Entries Tagged 'Operation: 101010' ↓

Short Review Round-Up Part 2!

The Descent 2

If you know me- and I think you do- then you know that I love Neil Marshall's The Descent, like, a lot. It's still one of my favorite horror movies, and I don't mean it's simply a fave of the last decade...I mean it's a fave.

I was not at all excited about the prospect of a sequel, however. The Descent is a perfectly good example of a stand-alone film. It doesn't need to become a franchise, and a return trip into the crawler-riddled caves has REALLY BAD IDEA written all over it. Of course, once the DVD arrived I couldn't resist that return trip. I knew I'd hate it and it would be a stinky pile, but I had to see it. I mean, it's written into the "You're a Horror Blogger Who Wouldn't Shut Up About The Descent" code.

That's really a code, by the way.

The Descent 2 picks up moments after the end of The Descent. I'm going to simply reprint the synopsis from the film's press notes, because I'm feeling super lazy about it right now.
Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) emerges alone from the Appalachian cave system where she encountered unspeakable terrors. Unable to plausibly explain to authorities what happened- or why she's covered in her friends' blood- Sarah is forced back to the subterranean depths to help locate her five missing companions.
Now, there are a few...implausibilities and inconsistencies that you simply have to cast aside if you're to enjoy this film- particularly if you're a fan of the first movie. Would the authorities really force a traumatized victim to go spelunking? Sarah is so effed up she can barely speak- she's hardly in a competent medical state. But! Cast that aside. Fine, they take Sarah to the cave...which is apparently connected to an old mine. Where authorities are already searching for the missing cavers. In The Descent, it was made to seem that the cave was rather far away from everything- that it was completely uncharted and no one knew of its existence...and no one knew the women were going to be there, because Juno misled everyone. But! Cast that all aside.

Sarah and a rescue team head into the caves...and, as you might expect, the crawlers are still there, and they're still mean. We see what ends were met (or perhaps were not met) by Sarah's friends as their bodies are found. There's a cave-in and yeah, a good portion of The Descent 2 is simply a rehash of The Descent- only the faces and, in some cases, the genitalia have changed.

However, despite this and despite my inclination to dislike it- dammit, I really enjoyed The Descent 2. There are some fantastic sequences with just as much tension as you'll find in the first, and director Jon Harris, who edited The Descent, induces feelings of claustrophobia quite well. Though Neil Marshall's effort certainly didn't lack for gore at all, the sequel is much, much bloodier.

Again, the film is not without its problems- most egregious, perhaps, is that Shauna MacDonald isn't given much to do as Sarah. She transforms from traumatized victim to hardened badass quickly, but the film is more concerned with action than with plot. After Sarah's really fucking bad year, I think she deserved a bit more as a character than the occasional glower.

Overall, I was pleasantly quite surprised with The Descent 2. While it won't make my list of all-time faves next to its predecessor, I'd eagerly watch it again...although I'd turn it off before the very end, which really made no fucking sense whatsoever.

Paranormal Entity

Hooray, everyone's favorite Designer Imposter film production company is back! Yes, The Asylum has birthed into the world Paranormal Entity, their rip-off of the runaway hit Paranormal Activity. Actually, "rip-off" is really too light a term to use here- writer/director/star Shane Van Dyke has straight-up pulled sound effects and shots and plot points from Oren Peli's work.

What does this "found footage" flick has to offer that Paranormal Activity doesn't is a bit more story. The Finley family is being terrorized by an unseen force that may or may not be the spirit of their recently-deceased patriarch. The spirit is particularly interested in Samantha (Erin Marie Hogan), presumably because she wears cleavage-revealing tops and sleeps in her undies.

Oh yeah, Paranormal Entity also features invisible demon rape, so...you know. There's that.

Surprisingly enough, the film has a few genuine scares- both of the shock variety and of the creepy hairs-on-yer-neck variety. Make no mistake, though- it's vastly inferior to Activity...and if you didn't like that (or if you dislike P.O.V. films in general), you're bound to equate this with pure torture. Though P.O.V. films are cheap to produce (Activity, after all, is rumored to have cost under 15k), Paranormal Entity manages to make cheap filmmaking look CHEAP. The "night vision" doesn't look like night vision as much as it looks like a green tint was applied to the footage, and the Finley house is clearly a "demo" house, one a realtor might show. Drawers are empty, the fridge is barren, and the sparse decor looks straight outta the home furnishings department at TJ Maxx. It renders the entire affair inauthentic- not that it ever smacked of realism whatsoever, but still.

All that said, it's quite possibly the best film I've seen from The Asylum. I'm not sure what that's worth, exactly, but there you go.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

Birdemic is the most enjoyable piece of crap I've ever seen in all my 63 years. It is truly the best worst movie ever made: and yes, I'm counting Troll 2 and Plan 9 from Outer Space and yes- yes! Even my beloved Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. You could not make a movie this bad if you tried your very, very hardest. No one will ever make a movie this bad again. It's not possible. The laws of science will not allow it. I'm telling you: you think you've seen the worst movie ever made...but unless you've seen Birdemic, you haven't. It's that wonderfully atrocious.

Yes, the writing and directing and acting and oh my crap those special effects combine to create a perfect storm of awful...but Birdemic goes deeper than that. Birdemic fucks with your brain.

See, it's not just bad writing. The dialogue has a weird feel to it, as if it was originally written in a language other than English, then run through Babelfish. It's...off-kilter. There are non sequiturs in almost every conversation. If you have a chance to hear writer/director James Nguyen in an interview, you'll undertand that weird feel: all the characters are obviously him.

It's not just bad directing. Every shot goes on and on. And on. An on-screen conversation will end, but the camera will not cut. The shot will continue until you feel uncomfortable, until you know for sure it will end- and then it lasts ten more seconds.

The acting is so bad that it defies logic. The best actors in the world- in the history of mankind- could not hope to emulate performances this poor.

The effects are...I cannot adequately describe them. They make SyFy channel CGI crapfests look like Avatar. This is clip art come alive!

Go. Go see this movie if you have a chance. If you enjoy bad movies on any level- any level at all- then you owe it to yourself to see Birdemic. You owe it to your children, and your childrens' children. Seeing this movie may be the reason why you were put on this Earth.

But! Don't you dare see it alone. See it in a theatre if you can- like herpes, Birdemic is best when it's shared. If you have to wait for DVD, invite everyone you know to a viewing. You won't regret it. Or maybe you will...I don't know, I don't lead your life.

Short Review Round-Up Part 1!

Man, the movies I need to review have been pilin' up and pilin' up- so much so that I'm afraid of the pile. How can I dig myself out from under it? How can I dig myself out when it keeps growing? When I feel such désespoir du blog, I should remember my mantra: what would Arbogast do? He would cook up a fresh batch of Arbogast minis, that's what he would do. Now, I can't call these Arbogast minis, and calling them minis of any variety feels gauche. Therefore, I will call these Short Reviews. That there's poetry, I know. Don't be intimidated!

Ab-Normal Beauty

Art student Jiney (Race Wong) is bored with her work. She carries her camera around dutifully, but can't find inspiration in her surroundings. One afternoon she witnesses a fatal car accident and impulsively photographs a dead body- the thrill of capturing the delicate moments between life and death awaken a new passion. She moves on to photographing dead animals, going so far as to orchestrate their bloody demises at the butcher shop- as the cleaver chops harder and faster, Jiney furiously clicks the shutter.

Boundaries of taste, already strained to the breaking point, are obliterated when she captures a suicidal woman's plummet from rooftop to sidewalk. Though she thrives on the adrenaline rush, Jiney is troubled by all the death surrounding her- she begins to hallucinate. The model in her painting class begins to bleed- is this a manifestation of Jiney's guilt over dabbling in the macabre, or is Ab-Normal beauty going to turn into Shutter? Is this a cameras steal souls and the ghosts want revenge flick? I mean, it is an Asian horror film, after all, so it must feature vengeful ghosts, right?

Nope. That adrenaline rush that Jiney feels is like that provided by any other drug or extreme behavior; she becomes desensitized and she must push herself further in order to feel anything at all. You know how it is- you get hooked on the giddy feeling from a glass of Riunite, so you drink a glass every day. When a glass isn't enough to make you giddy, you start downing a bottle a day. When that no longer works, you chase that bottle of Riunite with a box of Franzia. When, after all that, you still remember that your life is a complete fuck-up, you drink everything in the house to ease the pain, right down to that jug of Jean Naté After Bath Splash your gramma gave you when you were 8 but for some reason it's still sitting at the back of your closet.

Umm. Anyway.

So, when Jiney brandishes a butcher knife during a photo session with a friend, you think maybe Ab-Normal Beauty will become that kind of movie and Jiney is going to go around killing people for the art of it all.

But it's not. As memories resurface and we learn more about Jiney, the film becomes something else altogether, something more compelling than the two movies it could have been, something with a bit more substance. I love that the ride didn't end up where I thought it was going to, and that the twists and turns of the narrative weren't cheap or present simply for the (unshocking) shock value of a twist.

