Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day #23 This boy does NOT love Mandy Lane

The Halloween Horror Challenge continues. We took this in the same day as PONTYPOOL. Quite the polar opposite...

. Jonathan Levine
Weinstein Company

This movie has been sitting on the shelf at the Weinstein Company for almost three years now. It has been released all over the rest of the world without problems, so it isn't a content issue or music rights or some bullshit like that. No one seems to really know why it is just sitting there. Except that the Weinsteins are notorious for picking up films and just squatting on them. But after seeing this one, I can't say it is a huge loss to the movie going community.

There is nothing wrong with a slasher movie that is clever. But there is something seriously wrong with a slasher movie that the filmmakers THINK is clever but it is anything but. I can give this one credit for not trying to be one of those post SCREAM bullshit jobs where everyone quotes other movies, and tries to let the audience in on the joke pretending everyone involved is better than the genre. At least it isn't trying to do that. But that is a small favor in the lager cache of things. Slasher movies have never been the smartest genre, but now that they try to appeal to the same teen crowd that watch the kind of shit that is on teen TV, they have sunk to depths of low that scrape the bottom in ways we have never thought possible. This movie is prime example of that.

Mandy Lane in all her pouty glory. All the boys want her you know!

The movie revolves strictly around the character of Mandy Lane played by (who to me looks like a poor mans Amber HeardScarlett Johanson minus the boobs). The gimmick here is that Mandy Lane is perfect in every single way. All the boys want to fuck her so bad that they are in solidarity about it and work together to create plans to do it. All the teen girls are so in awe of her that they are all her friends and follow her everywhere she goes. But she is no HEATHERS style conceited snob. No way! She is an angelic, perfect, virgin, shot with soft filters, and slow motion, that is too good for this Earth. And that is ALL her characteristics. All we learn about her as a character is that her parents died in a car crash when she was little and she was raised by her Aunt. That's it. Her angelic beauty is supposed to fill in for her lack of any kind of character insight, which would be fine, if there was a twist in the tail that was so important later on. But anyway, because of her perfection everyone thinks she is the bees knees and do crazy things to be near her, even though she doesn't do anything much at all in response. She has a best friend, who is the class outcast. All the other boys in school beat him up and try to drown him at the local parties (you know homicidal horseplay). So in retaliation he talks to biggest dousche of them all into jumping off the roof to impress Mandy in the movie's most impressive scene. No one likes this emo kid after that though. Well except me, cause I thought it was pretty cool.

Don't get excited kids, this doesn't go where it totally should go!

So six months later all the cool kids decide to go to the Jewish kid's local farm to drink and get high and hopefully fuck the shit out of Mandy Lane. Her buddy is now the school pariah, even she is not talking to him. So he is not invited. They all go up there and three montages of all the kids smoking pot later (I am not kidding) they are off and running wild with someone killing them. Here is the dumb thing though. After two of them are killed, the film totally reveals that the killer is the best friend character (who is also such a dork, that it is really hard to believe he could over power a couple of the other guys). So any sense of mystery is out the window. More time is spent with the drunken shenanigans, the girls bitching and making fun of each other and talking about fucking. There is one boob shot but it is very brief. By the climax of the movie it is clear the filmmakers were trying to make a movie about how this teenager has become some sort of spree killer ala Charles Starkweater or something. But by approaching the first half like a BEVERLY HILLS 90210 episode mixed with a slasher movie it just doesn't work. To do a movie exploring how someone becomes a spree killer, you need to try to include some depth of character. This has NONE. Hell even UWE BOLL'S HEART OF AMERICA managed to get that right. And everyone hates that guy (actually I don't, but most everyone else does). Then they trot out the twists, not one but TWO. Each one negating everything you have seen up to the point before it. So they are not clever, in fact the twists are ANTI-CLEVER. They actually kind of make your head hurt as they go on, sort of like you ate a whole bunch of pop rocks at once and maybe a few of them got stuck in your sinus cavity or something. You can feel your brain cells just popping away...POP...POP...POP.

An example of that beautiful cinematography I was talking about.

