing so, one particular truck-driver with the handle of Rusty Nail catches their attention; the brothers create alternate ego CB handles, Fuller being a southern guy named “Black Sheep” and Lewis putting on a female voice for “Candy Cane.” The two play-act with each other, hoping to bait Rusty Nail, which they soon do, and they talk him into “meeting” Candy Cane at a roadside motel where the brothers are really staying, which they do for nothing more than a laugh and some spiteful revenge against a rude guest also staying at the same motel. Rusty Nail does eventually show, as promised, and a violent altercation leaves the rude motel guest hanging on for deal life. Lewis feels genuinely bad, but Fuller refuses to recognize his culpability in bringing these two random strangers together and it ending badly.

In one of those great “oh shit” movie moments, Rusty Nail soon inserts himself directly into the brothers’ lives, letting them know that he’s figured out he was made to be the butt of their joke, and he isn’t going to let them get off so easily. From one cheap motel to the next, and no matter what road the brothers take, Rusty Nail seems to be both one step ahead while also being directly behind them.

To quote one eccentric character in the film, what eventually unfolds isn’t “comely.”


Joy Ride
is perhaps the best addition to the open road sub-genre that likely began as far back as Steven Spielberg’s TV movie Duel. It’s thrilling when it wants to be, and fun/funny when it wants to break the tension. It drifts back and forth from horror to humor as effortlessly as I’ve ever seen, and that’s a tough act to pull off. Duel’s mood was soaked in paranoia (and slightly hampered by the film’s unlikeable lead), and Road Games was a gonzo Australian-outback with an absurd noir approach, but the superior-to-both Joy Ride endeavors to be just a flat-out conventional thrill ride, one that doesn’t have much to say or a moral to imbue, other than, “Just be nice to strangers, you idiot.” (I believe Ghandi once said that.) (No, really. He did.)

Paul Walker’s recent passing was one of the main reasons I wanted to highlight Joy Ride, which certainly belongs in the upper echelons of the late actor’s filmography. Though he’ll forever be linked to The Fast and The Furious franchise, which represents neither his best output nor his finest acting, it would seem films like this and 2006’s insane Running Scared often fall by the wayside in the actor’s obituaries. Walker, a handsome guy and by all accounts a likeable and charitable person, seems to be the most comfortable here that he’s ever been as an actor. In the course of Joy Ride’s running time, Walker needs to play normal, smitten, loyal, fun-loving, fearful, fearless, heroic, weak, and most importantly, sympathetic – at all times. He offers a lot of range for something as ultimately high-concept and sadly dismissed, but the film is all the better for having him aboard. One of my favorite moments involving Walker is when he uses his faux female voice to lure Rusty Nail to the motel where the brothers are staying. At Fuller’s urging, Lewis agrees to take part in this prank and does it with a sly smile, but when he hangs up the radio at the end of the conversation, the smile drips off his face with realization and he says, with tremendous guilt, “That was really mean.” It’s moments like this that make you realize fictional on-screen characters can be just as flawed as the rest of us – that we succumb to pressure and we do and say dumb things, only to know moments later just how dumb those things were.


Playing the foil to Walker’s soulful Lewis is Steve Zahn as Fuller, who had probably the best time on set, and certainly had all the best lines. Zahn manages to do something incredibly difficult, and he does it with little effort: the character of Fuller, in actuality, has no real redeeming value. He’s a shiftless and selfish troublemaker who is not only directly to blame for inviting the wrath of Rusty Nail into their lives, and who not only refuses to accept that blame, but he even has the audacity to try and get his groove on with a very drunken Venna, a girl with whom Lewis is clearly in love. This isn’t just one friend trying to cuckold another – it’s his brother, and that’s pretty fucked up. But it’s Zahn’s extreme likability and affability that makes us not only put up with him, or root for him, but actually miss him when he’s not on screen. I’ve known real-life Fullers whom I once called my friends, but whom I eventually came to loath; Zahn’s version of Fuller makes me wish he were my best friend.

Walker and Zahn’s on-screen chemistry is fantastic. From the minute they are reunited when Lewis goes to bail out his brother, they genuinely feel like real-life family. And even though you, the audience, know how bad of an idea it is to begin fucking with Rusty Nail on that damn CB radio, the brothers have such a fun time doing it that it does become legitimately funny. We’ve all done what they are doing, whether it be via CB radio, phone, chat room, or whatever other devices we use to engage in temporary tomfoolery. We remember the rush we got, regardless of whether or not our conscience caught up with us afterward. At the end of their prank, when Lewis quotes one of Rusty Nail’s responses – “I’d take off your bra.” – and laughs about it, the humor is palpable. The comedy aspect of it is infectious because the circumstances feel real.

Leelee Sobieski is your typical and not-so-typical damsel in distress. She becomes the realized version of Rusty Nail’s infatuations – the Candy Cane whom the brothers tried to convince him did not exist. What’s interesting about her character is that she had nothing to do with the brothers’ poor choice in attempting to victimize Rusty Nail over CB, but yet she’s here heaving to deal with the situation they have created for her. Naturally she shows fear where it’s appropriate, and exhibits the kind of strength we’ve come to expect from our “final girl,” but she also manages to show empathy toward their stalker. As a tear rolls slowly down her cheek, she tells him over the radio that she doesn't think people  realize their actions have consequences. It feels less like she’s trying to butter him up and more like she’s trying to reason with him on a human level.