With Ab-Normal Beauty (Sei mong se jun, 2004), the Pang Brothers have outdone themselves with regards to style. The film- virtually every frame- is so beautiful that I want to eat it. I wouldn't even bother with condiments- that's how delicious it looks. At times the film may be a little too stylish for its own good- some music cues don't really jive with the action, and the climax is almost too murky to enjoy but sakes alive, they know how to work the frame.

The Human Centipede

Oh, Human Centipede. You're perhaps the most anticipated film in recent memory, solely based on your freakshow concept. An eeeevil surgeon grafts victims' asses to other victims' mouths to fulfill his insane vision: to create a human centipede...say whaaaaat? I think reactions to the concept went something like this: "Gross!" That "gross" was then followed by "Why?" The answer to the second reaction, according to writer/director Tom Six, is essentially the first reaction: it's a gross concept, so he made a movie out of it.

Unfortunately, The Human Centipede is little more than a gross concept. That concept, of course, is revealed when you read a synopsis or watch the trailer...so what is there to expect when the big reveal occurs long before you begin watching the film? Where can the movie go from, well, from showing the centipede? Sadly, it doesn't really go anywhere. Half an hour in you get your centipede, and then it all just sits there. Or rather, sometimes it sits there and sometimes it's made to crawl around. Regardless, not much happens.

Now, I don't think people are clamoring to see this movie because they think it's going to be some deep meditation on man's place in the universe or something. Let's face it- The Human Centipede appeals to that part of us- or, at least, that part of some of us- that wants to see something gross. A movie featuring asses attached to mouths and shared digestive tracts has to be disgusting, right? Like, the most shocking thing you've ever seen? Or, at least, the most shocking thing you've ever seen that's fiction, I guess I should say. I've seen about 20 seconds of 2 Girls, 1 Cup. I learned my lesson, and I think that my lingering childhood curiosity about gross things has been put to rest forever.

As such, I was happy to find The Human Centipede surprisingly tame. There's a bit of surgery, a bit of pus, and...not much else. It's not explicit in the least- rather, it's all implied. How this affects your enjoyment of the film (if "enjoyment" is the right word) is, of course, your bag, baby.

Without the expected shocks, though, what is there? Not much beyond some bad acting and a ridiculously over-the-top performance from Dieter Laser (best name ever) as evil Doktor Heiter. It had some enjoyable moments, but overall...well, who knew that ass-to-mouth could be so damn dull?


When Turistas hit in 2006, hot on the heels of Eli Roth's Hostel, I blew it off as...well, as a copycat of Hostel. "Torture porn" movies were en vogue, and frankly that ridiculously-named subgenre doesn't much appeal to me. However, the movie ended up on IFC recently and, I decided to give it a go- partially due to a "Why the hell not?" frame of mind and partially due to the fact that Olivia Wilde is in it. Even if it's the worst movie in the world, it's worth watching because come on you guys, she's so fucking pretty. Lucky me, it's not the worst movie in the world! In fact, I thought it was better than not the worst in the world- I kind of dug it.

To generalize, the horror community bitches an awful lot- mostly justified- about the vapidity of the genre's current output, about slickness of the retreads and rehashes, about how content seems to be dictated by boardrooms. Back in the day, horror filmmakers had something to say, dammit, about race relations and religion and society- all those Masters of Horror gave us substance with our scares, and why isn't anyone doing that today? It's all music videos and video games.

However, Turistas got me thinking (and talking with Heidi) about whether or not that complaint- that there's no relevance to these films- is true. There are undeniably themes explored in horror films made since September 11, 2001. Filmmakers are exploring the idea of "American vs Other" as countless groups of American ninnies travel to foreign lands and inevitably run afoul of the locals. Sometimes it's because the Americans have fucked up, and sometimes it's because...well, those foreigners are just plain savages, how do you expect them to treat outsiders? This sort of thing would never happen in the states! Obviously, I haven't done any in-depth analyzing of any of these movies, and I haven't yet figured out which side of the fence each particular film lies. Still, it's difficult not to notice a trend, and I think post-9/11 horror is worth exploring- films like Hostel, Turistas, Live Feed, Vinyan, Dying Breed, and The Human Centipede all apply. This isn't news, necessarily, but I'm just saying- maybe hindsight will reveal that some horror filmmakers have, at the least, intent where it was assumed there was none.

Mind you, I know that intent doesn't necessarily make a movie good, or render a horror movie effective. n this light, how was Turistas? Well, I said I kind of dug it. It's not nearly as torture-heavy as I'd anticipated. I'm not sure quite what it wants to be, if that makes sense- the "horror" aspects of the film take up very little of the running time, and there's an awful lot of "character development" time that doesn't actually develop any characters. The affair is helped by the serviceable acting from Wilde, Josh Duhamel, and, in particular, Melissa George. She's quietly becoming an unsung hero of indie horror, to the point where I'll pick something up if her name is on it. Why doesn't anyone ever talk about her?

so many balls

Ha ha ha, see what I did with the post title? I bet you're thinking "Oh no, she's going to write about sports!" Well, guess again, sucker! The balls in question are actually the Sentinel Spheres of the Phantasm series, the shiny silver orbs that zip around at The Tall Man's behest, merrily lobotomizing victims with a drill as they go. Ha ha ha, I made a joke!

All of this leads me to Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), or, in the interests of streamlining, Phantasm OblIVion. At any rate, it's the last film in the series which pits The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his trandimension dwarf labor force against a bunch of regular dudes. Or former regular dudes, I guess I should say. Quoth the Reggie, "I was an ice cream vendor by trade. Now I'm a soldier."

I haven't seen Phantasm parts II or III. I know...I know. The original 1979 has always been good enough for me- while I think the supremely creepy Tall Man is a worthy villain, I never felt the need to check out his further adventures. Slasher movies lend themselves best to the franchise treatment; the killers have a story but not to much story, and it's rather inconsequential anyway. Change the setting from film to film, perhaps, line up some characters for the kill, and repeat ad nauseum. Don Coscarelli, however, crafted a nearly perfect little slice of surrealist horror that leaves viewers reeling. Questions are raised and there's plenty of room for thought and discussion when it's over, but the movie is completely satisfying as an isolated experience.

So why am I jumping straight into the fourth film in the series? Well, because I found the tape for a buck. What're you gonna do, you know?

The "same ol' same ol'" approach of slasher franchises means that viewers jumping around in the series chronology won't be confused for long, if, in fact, they are at all. "Oh, Jason's dead now? No wait, he's alive. He's in New York? Okay. No wait, he's in space." In other words, it doesn't take long to catch up. Although I must say, I can't for the life of me remember if it's ever explained how Jason went from getting melted by toxic sludge in a Manhattan sewer to...wherever he was at the beginning of Jason Goes to Hell. Did that film start in New York? Bah, best not to waste precious brain power!

Unfortunately, Phantasm IV doesn't follow the rules associated with any subgenre and thus it was pretty confusing most of the time. As best as I can figure, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), and Jody (Bill Thornbury) spent the duration of Parts II and III going head to head and/or toe to toe with The Tall Man. Jody got smooshed down and transformed into one of those infamous spheres, as was the fate of his brother Mike. The process got interrupted somehow, and now Reggie and Mike are...driving somewhere. Separately. To do something. And Mike is, like, half-man, half-ball. This means that sometimes he has balleyes instead of eyeballs. SPHERES.

Mike has stolen The Tall Man's magic hearsemobile, which drives him out into the middle of Death Valley. There, he fights an transdimensional dwarf here and there, and I learn two things: 1) when scuttling around the never-ending tan landscape of Death Valley in their brown robes, transdimensional dwarves are not at all unlike the Jawas from Star Wars, and 2) it's best that we never see the faces of the transdimensional dwarves, because they look not at all unlike brown versions of that Ghoulie who busts out of the toilet on the cover of Ghoulies. As Phantasm proved decades before Part IV, less is so much more.

Reggie has lots of fightin' to do as well, on the road to find Mike. He's pulled over by a cop who's not actually a cop, but a...I don't know, some kind of skinless monster posing as a cop. Rather than just walk up to Reggie's car and kill him, the not-a-cop goes through an elaborate ruse wherein he takes Reggie's license and registration back to his cruiser. This ruse and the eventual battle serve to allow Reggie plenty of time to work in lots of cheesy action-hero one liners. After all, he's a soldier now, not some hippy guitar-playing ice cream man!

Thanks to a series of contrivances I can't be bothered to explain, Reggie ends up in bed with some random ex-stripper. Then this happens:

So, you know. There's that.