Which is weird because this thing is beautifully shot. The cinematography is gorgeous. It was shot in Texas and they picked plenty of beautiful landscapes to use and framed it all wonderfully. Some of the shots would make beautiful still photographs. Just on a visual level the movie is well directed and always nice to look at, though the editing is really weird. There are side wipes used often, sort of like an old TV show, which are really out of place. Then when the kill scenes happen it is like Rob Zombie took over editing. The rest of the movie is edited one specific way, then the kill scenes are edited like music videos, with flash cuts, hyper fast editing, shock freeze frames etc. It is over stylization just for the sake of it and is simply just stupid.

But this is a movie that doesn't even have the guts to fulfill the sleaze that it pertains to want to dip into. For a movie that is about how all the characters want to fuck someone, it is about as chaste as it can get. The characters talk a big game, one character gets an off screen hand-job and blow job. As I mentioned earlier one blond bimbo shows her boobs all too quickly. But that is it. There is a moment where Mandy and the other blond look like they are going to make out, it is even set up as the other girl gives Mandy a pill to loosen her up. But then the filmmakers chicken out completely and have the boys interrupt them. This is that kind of movie. Where it is perfectly okay to show a girl get a shotgun rammed down her throat because she just gave a guy a blow job moments before, but wont show two girls kiss. But boy it will try to look edgy and sexy by talking a lot of crap about sex. It will even show -gasp- girls in their bras showing off their navel rings!!! Oh no! How naughty! One girl even trims her pubic hair, but we don't really see that either.

Some movies are shelved for a reason.

Reviews © Andy Copp

Day #22 When a Zombie movie doesn't have Zombies

The Halloween Horror challenge continues with one of the best horror movies in a long time. Naturally most people haven't seen it.

D. Bruce McDonald



Canadian indie filmmaker Bruce McDonald returns with a weird little outing where he does the unthinkable: he's made a zombie movie that basically has no zombies. He's taken Romero's concept that Zombie films are basically political discourse and pushed that all the way to the breaking point. A lot of horror fans will hate this movie. Many more will argue it is not a horror film at all. And those people may be right to a degree. I mean, it deals with a zombie take over, a zombie plague, and the survivors holed up in one small place trying to figure the whole mess out - it's a classic zombie movie set up. But what McDonald has done is so far out in left field that it has to be taken on its own terms. Based on a play by Tony Burgess (who also wrote the script), this is essentially a three character chamber piece that explores the use of language in society. It takes the old William Burroughs quote "language is a virus" and spins it into a whole new level.

PONTYPOOL deals with a shock jock radio host named Grant Mazzy (played by the always welcome Stephen McHattie) who's recently been shipped from the big city to the small town of Pontypool. The movie never says exactly why, but you get the feeling his rebellious nature and off the cuff, on-air rantings have gotten him in trouble in the past. His producer Sydnie Blair (Lisa Houle) takes a negative rub to him right away, but also respects his ability to engage the listeners. Their ultra cute engineer Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) is a town hero because she was in Afghanistan for several tours. They are a mismatched group trying to do a morning show together. It's clear that Laurel Ann has a little bit of a crush on Grant (or maybe she's a bit star struck) and that Sydnie is having a lot of trouble reigning him in. Then suddenly their eye in the sky reporter (who is not really in the sky at all, but roving around in a car) sees a riot going on outside a local doctor's office. A mob of around a hundred is attacking the place, with people being trampled and beaten to death. The station goes live with it and the reports from eye witnesses keep pouring in, with some witnesses making no sense, just repeating themselves over and over.

They get a transmission that breaks into their signal in French, which they translate, that tells them with no terms of endearment to speak only in French and to NOT translate the message. But, of course, it's too late. With each successive call they get, and each report from the "eye in the sky," it becomes clear that there's a zombie plague going on, that people are being attacked and torn apart and possibly eaten. The radio station becomes the hub of information as they try to stay on the air, to keep people calm and informed, and to do what they can to keep information flowing freely. Eventually, the doctor that originally was being attacked makes his way to them and explains to a degree what's going on: the virus is being carried through sound; words. specifically. Certain words, when cognitively understood, are triggering off this reaction in people. So anyone could be saying these words at this point, and anyone listening to them could be infected because of it. So now the problem is internal, because the few people inside the station could be infected too.