It doesn't work:


Ted Levine! This guy…If you’d seen only one film previous featuring Ted Levine in some capacity, you would instantly recognize him the first time his voice blares through that radio. Though most well-known for his demented turn as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, Levine has consistently contributed reliable character actor work for years since. Confined here only to voice-work, Levine does not let that confinement affect his performance. The menace comes easily enough for him, but before he goes totally off his rocker, a line here and there aids the audience’s transition from understanding the psycho trucker’s action while certainly not condoning them. “Now they know how it feels to be the butt-end of the joke...Now they know how it feels to be the fucking punch line.”

Genre-fan favorite Jim Beaver shows up in a fun cameo as Sheriff Ritter, a profanity-spewing no-nonsense local lawman who offers the most entertaining diatribe in the entire film. Not only is he providing a natural reaction to what has now become a major problem due to a stupid prank, but in a way he’s also personifying the audience’s grasp on the conflict up to that point. Though he’s showing it with anger, both he and the audience are expressing the same kind of frustration: simply put, they could have so easily not picked up that radio, and not taunted that truck driver, and now that they have, everything is now coming apart. The hell they have created for themselves has derived from the easiest of choices earlier presented to them – and they both chose to be stupid.


John Dahl, simply put, directs the hell out of this thing. He manages to wrangle every piece of fear and suspense out of the film’s on-screen happenings, and he does it with something as simple as a spray-painted road-sign, or a slow zoom in on a shitty motel painting. My favorite sequence has the brothers seeing the finished product of their arranged meeting between the motel guest and Rusty Nail—the man lies comatose in a hospital bed, wrapped from head to toe in bandages, and his bottom jaw torn clean off.  Shot in slow motion, and lingering on the brother’s horrified faces for several moments before we see what they are seeing, it’s affecting not only for the shock, but because they now can see what their fun little prank has manifested into. Fuller, who up to that point refused to admit any wrongdoing, looks far more horrified than his brother.

Joy Ride’s gimmick recalls Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and so it’s only natural for Dahl to include a fine collection of Hitchcock-like shots and sequences. The fake-scare scene, in which Lewis and Fuller are terrified by perhaps the friendliest ice-truck driver in existence, drips with Hitchcock humor – not to mention the scene composition itself. (See the shot where the ice truck pulls up directly behind their car, headlights blaring – all captured from inside the back windshield.) But there’s another homage snuck into the film’s final act that you might not have expected, and though it honors one very famous Spielberg film, funnily enough it’s not the aforementioned one about a man being terrorized by an anonymous truck driver, but rather, the one about the killer shark. Our kids in peril soon find themselves stranded in a cornfield, surrounded by a sea of high stalks, as Rusty Nail pursues them in his truck. As he barrels toward them, only the top of his truck can be seen poking out through the tops of the cornstalks, like the fin of a shark, and the kids blindly run in every direction, desperate to get away from him. You can’t get further away from the waters of Amity Island, New England, than a cornfield in Middle America, but yet director Dahl still manages to successfully homage Jaws all the same.


Dahl and his screenwriters, Clay Tarver and soon-to-be Hollywood powerhouse J.J. Abrams, take a huge gamble during the second act. After the brothers’ first face-to-face (kind of) confrontation with Rusty Nail, it ends with him laughing and saying, “Hey, I was just messing with you, man,” and then disappears into the night. We, the audience, know there’s still half the film to go, and we know the brothers' paths are going to cross with that of Rusty Nail again, but our filmmakers do something nearly unheard of: For much of the second act, there is no Rusty Nail. No voice, no eerie threats, not even temporary cuts back to his character driving or an establishing shot of his truck. Nothing to refresh your memory that he is still out there and still pissed off. Because of this, the film allows us to calm back down and get acquainted with Sobieski’s character, who has finally joined the plot. The humor makes a welcome return, and the filmmakers allow Lewis and Venna time to grow closer and establish a relationship – one on which the film is depending to base the effectiveness of the entire last act. You simply do not see this kind of approach anymore. Once a horror film has begun the horror, it does not turn off for most of an entire act. But Dahl et al. pull it off, and with great reward, as the entire last act does not let up once it begins.

Based on the moderate success of Joy Ride at the box office, and its two direct-to-video sequels (one already out/one coming soon), it would seem that Joy Ride did indeed find an audience upon its release. It may not be as unheralded as the other films featured here in Unsung Horrors, but it’s certainly no less worthy for the attention and praise it deserves.


Mar 1, 2014

GOOD SHOT

Charlie Noonan was an amateur folklorist who traveled throughout the South and Southwestern United States during the early years of the 20th century, collecting tall tales and stories of the supernatural. According to his wife, Ellie, Charlie was told a story one day by an Oklahoma farmer about a strange woman who lived alone on an isolated property in the panhandle. The farmer claimed the woman was not a woman at all, but something else, something that hid its true nature beneath a headscarf and was never seen without a large dog by its side. Noonan was apparently intrigued enough to try searching for the woman during one of his research road trips. He was never seen again.

Ellie Noonan was later contacted by a Tulsa pawnbroker who remembered reading about her husband’s disappearance in the papers, after finding his name engraved on a camera sold to him by an itinerant. The pawnbroker returned the camera, and Mrs. Noonan had the film inside developed in the hopes of finding a clue as to his whereabouts. This was the only photo on the roll. Unfortunately, neither the location of the property, nor the name of the farmer who told him the story was recorded in Noonan’s notes.


Story and image source.