Mike finds one of those giant tuning forks/dimensional gateways out on the salt flats; he steps through it and lands back in a time before The Tall Man was The Tall Man. His name was Jedediah, and he was "obsessed with death". Then somehow he builds a steampunk machine and dimensional gateway and gets evil and turns everyone he meets into a Sentinel Sphere or a dwarf slave and we don't know why he decides to do any of this or how he does it or even why he's obsessed with death or anything at all it's all just explained half-assedly meaning it's not explained at all which means I'm way more confused than I was as a wee Final Girl back in 1979 and run-on sentence arrrrrgh.

Phantasm works because you get what's going on, but not what's really going on or why it's going on and that's FINE. The movie is more about feeling than about reasoning, and when that works in a movie it's magic. Phantasm IV expands the mythos of The Tall Man into...well, into nothingness. Fine, he used to be Jedediah. Then he walked through the tuning fork and became The Tall Man. ...okay? What do I do with that? I mean, if you're going to open that can of worms and try to explain, then fucking EXPLAIN. Why does he need to have a transdimensional dwarf labor force? What happened that turned him evil and gave him all sorts of powers? For that matter, why didn't Sphere Tits kill Reggie the moment she saw him, rather than trying to do so hours and hours later? Was she a monster, or was she possessed? Oh Lady in Lavender, I miss you so!

Mind you, everything could be laid out plain as day in Parts II and III. That would be swell. Perhaps I'll find out, so long as they don't cost more than a buck.

Oh, and about 95% of this movie takes place in and around cars. Of the remaining 5%, 3% is unused footage from 1979, forced into awkward "Hey, remember that time...?" flashbacks.

Also, it seems that there is room in a human skull for both a fully-functioning brain AND a full-size Sentinel Sphere.

Also, you can apparently build a nearly-fully-functioning Sentinel Sphere from your carburetor.

Also, boo Phantasm IV. BOO I SAY.

“The birds…they’re acting funny.”

When I bought a VHS copy of The Birds II: Land's End (1994) for a dollar, I was pumped. Not only was it, you know, a dollar, but this wholly unnecessary sequel has the reputation of being a big pile. "It's supposed to be terrible," I told a friend. "I can't wait!" She thought that was an odd reason to buy and/or look forward to a film, and on the one hand I agree: I mean, I do want horror movies to be good. On the other hand, though, bad animals run amok movies are my soulmates. Directing duties on The Birds II are attributed to Alan Smithee, which had me even more excited. In case you don't know, "Alan Smithee" is a pseudonym used by directors who want to disavow any involvement with the film s/he directed for reasons that, per the rules of the Director's Guild, cannot be disclosed. The man behind the Smithee in the case of The Birds II is Rick Rosenthal, who also helmed Halloween II. Use of the pseudonym was abolished in 2000, and frankly that's the only reason I can think of why Rosenthal wouldn't use it to distance himself from the abysmal Halloween: Resurrection, which he wrought upon the world in 2002. But! That's neither here nor there.

Ohhhhhh how I want to punch Halloween: Resurrection in its stupid Michael Myers Dot Com face despite the Katee Sackhoff and Busta Rhymes-ness of it.

Sorry, it's just that Resurrection is one of those movies that makes my blood pressure rise. For the good of both my health and staying on topic, I should really start talking about The Birds II.

The film begins as an official-looking man pulls a bird of the water that looks like a leftover from the Exxon Valdez disaster. He gets out some official-looking beakers and vials and starts to do some science, but he's interrupted by a brutal bird attack. They take his eyes and his dignity as action music blares; the music and the copious blood remind us that we're not in Hitchcock territory anymore. Of course, you may have assumed that from the start.

Brad Johnson stars as Ted, patriarch of what is surely the most irritating family ever to walk the Earth. His wife May (Chelsea Field) is alternately angry and insipid. Their daughters Something Starts With 'J' #1 and Something Starts With 'J' #2 are straight-up brats. They fight, call each other names, and bitch about having to spend time at an old house on the beach at Land's End. Even the dog in this family is annoying. Really, Ted is the only one who's fairly tolerable, and that's because he spends most of his time quietly moping about their son who died five years ago. At any rate, they're all at Land's End on some sort of "work vacation" for mom and dad. The "How was your day?" questions and the incessant whining of the girls were a constant reminder that family life is a fucking drag.

Look, I'm gonna save both of us a lot of time. A bunch of nothing happens, and then the birds get frisky. They start dive-bombing people here and there, scratching a forehead or biting some hair. Ted thinks is this wholly unnatural behavior and he should know- he's a high school biology teacher. He tries to warn the Mayor that something hinky is going on, but in typical politician in an animals run amok movie fashion, the Mayor won't do anything about it because doing so may negatively affect the town's Fishing Industry Parade Festival and economy. However, two people believe Ted: a weird old dude who live in a lighthouse, and Tippi Hedren. Well, not Tippi Hedren, exactly, but rather Helen, the character she plays. That's right, Tippi Hedren is in The Birds II, and she's not portraying Melanie Daniels. I hate when that happens.

The birds increase their numbers and get more and more bold. Flocks of them enter The Ted Family's home (sorry, they don't have a last name) and make with the pecking and the scratching and the nom nom nomming. They cut the phone line and the power, and the scene is not at all unlike the siege scene you've seen in any number of zombie movies- it was rather Night of the Living Dead, actually. There's a bitchin' dog vs. bird fight, and later the weird old dude falls from the lighthouse sans eyes after a bird attack.

In typical politician in an animals run amok movie fashion, the Mayor learns too late that the threat is REAL- like, he finally gets it when hundreds of birds take on hundreds of people near the marina. He tries to assemble a shotgun-wielding posse, but it's an idea that was doomed from the start. The Ted Family takes a little boat in an attempt to get back to the mainland, but then the birds take off and try to beat them to it. The (abrupt) end.

Now, I realize I haven't made the best case for The Birds II: Land's End here. Surely Rick Rosenthal's use of "Alan Smithee" doesn't make a good case for it, and neither do the ubiquitous reviews that give it 1.5 stars at most. I got it expressly because I thought it was going to be terrible, and yet...I did not find it to be terrible. Why is this? Hmm. It's a question I've been pondering since I rewound the tape. Earlier that that, perhaps, for even as the birds were doing their thing, I found myself shocked at the fact that what I was watching wasn't making me laugh or want to kill myself.

Is it because mere days ago I saw Birdemic: Shock and Terror, surely the worst movie ever created, and now I've gone numb? This may be a part of it, especially considering the fact that both movies are about [SPOILER ALERT] birds.

Aside: I'm going to write about Birdemic, but I'm not sure exactly what yet, nor am I sure where the writing will end up. I will say this much: if it ends up at a theater near you, GO. You think Troll 2 is the worst movie ever? Think again. You know how I've thought for YEARS that Shark Attack 3: Megalodon is as amazingly good as bad movies get? I WAS WRONG. There's a new King.

Aside Over: On the other hand, there's no denying that The Birds II isn't actually much good. There's far more melodrama and talk than action, but still- I found that enjoyable in a made-for-TV sort of way. I was most pleased at the fact that the birds were not made out of computer. Imagine that! Animals run amok movies may be more popular than ever thanks to the schlock churned out by the SyFy Channel, but I get tired of the CGI-ness of it all. These were real honest-to-goodness birds a-peckin' and a-flappin', and I was thankful for it.

Because I am really in the minority regarding the merits of The Birds II, I can't really recommend it: after all, your brain not be as soft as mine apparently is right now. Honestly, I hope Birdemic has ruined all moviekind for me, raising my tolerance for crap to the point where everything is shrugged off with a casual "Well, it wasn't as bad as Birdemic..." I don't know, I might be way too forgiving of animals run amok movies for a time. We'll just have to wait and see. I know enough, however, to say that I realize The Birds II isn't good, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it...and that's okay. A dollar well spent, I say!

Film Club: Spider Baby

You know what people love? People love Jack Hill's Spider Baby. It's got a certain something something that appeals to the monster kid in all of us (yes, I'm speaking for all of us). It's not just a movie one admires, hates, or feels decidedly "meh" about; no, Spider Baby (1968) is a movie you want to hug. What can I say? I do so love a family of homicidal cuckoo nutsos.

The cuckoo nutsos are the Merrye clan, consisting of siblings Ralph (Sid Haig), Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), and Virginia (Jill Banner). The Merrye "kids" suffer from a genetic disorder that causes mental deterioration over the course of a lifetime. They're adults but they act like children; well, children who are into rape and murder and stuff. Their exaggerated innocence belies their violent tendencies- they'll smile sweetly one moment and stab you viciously the next. Those Merryes, they're so unpredictable!

Their chauffeur and guardian Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is well aware of their condition, how it's eventually going to render the siblings feral. He keeps them tucked away from society, up in the Merrye mansion on the hill. It's not unlike the Bates residence in Psycho; it would be a nice enough home in most circumstances, but here- untended and isolated- it simply looms menacingly over everything below. It's the kind of place that haunts neighborhood kids, the kind that makes them dare one another to go knock on the door. Adults know to stay away.