There are no flashes or cuts to the outside world in this movie. All of it is inferred through the use of sound and phone calls, pretty much how a play would be done since its confined to a few select sets. There are only a few zombies in the last fifteen minutes as they begin to find their way into the station or other people become infected, and actually the tension completely builds from what we do NOT see in the movie. In a lot of ways this is the antithesis of what cinema is, because it's all about what is NOT on screen at any given moment. In that way it should NOT work at all. But it does. It works extremely well, because ultimately the movie's not about zombies at all, but about language and the barriers we bring with it - the dangers that language and the misuse of it can cause. About how words that are said can be understood or misunderstood to the point that entire huge catastrophic events can occur because of it. And ultimately about how we can take hurtful, degrading and deadly meanings and with effort change them to save ourselves if we try hard enough. The movie is a metaphor on how language is life, or the locomotive that drives it, connecting all the other boxcars together.

Reviews © Andy Copp

Day #21 A movie that really makes you feel sleazy!

The Halloween Horror Challenge marches on!

D. Marc B. Ray
Classic Drive-in 50 Pack
Full Screen

Boy, oh boy, is this a sick and twisted little flick. It could actually be shown on late night local TV without any cuts, but I guarantee you will come away feeling entirely unclean after taking a look at this early seventies slasher gem. I found out about this in the indispensable book NIGHTMARE USA by Steven Thrower. Which I have said before and will say again, has become the holy book and bible for any true independent horror movie fan worth their salt. You want to know how horror films were during that golden age of 1970 to 1985? Then you need to have this book, it's as simple as that. Your education as a fan or cinema scholar has a huge hole in it, otherwise. One of the smaller chapters was devoted to the film under discussion today, and as with many of the films in the book I knew I had to see it. But wonderfully enough, it turned out I already had a copy in my possession thanks to those crazy MILL CREEK 50 pack DVD collections. Then I promptly forgot I had it until now as I was looking for something else to pop in for the continuing Halloween Horror challenge.

This is what happens when you touch Matthew's Mama!

The plot revolves around Matthew as sadistic young man who as a little boy ran over his father with a tractor, killing him. In the ensuing tragedy, his own hand got caught in the treads and was mangled, as well. He was sent to a Catholic sanatorium for a few years until he was eighteen and then released back into his mother's care. Unfortunately, this was also the day she was newly married, to a kindly local guy. So Matthew comes home, with a steel metal hook for a hand, mind you, to find his mother on the steps of the house with a new man. Matthew goes apeshit, screaming his non-approval of the new guy and he shouldn't be touching Matthew's. Seems like there's some creepy obsessing going on. It doesn't take long at all before Matthew's obsessions bubble right to a head and he takes an ax to the new husband, hacking him to death. When Mom discovers Matty boy standing over her new lover, splattered in his warm blood, she understandably freaks out. Matthew, on the other hand, is convinced he's done a GOOD thing, telling his mother he did it for THEM and now she doesn't have to have that beast's hands all over her anymore! And now they can be together without anyone else's unwanted touching! She freaks more and starts screaming that she LIKED it when the man touched her, causing Matthew to push her to the ground in a rage, where she hits her head on a rock and dies instantly. This is the first fifteen minutes folks! It only gets MORE fucked up from here!

So Matthew hits the road. He's soon picked up by a newlywed couple, but he he imagines they are the corpses of his Mom and her lover and whacks them, too. He eventually makes his way into L.A. and meets a beautiful hooker named Vera. He just walks up to her on her front porch while she is painting a picture and they bond over his very insane interpretation of it (she really should have clued in on how nutso the kid was at that point right there). They become buddies because he doesn't want to become a customer, and he keeps telling her he's rich and wants to take her away to a better life. But she's a very sensible modern woman, you see, and she keeps telling him that she doesn't let anyone tell her how to live her life. This is here the movie gets REALLY weird, folks!

Vera is a modern, liberated woman. She's a painter, lives on her own and is a hooker. Matthew is only cool with one of those things.


So Matthew finds a huge mansion and kills the occupants: an old lady, her maid, and their unusually compliant dog. Chops them all with a meat cleaver. He then takes over living there, driving their cars and planting himself as a rich dude with a rich life. But, of course, he isn't rich, so he sets upon a life of petty crime to get money! He goes about stealing purses, robbing people, etc., to get quick cash! Somehow no one figures out a pimple faced fucktard with a hook for a hand is out terrorizing the streets of L.A. Eventually he kidnaps Vera, renames her Daisey and it becomes a whole breaking of her will kind of thing as he makes her live in the mansion with him. He gives her everything she wants, if she will only bend to his will. But he never tries to have sex with her, or even strip her down. He's clear afraid of sex, which is what she figures out enough to use to her advantage. This leads to a powerhouse climax in a church to will leave you just staring at the TV.
This is how Matthew deals with liberated woman!

The acting in SCREAM BLOODY MURDER is pretty much on par with a no budget quicky of the period. Matthew's kind of like if Peter Brady from THE BRADY BUNCH went psycho and had a hook for hand. Still, he has some corker dialogue in this thing. Lines like "I've given you everything! Expensive clothes, fine food, the best art supplies! Killed people! But do you appreciate it? No! N. O. NO!" When he is freaking out about people touching up his mom and how no one should like touching or being looked at, it's all too convincing. I bet this actor couldn't get a date or get laid for years after this cesspool of a movie came out. Oddly enough, Angus Scrimm (credited as Roy Guy) shows up for a scene, looking all young and shit. As the old ladies family doctor, he barges in on Matthew and his hostage bliss and pays dearly for it. It's really strange to see Scrimm so young.

But it's the whole mommy fixation in the movie that makes it so damn grimy and filthy. There's never a direct, outright moment where it is said that Matthew and his mom were getting busy, but it is intoned heavily. From the opening moments were he kills his Dad onward, his every single action is colored with a sexual loathing and a fixation on his mother that is way more sick and neurotic than, say, PSYCHO or even MANIAC. Every single frame of this movie drips with nasty psycho sexual madness. Yet does it without a single moment of actual sex, nudity, or even profanity. There is a large amount of graphic violence, though, especially the unrelentingly brutal moment when he kills the old lady's maid, who had been so kind to him just moments before.

This movie's weird in that we spend the entire movie with a character that is pretty unlikable. I suppose there are attempts to look into his madness as we get more than a few moments where we see how he sees people as the corpses of his mother and her lover. Mostly, though, we see him being a manipulative prick, a criminal and an asshole with a mommy fixation. That never stops it from being an uncomfortable and fascinating ride, but you might need to clean up afterward.

Reviews © Andy Copp

Day #20 you've been SNUFFED OUT!

It is all beginning to blur...

SNUFF 2000 (2002)
D. Borja Crespo

This highly stylized, pop art short film was written by Spanish underground comic bad boy Miguel Angel Martin. An ultra-black comedy, it takes the worst bad taste idea, snuff films, and tries to find the lighter side of them. Or at least take the piss out of the the nasty urban legend surrounding them by pointing out that the of uber-nerd splatter gore geek that would actually seek one out would be too busy talking about how cool it was to even watch the damn thing.

The movie starts in a garish, day-glow colored room with a nearly nude pregnant woman bound in front of two digital video camera linked to a computer (which has, for some reason, a CGI bug crawling across the keyboard). The men, one in a white button up shirt, the other in a skin tight rubber S+M outfit, and both wearing gas masks that are hot purple, are making a film that clearly is going to climax in her death. The offhandedly discuss the scene at hand. The man in the button up shirt tells the other one:

"First you cut open her big belly and tear the fetus out. Then you fuck her."

To which he replies:

"I'll killer her and tear out the fetus. But I'm not going to fuck her. I wont fuck a pregnant woman. It turns me off."

The other guy reminds him that they have made movies where he has fucked all kinds of animals, kids, and even dead people, but he won't fuck a pregnant woman? But his friend stands firm saying that pregnant women just turn him off, that he can't get hard for them. The conversation goes on to making a film about fucking mothers just like "big" Ed Kemper did while the woman shivers in terror behind them, waiting to die on camera. Finally, the first guy steps up with a pair of hedge clippers like used in the movie THE BURNING and we hear him tearing into her.

We cut to a living room that's equally as pop art designed as the snuff chamber, with purple and bright hot pinks coloring everything. Two twenty-something men are sitting on a pink couch watching a snuff movie with the two previous men in it beating a different woman. One of the guys proclaims it "boring" because it has no flair or grace. His friend reminds him that it's like that because it's a snuff movie and therefore real. But the guy doesn't care, it's missing that cinematic quality that gets him moving. His friend then explains that the movie's an exact re-enactment of the murders of one Gerald Schaefer, a Florida Serial killer who was also a writer, and that the cops used his fictional writings to help convict him. The friends have a good laugh and the more obnoxious of the two asks for the video with the "pregnant women" because that one was "really good".