Unfortunately, deliverymen must do their jobs. When one (Mantan Moreland) comes a-knockin' and "Uncle Bruno" isn't home, the Merryes are left to their own devious devices. Virginia plays her "spider game" (it involves a lot of poking with knives) and ends up with one of the delivery man's ears to keep and call her own.

Distant relatives Peter (Quinn Redeker) and Emily (Carol Ohmart) show up at the Merrye manse with a lawyer in tow, hoping to prove the children mentally unstable and seize the family residence and money. It would certainly not be a difficult task for Peter and Emily to prove their case, but unfortunately Bruno loses control of the children. Overnight, events quickly spiral out of control and the Merryes' visitors end up traumatized and/or dead. Realizing that their isolated life on the hill is no longer a possibility, Bruno does what anyone would do: he blows 'em all up, ending the Merrye Syndrome once and for all. But is it really over? Mua ha ha.

So just what is it about Spider Baby that everyone loves so much? Perhaps it's that Spider Baby is a film that's truly the sum of its parts. It works as a gothic nightmare movie- from the cobwebs in the basement to the dead daddy kept upstairs to the feral relatives living below the basement to the idiot man-child lurking in the dumb waiter, Spider Baby is downright creepy at times. There's no denying its obvious influence on films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, House of 1000 Corpses, and even Hell Night. The loving family of killers who mind their own business until you intrude on their turf have become a horror movie staple (too much so, in fact: if I never see another modern "crazed cannibal family" movie again, I'll be happy), but in the late-60s they were still a frightening novelty.

Then there's the undercurrent of eroticism running through the film. As Emily, Carol Ohmart turns in a performance that screams "broad"- and believe me, I mean that in the best possible way. Maybe it's her hair, peroxided within an inch of its life, or maybe it's her random dance in black lingerie...whatever it is, Emily is all no-nonsense, worldly-wise sex appeal.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is young Virginia, the girl who emulates and consumes bugs, captivating her victims with both a sexuality that's more deliberate than she'd have you believe, and some good old-fashioned rope. Everybody who watches Spider Baby comes away from it in love with Virginia. Yes, I'm once again speaking for everybody.

Of course, you can't talk about this film without talking about the humor. Well, you can, but you'd be neglecting a large part of its charm. The opening credits, featuring a "Monster Mash"-style theme song sung by Chaney himself, clue us in that we're going to have fun with these kooky cannibals. And we do: they crack jokes and even bizarrely mug at the camera. It all works so well thanks to the performances. Everyone dives into his or her role with complete abandon and glee; the Merryes are hilariously over-the-top, while Chaney turns in a surprisingly heartfelt performance as their kindly, long-suffering caretaker. There's an Addams Family vibe to the entire affair, and in the end we're left to wonder who's more horrifying: the sadistic, murderous family on the hill, or their greedy, square, city-dwelling relatives.

This film lingered in limbo from 1964 (its production year) 'til it was finally released in 1968. By that time, black and white films were becoming a thing of the past, as if from an era that was quickly being left behind. Spider Baby withered on the vine (or web, or what have you), a flop during its initial run. As often happens, though, it was resurrected decades later and is now one of those "cult" movies the kids go on and on about these days. I'm going to speak for everybody one last time: Spider Baby is all sorts of awesome.
From Midnight, With Love
The Verdant Dude
Dark Romance
United Monkee
Less Than 3 Film
The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense
The Trunk that Dripped Blood
Hey! Look Behind You!
The Hallucenogenic Toreador
Acidemic Film
The Horror Section
emma blackwood
Kill Everybody in the Whole World
Eve Tushnet
Things That Don't Suck
In the Garden of the Death Orchid
Good Old Fashioned Nightmare Fuel
Pussy Goes Grrr
Catalogue of Curiosities

Track of the Moon Beast!

Click to embiggen!

I realize I didn't mention the awesome musical interlude, or the fact that in the end, Professor Johnny Longbow kills Lizard Paul, who "explodes"- meaning, the screen turns red. What can I say? I start these comics and then they end up in a different place than I'd originally intended. C'est la something something.

I did, however, write about my favorite scene from this film and how much it affected me when I was a dumb kid over at Mermaid Heather...so, you know, you can read that if you want to.

the journey is the destination

Fabrice Du Welz's Vinyan (2008) seems to have a polarizing affect on audiences...or at least that's my opinion after reading two wildly divergent reviews of it. Even after scoping out those reviews, I knew little of the film beyond its basic premise...and with critics drawing Cola Wars-style lines in the sand, I was nervous. Would I like it? Would I hate it? Would people like me if I liked it? Or hated it? Would watching it make me smarter or prettier? I tells ya, it had me on the edge of the edge of my seat.

Here's that basic premise I told you about: Six months after losing her son Joshua in a tsunami, Jeanne Bellmer (Emmanuelle Béart) thinks she spots the boy in a video about Burmese orphans. Her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) thinks she's seeing only what she wants to see, but eventually agrees that they should investigate because...well, what if it's him?

The couple pays massive amounts of money to the shady Thaksin Gao (Petch Osathanugrah), who says that white children have been spotted amongst the orphans. He promises to find their son, so Jeanne and Paul board a boat with Gao and head from Thailand into Burmese waters. When leads prove false, Gao promises that just a little more money will get them closer, that Joshua is surely in the next village. Paul and Jeanne argue over whether or not they're simply being bilked; Jeanne's desperation eventually puts the entire party in terrible danger deep in the Burmese jungle.

That's really all I want to say about Vinyan in terms of plot- and to be honest, not much actually happens in the film. That seems to be the biggest complaint viewers have with the film- that we're constantly waiting for something- some big action sequence, some plot twist...something. Anything. The audience has expectations that need to be met, dammit, but Du Welz refuses to play by the rules. Still, people who are disappointed by the lack of "big moments" in Vinyan have a valid point- in fact, it's probably going to make or break the film for them.

As for me, I loved it. As detractors have noted, it may be a bit sluggish in the midsection (aren't we all?), it may be anemic in the soul department, and it may be pretentious- but Vinyan is all about the journey rather than the destination. And what a journey it is; as this post title indicates, I find that the journey is the destination.

The cinematography by Benoit Debie is a knockout. Every frame screams "art", albeit art heavily drenched in dread. The color-soaked streets Jeanne and Paul trudge through are as frightening as the rain-soaked jungle is later on; both are strange and otherworldly, full of grabbing hands and a distinct sense of the uncanny. Terror seems to lurk on the fringes, always just out of sight. The visuals of Vinyan are bolstered by the true star of the show: the sound design. The movie's abstract opening features almost music that builds and evolves into sorta gibberish- from the get-go, it's terribly unsettling and it doesn't let up.

Du Welz isn't afraid to let a moment hang...and hang...and hang. One particular scene comes to mind, and it's a simple one: the boat the Bellmers have hired slowly approaches shore and comes to dock. It seems to take forever, and the tension is almost unbearable. The jungle is shrouded in a heavy mist, the humidity palpable; the only sound is the steady knocking of the boat's engine- and then there are the noises coming from land. Much like those at the beginning, the noises are indecipherable. Are they animal? Human? We know something is there, waiting for the Bellmers, and again: Vinyan is nothing but dread.

Though Béart and Sewell turn in riveting performances (Béart, in particular, perfectly embodies a haunted, hollow desperation), I would have liked to know more about Jeanne and Paul. Despite all they go through, despite their obvious grief, there's an odd disconnect there which prevents their journey from becoming one I could truly care about. Grief, particularly that of a mother, is a time-tested trope in horror films, from Don't Look Now to The Haunting of Julia to...hell, Friday the 13th. We certainly feel for the couple and we know they're in pain, but we only get glimpses of what their lives have become without Joshua. We know virtually nothing of their lives were like before he was gone.

There's an ambiguity to the film that I enjoyed- how much of this is really happening? Are the Bellmers drawn to the island by a supernatural being or force? This line, after all, can't simply be happenstance:
When someone dies a horrible death, their spirit becomes confused and angry. It becomes...Vinyan.
Are there spirits loose in the jungle, or are we simply witnessing a grieving mother's dehydration-fueled descent into madness? Is Joshua still alive, a lost boy victim to nature and human traffickers? Again, Du Welz ignores the rules. If concrete answers are your thing, you may find yourself across that line in the sand from me. Don't worry, though- we can still be friends.

ride the white horse

When I posted on my Facebook page that I had to watch Rob Zombie's Halloween II, I got little but warnings and advanced condolences. Everyone told me I'd be really sorry if I indulged; you know: it was two hours of my life I'd never get back, I could never un-see it, I'd be better off lighting babies and/or myself on fire...okay, maybe not that last one. But still, the collective "Do not do!"s from my fake cyber-friends made me feel that watching H2 would be akin to marching off to war without a gun or body armor or even a face: I'd get my body and soul crushed in what would inevitably be a losing battle. To put it mildly, undertaking a viewing seemed to be a foolish endeavor, but it had to be done. And yes, like a soldier headed off to war (or a nogoodnik heading off to the Big House), I spent my last 24 hours of freedom in a drunken stupor, cavorting with hookers and eating cake. Isn't that how they do things?