Outside of the insane pop art sensibility, which is clearly imitating Miguel Angel Martin's very specific artwork and style, this is about as dark of a satire as you can get: looking at perverse subject matter and murder with a jaundiced eye and judging it as pure banality. Murder and snuff are just work, and in turn, just background noise on TV that's ultimately just not interesting enough to even get up off of the couch and change the tape for.

The movie is followed up by a second short that's written, directed, and starring the same team about 12 rules to not getting caught if you are a serial killer. Several of these are easily recognized from HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, when Henry is explaining to Otis how not to get caught, but the actual list dates from around that same period of time as several fanzines in the 1980's that were riding that whole Aesthetic terrorism wave. I remember seeing it in at least three zines myself, including SEWER CUNT (only had one issue, but that one issue had enough offensive and rude content to make it all worthwhile), MURDER CAN BE FUN, and FATAL VISION (I'm going by memory on those last two, but I'm almost positive). It also appeared on the San Francisco Public Access show GUTTERVISION (which if ANYONE has tapes of DVD's of get a a hold of me, we have trading to do!). This short is well made enough, but as you can see the content is not exactly groundbreaking, or even shocking, by 2002 when this was made.

Reviews © Andy Copp

Day #19 This living dead will not make you feel like you are in hell!

So for the next excursion we took a trip with the dearly departed Bruno Mattei and his schlock slinging splatter fest...

HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD aka NIGHT OF The ZOMBIES(1980) D. Bruno Mattei aka Vincent Dawn Anchor Bay 1.85

Somehow this Italian zombie gut crunching anti-classic has sat on my shelf for seven years and I had never, ever watched it. I've known exactly what it was, known all about it, even known about it's more outrageous and funny scenes, but never gave it a spin. I remember my mom and step-dad going to the drive in when I was a very small lad to see a double feature horror bill that turned out to be this and BURIAL GROUND, which they came home and told me about. I was terrified of horror movies at that time of my life, yet I always wanted to know about them when other people saw them. I had HORRIBLE night terrors when my Step-Dad's daughter saw the trailers for MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY at the local grindhouse and came back to tell us all about the gruesome details. Who knew that years and years later I would be involved in the re-release of that movie on VHS in some distant and unsavory way? But back to HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, it was finally time to break the virgin wrapping on this one and check it out. Boy, did it live up to the legends surrounding it!

She likes to get nekkid for the natives. He is the bastard love child of Tom Savini and John Oates.

I have a huge soft spot for Italian splatter from the 80's. I can't help it. I know most of them are dumber than shit, and Mattei's work is dumber than most. But there is a flavor to them, just like Italian food, that cannot be denied. So even when they suck, they can be enjoyed and savored for the high camp, entertainment value. Not every Italian movie has to be Fellini or, hell, even Argento for that matter. Sometimes Mattei's work will suit one just fine. On a night like that, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD comes out right at the top.

THIS is how you conduct proper communication techniques with the natives.

An unapologetic DAWN OF THE DEAD rip off, right down to lifting that movie's imaginative score from GOBLIN, this starts out with some bozos working at a bio-chemical plant in New Guinea. When a rat crawls into the containment suit of one of the workers, he accidentally lets loose a green gas that turns the staff into flesh eating zombies. Before you can say BOO, the staff is out and about, hitting the countryside, eating up locals and natives alike for lunch. So a crack squad of Military thugs (who show they mean business by outright murdering a team of eco-terrorists who are only trying to get their message out that the chemical plant was poisoning the world!) are sent in to investigate. They find a reporter and her cameraman along they way that were attacked by zombies, including the sick little boy they were traveling with that ate his dad in front of them. They shoot this zombie kid in the chest several times before someone figures out the whole head shot deal. After traveling into the jungles of New Guinea, they discover that the natives are restless, so the female reporter informs them that she spent a year in the bush with the natives studying their culture, and that they should allow her to go ahead alone so she can find out what's going on. That also means that she needs to strip off her clothes in order to properly communicate with the "savages". Cut to her running in slow motion six feet in front of their jeep, painted head to toe in jungle paint, naked except for a loin cloth while the native music plays on! Her boobs bouncing away freely like a young boy in a field in the spring! As they drive, they witness the most intense and amazing display of stock footage probably ever used in a motion picture. Animals from all over the planet make an appearance from elephants, monkeys, a dingo, all kinds of crazy birds, bats, hopping creatures I wasn't sure what the hell they were, vultures, hawks, owls, you name it. And then there's the stock footage of the natives she's "interacting" with. Doing dances, rituals and a very real and disturbing funeral rite with an actual bloated, rotting corpse. Yuck. The stock footage will become a recurring character in the movie from this point out, often having more screen time than any of the actors