Anyway, given these warnings and my unabashed dislike of Zombie's Halloween, I was positively dreading the experience. DREADING IT I SAY. And? Well, I made it through. I'm still here. Maybe it's the booze or the prosties or the cake talking, but...it wasn't quite as bad as I'd anticipated.

Whoa whoa whoa! Put away your torches and pitch forks and hot oil treatments (the bad, not-for-hair kind) and everything else in your Angry Mob Emergency Kit- I didn't say I liked it. I didn't even say I didn't hate it. It's just that I anticipated a Hallocaust of epic proportions and when all was said and done, I've seen much worse. I've seen much worse recently, in fact (hey The Unborn, you can still go fuck yourself).

Halloween II opens with a placard explaining the symbolic meaning of a white horse. From this, we can infer two things: 1) Rob Zombie bought a dream dictionary, and 2) Rob Zombie thinks his audience is stupid. Why else would he feel the need to blatantly and literally define his metaphor? Can't we figure it out on our own? Why, some of horror's greatest films and directors know it's better to show than to tell. It's not as if Stanley Kubrick needed to expound on what mazes are all about before The Shining began; likewise, viewers are left to their own devices in deciphering the deeper meaning behind all the steering wheels and throttles in Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. But this is Halloween II, and as such it needs Sheri Moon Zombie...and as such it needs a dubious reason for her inclusion.

Before she becomes the Ghost and Mrs. Muir of Mrs. Myers, there's a flashback to young Michael's sanitarium days- I guess to remind us that the boy had a healthy relationship with his mother, that he was in control of his faculties, and that this version of Michael is not the abstract embodiment of "pure evil" as he was in John Carpenter's original film. Oh well. When Michael tells mom about his dreams of a white horse (I WONDER WHAT IT MEANS), she tells him to "Cheer up- no more gloom!" He doesn't listen to her, and I guess that's why a lot of people end up dead...dun dun dunnnn...15 years later.

We jump through time to the moments after the climactic events of Halloween; Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is battered and bloody and en route to Haddonfield Memorial, while Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) is carted off to the coroner's office by two Characters in a Rob Zombie Film. You know the kind: they're that variety of trash Mr. Zombie seems so enamored with. They talk about corpse-fucking and they're oh so funny! Except they're not funny. Or maybe you think they are, in which case...I'd rather not know. I just want to travel back to the moment Zombie began typing their dialogue so I can slap his hand with a newspaper and cry "No! Bad Zombie! No trashy characters! You write real people! Real. People." Seriously, I hate Characters in a Rob Zombie Film. I hate that they use the word "fuck" the way the Smurfs use the word "smurf". I hate everything about them.

These guys aren't around for long, thanks to a Deus Ex Cow in the Road. They hit it, Michael gets out of the van (despite being in a serious accident and, oh, getting shot in the face at the end of Halloween), cuts the surviving paramedic's head off with a piece of glass (which could totally happen), and splits. Halloween II then becomes a truncated version of Carpenter's Halloween II as Laurie awakens in the mysteriously empty hospital, only to find Myers once more in pursuit. He butchers his way through the scant staff members on duty...and when I say "butchers", I mean...BUTCHERS. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I can't believe it's not butter. I've also said this before and I will also say this again: Rob Zombie does not shy away from brutal violence. Anyone bitching about the lack of energy in modern American horror needs only watch this incarnation of Myers go to town with a knife. It's cringe-worthy.

The hospital is where we also get our first taste of "Nights in White Satin" by The Moody Blues- I WONDER WHAT IT MEANS. This serves to remind me of the time I went barhopping with some friends many a moon ago. We ended the night at Norm's Country Lounge (don't ask) and I was well and truly tanked. So well and so truly, in fact, that upon spotting the blue satin shirt our bartendress (new word) was sporting, I asked her name (Trish) and proceeded to regale her with "Trish in Blue Satin". She was not amused, but I'm sure it was unbearably charming.

Before Michael can get his grubby mitts on Laurie...she wakes up. She wakes up. SHE WAKES UP because the first half hour of the film was a DREAM. Does this feel like some sort of cheat? Does this crap on your neck? If you're trying to invest yourself in Halloween II, then yes...yes, it does. It's not so much that it's a dream sequence, it's that it feels more like a do-over, as if Zombie got 2 weeks into filming, didn't like the way it was going, and decided to have Laurie wake up screaming in bed rather than try to write himself out of the corner he wrote himself into.

But yes, it's a fucking dream and actually it's two years, not two minutes, past the events of Halloween. Laurie lives with fellow survivor Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) and her dad, Sheriff (Brad Dourif). Yes, that is his name (no it's not). Annie and Laurie deal with their mental and physical scars very differently: Annie is quieter than she used to be and sticks close to home, while Laurie is sullen, unwashed-looking, and all ten kinds of sweary. She visits a psychiatrist (Margot fucking Kidder) and downs pills in mass quantities to cope with her anxiety and those pesky half-hour dreams that alienate audiences. Laurie eventually reveals that she's come to resent Annie, that seeing her daily means Laurie can't ever forget about her trauma. I think this is actually an interesting development, and that Laurie's PTSD is worth examining; in the end, it amounts to little more than a few yelling matches. After all, who wants to delve into Laurie Strode when you can delve into Michael Myers? That sounds hot, by the way.

Yes, Michael really did survive getting shot in the face. Where has he been for two years? We don't know. His body disappeared from the crime scene (I guess) and he's been living off the grid à la baghead Jason Voorhees (I guess). Myers has gone all mountain man, growing an indigent crazy-style Bigfoot beard. He spends most of the film walking to Haddonfield in search of Laurie, killing strippers and other Characters in a Rob Zombie Film along the way, rendering Halloween II into Cold Mountain II: The Knife-ening. As he walks, he has visions of a white-wigged mom telling him that he needs to kill kill kill so they can all be a family again- you know, just like she did when she was alive.

Time out: Aarrrrrgh I wish all the stupid metaphor bullshit wasn't in the film. It doesn't work. It doesn't work (and if you listened to Episode 2 of The Scare-ening, you know that it wasn't always in the script). I try not not think about it, because it hurts me in my brain place. While it was happening, my body rejected it like a bad organ transplant! I tuned it out and went to my happy place, the place with the hookers and the cake. I dreamed a dream of a metaphor-less Halloween II, where Laurie and Annie and the others lived up to that glimmer of hope in a throwaway line, where Michael was scary and unknown and he was The Boogeyman. It was a nice dream. I liked it.

Time in: Remember Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell)? He's here, too! He's turned into a total money- and fame-grabbing douchebag, capitalizing on the horrors perpetrated by his old patient Michael Myers. He also serves as the voice of Rob Zombie, particularly when he says things like "Did you just mention 'journalists', 'cool', and 'positive' all in the same sentence? Without throwing up? That's an oxymoron." Touché, Mr. Zombie! Way to show people who criticize your work. Much better than, oh, simply ignoring it all, or perhaps ruminating on the fact that sometimes they're right. High road shmigh road, I always say!

Once Laurie reads a copy of Loomis's explosive tell-all, she's understandably dismayed to learn that she's Michael's long-lost sister. She decides to go nuts and booze it up with some new friends at the town's Halloween party, a rather massive affair that gleefully ignores the series of murders that took place the same night two years prior. As Laurie parties it up, ol' stick-in-the-mud Annie stays home. Michael kills the police officer that Sheriff Dad posted outside the house. He gets inside...and I'm not gonna lie: I thought the entire sequence was really well done. To Annie's horror, Michael is suddenly there, looming in the doorway behind her.

Zombie makes an effective use of slow-mo, and then wisely cuts to black before the violence starts. We hear it all, and that's enough- later, when Laurie comes home and finds Annie dying on the floor, the blood and destruction everywhere tells us everything we need to know. I was surprised to find myself a bit upset that Annie died- yes, I actually cared the tiniest bit about the character. I know, right? Weird. Much of this owes to Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif working a bit of magic with the very little they were given. Annie's death is the best sequence in the film- and I don't mean it's the best of the worst...I mean it's actually good.

Unfortunately, then it's back to Happy Myers Family Fuckery as mom urges Michael to kill Laurie so they can all be together. I guess she expects Michael to kill himself afterward to complete the plan...? It doesn't make much sense.

Michael takes Laurie to some abandoned cabin place, and the cops and Loomis (who totally had, like, a change of heart) show up to put a stop to it. They do so as Michael is shot down in one of those blazes of glory Rob Zombie seems to enjoy so much. Unfortunately for the whole wide world, Laurie has also fallen under the crazy spell of Ghost Mom! She's a bona fide Loomis-killing, dirty-haired Myers nutso. She ends up in a metaphorical hospital room...err, corridor, where she spies Ghost Mom and a white horse. I don't know what it means, so don't ask!