."Whaddya mean the paychecks are late?!"

They discover the zombie virus has whipped out the native tribes here, and is traveling through the bush country rapidly. We visit the UN to see how the ambassador for New Guinea is really, really pissed off, but no one else in the UN gives a flying rat's ass. Then we see stock footage of a flying rat, I think. They travel on, get attacked by the living dead, battled amongst themselves, and on to an abandoned mansion, where one of the soldiers puts on a green tutu and a top hat and does an impromptu dance number that gets his ass eaten. At the same house, a corpse of an old lady is filled with live kittens that jump out of her belly before she comes back to life and tries to attack the head of the crack commando squad who is apparently not a cat lover like she was. Finally, they make it to the chemical plant (to what ends, it's not explained), where the film really begins to ape DAWN OF THE DEAD's last act, but thankfully comes into it's own with a really ugly downbeat ending that is quite unexpected.

While consistently funny as all get out, this is a weird movie because it's very gory, moves at a really quick pace, has plenty of action and does a lot of brave and ballsy things, like killing kids (way before that was a fashionable thing to do in the genre). The cinematography, editing, and even most of the effects are all pretty good, especially the gore effects ( I may be a heathen for saying it, but I think the zombies and gore effects here are better than in DAWN OF THE DEAD!). By all intents, this should be a good movie. But it ISN'T! It is dumb as shit! Even in the supplemental interview, Bruno Mattei admits it! He was a weird filmmaker who seemed to be very technically proficient and solid, but couldn't help himself when it came to just making dumbass movies. I think he genuinely just LIKED this kind of stuff. But you know what? That's perfectly okay by me. I loved RATS, ZOMBIE 3, and now this one. Rest in peace, Bruno Mattei, and I hope you are using all the stock footage in heaven for a good dumb movie.

Reviews © Andy Copp

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DAY #18 There are spooks under the bed. For REALS!

We went to check out this super hyped no budget sensation as part of the Halloween Horror challenge.

D. Oren Peli


1.85 DV shot 16X9

The hot horror ticket of the season because of really clever internet based hype is for good reason being compared to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Just like that movie, this was MADE a hit because of the marketing, otherwise it would have been just another tiny little horror film that would have fallen through the cracks and no one would have given two shits about. By saying that I am not commenting on the quality of the movie in anyway. But if this movie has simply been unleashed directly to DVD, it would not have found a huge audience. Fans would have ignored it, mainstream audiences would NEVER under any circumstances give it a chance. The phenomenon going on here is strictly a hype based thing. This whole "going wide into more theaters because the FANS demanded it" thing? I'm calling bullshit in that. The studio always planned to go wide, otherwise they would have never bothered to spend the money to reshoot the ending, to make those viral video trailers of audiences "reacting" to how scary it was and putting out so much web support for the thing. The whole come and vote for it to come to your city and play thing was a ruse to make people think they played a role in getting it seen, to make them feel like they were involved in saving this "little movie that could". It is a VERY smart bit of advertising and marketing. Especially considering the movie itself cost dick to make, and probably cost next to nothing for the studio to pick up. Probably cost at least the original shooting budget (probably three times as much I would wager) to reshoot the ending, and then the whole marketing probably was a pretty penny. But all said and done, I still bet they never cracked the million dollar mark by a long shot on this movie and are raking in the dough. If the studios are smart, they'll start looking at low budget movies as an alternative way of making some quick cash in the theaters.