What a mess. Halloween II was destined to be a mess, I think, when you consider Zombie's claims that he told all the story he needed to tell in Halloween and he didn't plan for a sequel. The finished product feels like he made it up as he went along, with its numerous disjointed scenes that lead nowhere and that damn metaphor. The Director's Cut, which is the version I watched, clocks in at a whopping 2 hours- and the DVD includes 23 deleted/alternate scenes. Twenty-three! Doesn't anyone tell Zombie when ideas don't work, when they should be excised? When they shouldn't be shot? I don't think so- and that's exactly what he needs, if only to stop the colossal waste of money. More imporantly, the ideas that do work need to be developed rather than glossed-over or buried. And please please please, no more Characters in a Rob Zombie Movie.

I said earlier that Zombie gives good violence, but I suppose I should add a...when you can see it to that. Too often I couldn't tell what was going on because...well, because:

Can you tell what's going on there? Hint: someone's getting killed. See, there's shadow and atmosphere, and then there's plain ol' bad lighting. Halloween II is almost exclusively the latter. Atmosphere, in fact, is sorely lacking. The movie just isn't scary, which is a shame. Michael Myers is one of horror's greatest characters, and when given the proper treatment he's still absolutely terrifying. There are more chills in the end credits' use of a modified version of John Carpenter's original Halloween score than there are in the rest of Halloween II, a sad reminder of what was and what isn't.

Sorry if that doesn't make sense. I may have made it through Halloween II, but it wasn't an easy tour of duty. I'm still a bit shell-shocked...I think this calls for some cake. And hookers!

Dead Space: Downfall

Dead Space: Downfall (2008) is a sci-fi/horror animated feature that bridges the gap between the 6-issue comic miniseries Dead Space and the video game of the same name. Just for fun, let's do some math.

(cartoon + comic + video game) x (sci-fi + horror) = (Final Girl + Dead Space) / love

On the planet Aegis 7, colonists have unearthed a massive artifact of alien origin. After the discovery, violent incidents erupt throughout the colony; a religious group (the Unitarians) claim that the artifact is cursed. The mining ship Ishimura arrives and the artifact is brought on board. In a startling twist, this turns out to be a mistake.

Before long, Ishimura crew members are suicidin' and homicidin' like nobody's business. To make matters worse, dead bodies are reanimated and transformed into necromorphs, grotesque creatures who like to use their pointy appendages for stabbing people TO THE DEATH. Security chief Alissa Vincent and her rag-tag group of marine-types try to regain control of the ship, battling necromorphs, crazy crew members, and a religious zealot of a captain who thinks everything is hunky-dory.

If you've played Dead Space, which begins with the Kellion answering the distress call from the seemingly abandoned Ishimura, you know that Downfall is going to end badly for Vincent and the rest of the crew. Such is the peril of the prequel. The fun, of course, is watching the destruction...and man, is there destruction. BREAKING NEWS: cartoons are not just for kids! Dead Space: Downfall is insanely violent and gory- more so than most live-action horror movies, even. People are impaled, cut in half...body parts fly and blood paints the walls of the ship.

To be honest, I'm not sure what viewers who are unfamiliar with Dead Space will get out of Downfall beyond some visceral, energetic violence and gore. There's nothing wrong with 75 minutes of bloody, spacey, monstery horror, of course...but the narrative is a bit convoluted. Themes explored in the game, such as religious zealotry, are only touched on in the film. The characters are simply mutant fodder- Alissa, for example, is little more than a gun and a bunch of swear words. Still, if you're a sci-fi/horror nut like me, you'll have a good time. The animation itself is a bit stiff- it feels like a superhero cartoon from the early-90s. It didn't really bother me, but then again I like early-90s superhero cartoons.

To sum up, I really dug it...but I knew I would. I mean, you can't argue with math. Okay, you can, but you'll just look stupid.


I've been sitting here with this page open all freaking day- ALL DAY- trying to figure out what I want to say about Cloverfield (2008), which I finally saw approximately 7000 years after everyone else did. Why is this so difficult? Maybe because I'm terribly distracted today. Maybe it's because I simply don't feel like writing a review for it because I just kind of thought it was okay.

That's the point in this venture, by the way, where you chime in with "Well, if you don't feel like writing a review then why are you posting? Get bent!" or something similar.

And that's the point where I say, I can do whatever I want to here, and if I want to type up three sentences about Cloverfield, then that's what I'll do. However, typing up three sentences is not what I want to do. Even that seems like too much effort today. I've got a huge case of the ADDs. So...this is how I will do it.

Characters? Holy crap, I hated them all. That party at the the beginning...ugh. I wouldn't want to spend more than 30 seconds with any of them. It really didn't get me excited to spend the next 80 minutes with them. Part of this was due to the...

...acting. I don't know how much of this was improvised and how much was scripted, but for a "found footage" film, it came off as fake. I've seen P.O.V. flicks and mockumentaries done well. This was not.

The CGI, however, was done quite well, I thought. While the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty seemed way too small to be real, the rest of the rampant destruction was realistic enough.

I love the idea behind Cloverfield, a giant monster movie from the perspective of the man on the street. The echoes of 9/11/01 were, I'd imagine, intentional. The sense of panic, the confusion and flight amidst unanswered questions were perfectly captured. The moments after the initial attack were eerily accurate. But then...

...the whole "going back for the girl" plot was fairly insufferable. I found it so unrealistic that it irreparably knocked the train off the rails. It didn't help that I hated the characters.

It's too bad this:

was touched on only briefly- far too short a segment. I wanted to spend more time with this exploding face development.

Overall it was pretty fun- I mean, sometimes you just want to see big monsters beat the crap out of buildings and stuff. In that regard, Cloverfield was a success. As I said, I thought the "man on the street" angle was a bit ingenious. It's just too bad that the man on the street was such a shallow, smarmy jerk.

Phew! Got that out of the way. Oooh, what's over there?

monster quickie

Here's a brief review that was going to be published elsewhere, but ended up lost in the shuffle. Sometimes this happens when you travel on the Information Superhighway- it's perilous. This is unlike my usual Final Girl reviews, but I'm posting it/them as a public service. I'm sure you've seen the DVD double feature reissue of Uninvited (1988) and Mutant (1984) at the store or on your gramma's movie shelf and you didn't know what to think about it. You'd never read any reviews of them anywhere, so you weren't sure if they were worth your time...well, I'm here to help because that's what I do. Don't live in fear, my friends. Read on and be at ease.

Here’s a hokey creature double feature that finally proves beyond a reasonable doubt what horror fans have known forever: industrial toxic waste- be it puke yellow or neon green- inevitably turns living beings into blood-thirsty monsters. As a society, we should be thankful that this DVD now exists to warn the ignorant. As horror fans, however, “thankful” may not be the right term, exactly.

First on the docket is Mutant, which begins like all the best movies do- that is, with some angry rednecks running some city boys off the road. With their car in a ditch, the fluffy-haired brothers have no choice but to hike into the one-stoplight town in search of a tow truck, and it’s soon evident that angry rednecks will be the least of their worries. The rest of the local populace is largely missing, and then, they’re turning up dead…and they’re turning up undead, transformed into zombies of a sort. What, did you think they’d actually be mutants?

While the movie is sort of fun in a Dawn of the Dead lite meets CHUD lite way, it’s seriously hampered by the lack of effects. The zombies, as such, are strictly of the blue-faced variety and the gore is all but non-existent. It does, however, have the balls to feature a children-on-child feast scene, so that’s worth something.

Rounding out the disc is Uninvited, undoubtedly the stronger film of the two. Genre stalwarts George Kennedy and Clu Gulager find themselves stuck aboard a yacht with a bunch of frizzy-haired Spring Breakin’ college kids…and even worse, with a pissed-off radioactive cat, on the run from a science lab. While an angry tabby might be easy to handle, this one has…well, it has another, much angrier cat growing inside of it, like a vicious feline Russian nesting doll. Cat #2 busts a move out of Cat #1 from time to time to dispatch the boaters by biting them, scratching them, and as you might expect, poisoning their blood. Veins pulsate, boils boil, blood bleeds, and both cats alternately look like rugs and puppets.

Personally, I don’t see how you can go wrong with a horror movie featuring George Kennedy and a radioactive house cat…except, you know, the movie isn’t actually any good. Neither is Mutant, but hey, that doesn’t mean they’re not enjoyable. Sometimes a big slice of ‘80s cheese is exactly what hits the spot.


I am of the mind that The Exorcist is one of the best horror films ever made. Yes, it scares me and it always has. I know there are people who find it laughable and dull and not scary at all. I cannot concern myself with these people, because they're jerks. JERKS I SAY. The fact is, William Friedkin's 1973 film is an absolute classic- take away all the horror elements and it's still a fascinating study of religion, faith, medicine, and female sexuality. I will say as I've always said, however: if Regan's post-possession behavior is any indication, Pazuzu is pretty lazy.

Maybe my feelings on that will change after this viewing of the follow-up, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), directed by John Boorman. That's right, my friends, somehow I've never seen this, one of the most reviled films in the history of...film. Oh, I've seen teeny bits here and there: Regan in some weird headgear acting all tranced out, Richard Burton yelling about something, Louise Fletcher being NOT Ellen Burstyn. I imagine this movie will be as terrible as it's said to be, although I may be pleasantly surprised. Either way, however, you're coming along with me. That's right, it's time for another one of my famous* live blog reviews, so let's dig in and get our Pazuzu on!

*not at all famous

  • Man, these opening titles make me think about how much I love The Exorcist. It's so damn unsettling...wait, Ned Beatty is in this?!
  • Okay, so we start with a Spanish-speaking girl who's apparently possessed...Father Richard Burton stands around doing nothing and the girl sets herself on fire. Way to go, Father Richard Burton!
  • Aw, Regan's all grown up and tying her shirts to show her tummy! And she's tap dancing in short shorts to "Lullaby of Broadway". She's so normal now!
  • Regan only remembers being sick and having nightmares when she was in D.C...apparently she doesn't remember all the cussing and the crucifix up the hoo-ha. I don't blame her for blocking it all out. Still, Dr. Louise Fletcher wants to hypnotize Regan to MAKE her remember. Is that a good idea? My zero training in psychiatry says NO.
  • Alright, Father Richard Burton is supposed to investigate the death of Father Merrin. Apparently the church doesn't like all the "devil talk" that Merrin was throwing around. Wouldn't they use it to draw more people to the church's teachings, rather than cover it all up? I'd think it would drum up some good business for 'em.
  • Ooh, Regan's got her hypnotic headband on. Strobe light time! She's literally going cross-eyed as she gets all tranced out. Awesome.
  • I miss the Linda Blair years.
  • This hypnosis machine is sweet. People can link their minds and, like, go places and stuff. The cross-eyed thing is embarrassing, but still.
  • Flashback! Oh my...oh my God. Can't they just use footage from the original movie, rather than re-enacting it? It's so bad. So bad. And tap-dancing Regan is dueling with possessed Regan over...well, they're both grabbing Louise Fletcher's breast. It's all very uncomfortable. That's REALLY not Mercedes McCambridge doing the voice. Bleeearggh.
  • Okay, I guess they're supposed to be battling over her heart. But really, they're copping a lot of feels here.
  • Actually, lady, Regan does NOT draw well. Sorry to be harsh, Regan, but it had to be said.
  • Father Richard Burton is trying to beat a flaming cardboard box to death with a crutch. It's really not helping. But Regan's drawing was so prescient! Except for the crutch part.
  • In Regan's dreams, Pazuzu takes her to...Africa? Tatooine? Aw, I guess it's Africa. Or, you know, a soundstage.
  • Regan, noooo! Don't fall off the roof! Although killing Regan would be a rather Scream thing to do, if you know what I mean.
  • Alright, Father Richard Burton has gone back to the Georgetown house to investigate. As you might expect, there's a locust hanging out in Regan's old bedroom. Well, that was anticlimactic.
  • Back to Africa. Father Merrin is battling Pazuzu, who's possessed a boy, and swarms of locusts, which...is how Pazuzu gets about, I'd imagine. I wish he'd also battle this fucking Kmart Ladysmith Black Mambazo soundtrack that's happening right now...
  • James Earl Jones has magical leopard breath.
  • I looked it up. That is indeed an uncredited Dana fucking Plato as the shy, stuttering girl.
  • "What's the matter with you?" "Oh, I was possessed by a demon." "..." "It's okay, he's gone."
  • Regan's kind of annoying in a "golly gee!" sort of way, isn't she?
  • Ugh, this extended Africa sequence where Father Richard Burton goes off in search of James Earl Magical Leopard Breath Jones is pretty boring.
  • But now it's all better: The Sparkly Top Hat Tap Dance Revue is GO! What a strange interlude.
  • Is Sharon in love with Regan or what? She so is.
  • Regan says "Please don't drug me, Jean..." while sounding completely fucking drugged.
  • Oh God, I want to fast forward all the Africa scenes. Can I do that? Or will I miss too much?
  • While I think a sequel to The Exorcist is rather unnecessary, there maybe COULD have been a decent sequel that dealt with Regan's post-traumatic life. Maybe some sort of abuse or rape allegory. Or maybe Regan's dealings with religion in the wake of her ordeal. The Exorcist II is not that movie.
  • James Earl Magical Leopard Breath Jones has a locust hat! It looks like something you'd get at Disneyland, or perhaps the Orkin Bug Zoo.
  • "If Pazuzu comes for you, I will spit a leopard." That's comforting. I need to incorporate that into my life. "If this traffic doesn't let up, I will spit a leopard."- that sort of thing.
  • Father Richard Burton is kind of possessed by Pazuzu...or maybe Actor Richard Burton is drunk and trying to go to his happy place...
  • Oooh, everyone's heading to Georgetown for the big Showcase Pazuzu Showdown!
  • Locusssstssss! Crashing cabs! Exorcist II: The Heretic is a white-knuckle thrill ride I'll never forget!
  • Regan doesn't seem too bothered to come face to face with her possessed self...
  • Okay, Sharon just set herself on fire, Father Richard Burton wants to get it on with a sexified Pazuzued-out Regan, and Louise Fletcher is running around a soundstage.
  • The house is coming apart! The Mirror Has There are two Regans! It's all a weeeeee bit over-the-top. It makes the head-spinning, pea soup-spewing finale of the first look subtle.
  • Regan is spinning against the the locusts! She's winning!
  • When did the Kitty Genovese incident happen in New York? Did Georgetown learn nothing from it? For fuck's sake, a car crashed through a fence, a house came down, there was a fire, people died...AND NOT ONE PERSON ON THIS STREET HAS COME OUTSIDE.
  • Oh wait, they're all there at once. I guess time was standing still while the Regans duked it out.
  • Okay, that wrapped up REALLY FUCKING QUICKLY. Guess everyone's gonna be fine! Except Sharon, who ended up Extra Crispy Recipe.
Well, that wasn't very good. It wasn't near the debacle I thought it was going to be (or it's been made out to be), but it didn't come close to achieving its lofty goals about the nature of good and evil and the duality within mankind. It's a bit of a mess, though the blinking hypnosis machine is quite the product of the late 1970s, as it was the dawning of the age of New Age. And, of course, let's not forget The Sparkly Top Hat Tap Dance Revue. Or Dana Plato, R.I.P.


Film Club: Uzumaki

True (and possibly gross) story: A long time ago in a galaxy...well, in this galaxy, I lived with someone. One fine evening this so-called Co-Habi-Tron 2000 got a stomach bug and barfed. Barfed on the way to the bathroom. Now, I've not had a stomach bug since 1st grade and I've never had food poisoning. I'm not a vomiter, unless...yes, there have been some alcohol-related times but what can you do? I live on the edge, and I always fight for my right to party.


Anyway, this sudden display of not being in control of one's body completely freaked me out. It broke my brain. Really. I became paranoid about catching the stomach bug. I spent the next 2 weeks fixated on perceived feelings of nausea: "Am I gonna throw up? Am I gonna...yes, I think...ohh...I'm...eh, never mind." I never got that bit of flu (awesome) and I never barfed, but no matter: as I said...brain broken. I got paranoid about eating in restaurants for fear of food poisoning. As everyone else in the world has had it at one time or another, I grilled everybody: What's it like? How did you know you had it? How long did you have it? Where did you eat? Whenever someone at work said he had the "flu", I had to ask if it was a cold or a puke thing. I couldn't watch anyone barfing in movies or shows or what have you.

I don't know why it happened or why it continued so long. It was ridiculous. Then all of a sudden I was better. Brains are funny that way, I guess.

Another true (less gross, more juvenile) story: There is an office building along the highway near my hometown that has windows on one side laid out like this:

To me, this place has become known as The Tit Building. Generally people don't know what building I'm talking about when I mention it as a point of reference...but I cannot unsee the word "TIT" spelled out in its windows. It baffles me that it got past the blueprint stage.

I tell you these two anecdotes not simply because my life is so incredibly fascinating...no! I tell you because both anecdotes came to mind while I was watching Uzumaki (2000), the tale of a small Japanese town that falls under the curse of the vortex.

It all starts innocently enough. People "act a bit funny". A man spends several hours quietly videotaping the swirl of a snail's shell. Soon enough, however, many of the citizens of Kurouzu are completely obsessed with the vortex pattern- like, obsessed to the point that they begin to harm themselves in some incredibly grotesque ways. Everywhere they look, they see the spirals. Their brains are broken by the curse, and the only hope, it seems, is to remove all signs of the spiral from their environment. That sounds easy enough, but ask yourself this: is a life without Pecan Spins a life worth living?

Uzumaki starts out as a bit of a kooky fairy tale; the music is exceedingly incongruous with the action, and it almost plays as a horror-comedy. By the time the words "There is still a spiral in your ear..." are spoken, however, it crosses over into the land of dread and mindfuckery. In a word, it's creepy.

None of it is really explained, so you're going to be left with questions in the end, like: Why is the town cursed, exactly? And...how do people turn into giant snails...? But this is an imaginative, bizarre just take the ride kind of horror film, and as such it's both unsettling and entertaining. The idea that thoughts can become obsessive to the point where they lead you to break as many of your own bones as possible- and you think it's a capital plan- is truly terrifying. I'm glad I got over my weird puke obsession when I did.

Yes yes, I'm sure Junji Ito's manga that provides the basis for this film is better than the film itself. I've never read it, although I know I should. And I will, one of these days. You don't need to remind me, Bossy!

Film Club Coolies, y'all!
Parry Game Preserve
In One Ear...
Sinema Obscura
The Horror Section
Va's The Cinema Experience
The United Provinces of Ivanlandia
Pussy Goes Grrr

The Crazies

While I could simply launch into my review of The Crazies (2010), I feel the need to clue you all in on the circus that was last night's screening. Apparently it was an event staged for horror press; non-genre journalists attended a regular ol' red carpet screening the night before. Folks like myself (and those from all the major horror outlets) endured an "immersive" affair that began a week or so ago, when we had to call to RSVP for the...quarantine.

Last night our car was stopped at the studio gate by "Army guys" (some in gas masks, all brandishing rifles) who checked our IDs and wanted to know if we'd imbibed any tap water that day. I lied and said no- I'm clearly not to be trusted at the End of Days. We drove deep into the "quarantine zone" past more shouting, flashlight-waving army guys and sheriff's department officers, past humvees and warning signs and flashing lights. After we finally parked, we were herded into a line where it would be determined whether or not we were "infected". Army guys checked my credentials while "doctors" took my temperature (in my ear, thank jebus)...as we were apparently "clean", we were given green wristbands and yelled at some more. Guns were pointed at us as "MOVE MOVE MOVE!" was barked, Crazies on gurneys pleaded for help, other crazies were restrained at gunpoint...it was all very loud and bewildering. Finally we got on a school bus and were driven...not the half-block to the movie theater, but to another location. We were forced off the bus and told to walk single-file...of course, we were heading to the theater, but now we had to walk a greater distance than it was from the parking garage where we started. And it was raining. And there was so much yelling! Despite all the threats, none of the journalists seemed to "hustle".

Finally we got to the fucking theater. Before the movie began there was a "security breach" and Army guys hauled off a Crazy. I wondered why we were sitting in a movie theater when clearly the world was ending and there were people dying right outside. Then the movie began.

Was all of that fun? Sure it was. I probably would have rather just, you know, gone to a screening, but I do enjoy those haunted houses that pop up during October, you know? While the extravaganza didn't influence my opinion of the film, I suppose that's a possibility with some critics so bear that in mind when you read reviews. Shit like this goes on and perks are given to journalists...and while I certainly don't want to accuse anyone or any websites of giving out good reviews solely due to said perks (or the opportunity to be quoted on a poster or ad), I think you should know about the wooing. I mean, I haven't even gotten to the after-party yet.

The small town of Ogden Marsh, IA falls apart quickly after residents suddenly become...homicidally weird. A man locks his family in the house and sets the house on fire. The town drunk brings a shotgun to a high school baseball game. People are just plain jerks.

Some hunters find a dead body out in a marsh; his tangled parachute indicates that he was a pilot, so Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) goes in search of the downed plane. It's found a short time later and Dutton quickly deduces that this water feeds into Ogden Marsh's drinking supply- something from the wreckage could be causing the widespread wackadoo-ness.

Before Dutton or his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), the town's doctor, can figure out a way to help people or stop the spread, the Army sweeps in. They quickly round up the denizens of Ogden Marsh, executing the infected and quarantining the town. The Duttons, along with a couple of their colleagues, need to get the fuck out of Dodge.

If you're familiar at all with the 1973 film upon which The Crazies is based, you'll see that the plot hasn't much changed. Trixie, a biological weapon developed by the military, is still to blame for the onset of violence. The Army still takes drastic measures to contain the outbreak. What's changed in the 35 years since George Romero's effort is style and approach. While the original film was subtle by no means (so much yelling), the "Crazies" themselves were a bit more insidious than they are in their modern incarnation. The developing illness was a gradual thing, and it was almost impossible to tell who had murderous intent until it was too late. Here, the incubation period is fairly short and there's a physical change to the infected...they get grody. They're also extremely violent, but it's of the 'kill kill' variety; again, if you've seen Romero's film you'll realize that there's a lot of abhorrent violence one can inflict that doesn't simply mean "murder". The Crazies '10 never pushes that boundary, despite plenty of opportunities to do so.

Director Breck Eisner's effort is very solid. It's well-made, it looks terrific, and it's a hell of a lotta fun. There are some very welcome touches of humor, there's plenty of gore and action, the cast makes us care a bit about characters that aren't all that interesting. It's possible that The Crazies would be best seen with a group, so everyone can scream and yell and have those sorts of communal horror experiences. It's that kind of movie. It's also worth noting that the editing, thank Christ, is not of the frenetic variety. Even when the action is at its height, you can see everything and tell what's going on. I wish that approach to horror filmmaking wasn't noteworthy, but these days it is.

The Crazies is also the kind of movie that relies heavily (I can't stress that word enough) on jump scares- enough that it gets a little grating after a while. Music stings and loud noises, one can only take so much, you know? Eisner also goes to the well a few too many times in certain instances, employing the same trick over and over: you know, one of those JUMP SCARE - "It's just me!" moments repeated several times, or "Oh no, the Crazy is gonna kill me oh no oh no oh no PHEW my friend saved me!" executed so often that you quickly realize the protagonists are never going to die.

Overall, would I recommend The Crazies? Yeah. It's a good time. It's not necessarily a thoughtful time- whether that matters to you or not may determine if you drop your 15 bucks on it. If you're looking for a film that's going to provoke discourse (beyond the requisite logic issues that spring up) or tap into, you know, grand themes or give insights into human nature, well, you'd best keep looking. Still, you could do a a lot worse- The Crazies is better than any number of recent theatrical horror releases.

Oh, and Lynn Lowry gets a cameo so it's alright in my book.

So, that after-party...it was a fucking circus. Music, free drinks, free food; various photo opportunities, the option to get your face done up all Crazy-like; a stuntman set himself on fire for our entertainment. Radha Mitchell and Timothy Olyphant were there to work the crowd. Heidi and I spent some time telling them how we would have liked the film to end, and they laughed at our jokes so that's fine. Ms. Mitchell asked if I enjoyed the movie overall, and I told her basically what I told you above. I mentioned the original film, and we had this exchange:

Her: You what scene I missed from the original?
Me: The rape scene?
Her: Exactly!
Me: Right, you don't know your dad's a Crazy until he's, you know, raping you.
Her: They really should have kept that. It was remarkable.

Then I had a cookie, watched the stuntman burn, and left.

EDITED TO ADD: Shock Till You Drop has a photo gallery of the screening madness.

“I feel like we’ve been here before.”

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) is a sequel in the same vein as Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II, meaning it's kind of a sequel but it's also kind of a remake. Director Ken Wiederhorn goes so far as to bring back RotLD actors James Karen and Thom Mathews. The character names and occupations are different (here they're grave robbers, not morgue attendants), but their personalities are essentially the same this go-round. When they begin spouting lines from the original film, you may begin to wonder why you're not just watching the original instead.

A drum containing a corpse and a batch of 245-Trioxin falls off an Army truck and ends up in a sewage pipe. A few curious kids poke at the barrel until it cracks; a toxic green cloud rises into the sky, there's a convenient insta-rainstorm, and before you can say "This seems familiar...", the dead are rising from their graves.

A few survivors band together, James Karen and Thom Mathews turn into zombies...why, the only thing missing here is a naked Linnea Quigley. Of course, I say that about most movies- but you know what I mean. Return of the Living Dead II swaps kids for punk rockers, but otherwise...yeah, we've seen this.

And that's kind of okay. If RotLD is 70% horror and 30% humor, RotLD II is the opposite. Everything here is played for laughs, from the zombies to the non-zombies. The zombies look straight outta Thriller, bad wigs and all- an MJ lookalike even busts out some moves at the end. Karen and Mathews are given little to do but scream, whine, and mug, but it's funny. Mind you, I adore James Karen so your mileage may vary.

All in all, it's a pleasant enough diversion, an above-average horror comedy...or rather, comedy horror. Still, I'm not sure why you wouldn't simply watch the original- it's this film minus kids plus Linnea Quigley: math makes Return of the Living Dead the right choice. What are you, a weirdo?