The problem is that the final movie here is simply not as good as all this hype would have you believe. There's a shock, huh? It's not a bad movie either. Just at the end of the day it's average at best. We're given some stand out scenes that are incredibly tense and scary, but they're undermined by mechanical storytelling and a consistent refusal to take the movie in a direction that shows us honest characters and situations. As it is the situations are scary, until you think about them on an emotional and human level, and you find yourself thinking no rational or sane human being would do these things when in this situation. Then the credibility goes flying out the window.

The story, for the few of you that don't know, is about a couple named Katie and Micah (played by actors named Katie and Micah as this whole enterprise is played off as a real event) that are experiencing a haunting in their San Diego home. So to document the experiences Micah has bought an expensive video camera and plans to shoot as much of their lives as possible in hopes to catch whatever is going on on video. The have a spirit medium over to help them investigate and we learn that this haunting has been happening to Katie since she was eight years old and has followed her from home to home all her life. But things have gotten worse since she has moved to where she is now. Micah is skeptical and seems only interested in getting something on tape that could make them famous. The medium explains to them that he thinks they do not have a haunting, but a demon in the house that potentially wants to hurt them and, furthermore, any negativity from them will only feed its anger and rage. He then says he will help get them a demonologist to help, but to sit tight until then. Micah, unfortunately, seems to get a thrill out of being a dick and proceeds to incite the incidents to happen, no matter what kind of emotional state it puts his girlfriend into. The "activities" begin to escalate from doors slamming, to sheets moving, to Katie sleepwalking and going into trances, to her being pulled out of bed and down the hall. It becomes clear things are getting worse when Micah gets a Ouija board to contact the demon, something Katie forbade and the medium said absolutely not to do. In a scene so silly that it could be in a Ted V. Mikels movie (no disrespect to Ted), the board comes to life while they're gone and writes some stuff in fire on itself. After that, the the really bad haunting begins. Oddly enough, Micah still seems unaware of how bad things really are, even though he's seen it all on the footage he's shot.

Which brings us to one of the movie's biggest problems; Micah's continued reactions. I understand his dickish behavior is supposed to be feeding the demon and provoking it, but that only works as a plot device and not as a realistic motivation. His character seems to be motivated by greed and cockiness, and never, ever seems to be taking the events as serious or realistic enough to be concerned for his girlfriend. By the midpoint of the movie, any real live-in boyfriend would have put the camera down and brought in the demonologist. They had seen enough evidence to get on with it. Concern for your loved one's well being should have taken over by then and really kicked in. But the film is so concerned with getting them back into the bedroom, asleep with the camera on them, that it constantly forsakes logic and character rationale to do so. I felt like punching the characters more than a few times, getting to the point where I seriously didn't care if Micah got killed or not. It also takes them three fourths of the movie to freakin' google the damn things happening to them online! Jesus, most people would do that shit the very next day!

I also felt like the pacing of the movie was way off as well. The first third is almost all exposition, which is fine with me. I actually enjoyed all that stuff. But when the scenes of the actual haunting begin they're drip fed to us pretty sparsely, followed by a fade out to the next morning at which the characters watch them again on the monitors for replay. So it is action, fade out, instant replay, then followed by arguing, begging, arguing, then all over again. There is no build up to the haunting scenes. They should be one upping each other, but instead they don't really. One will be relatively creepy but mild, then the next one will be the spirit crawling under the covers with her. Then the next will be just it standing next to the bed whispering. Instead of a progression upward, it is up, and then down and then up again in the scare factor. It doesn't ratchet it up and up and up like it should. Not to say those scenes are NOT effective; they are intensely effective in their own right. Each of those scenes in the bedroom are very creepy and downright unsettling. They are playing on our primal fears of being alone in the dark, being helpless while we sleep, and the fear of something malevolent after we die, but they simply need to be better structured.

The ending just blows it, though. As I stated before, the ending was reshot for the new theatrical release - actually at the behest of Steven Spielberg himself, who said the movie needed more punch in the tail. The original ending was more subtle and creepy, and in a way more mean and depressing. This is just a CARRIE or THE GRUDGE style shock ending that is ultimately kinda meaningless, but leaves audiences walking out talking about how scared they were. In fact, it has most people out not remembering anything that happened in the preceding 90 minutes, but just that something jumped into the camera in the last ten seconds making them jump ten miles high.

I'm sounding really hard on this because I had high hopes for it, I think. There is a great movie in the core of this. The lead actress is very good (her huge breasts and very shapely behind surely didn't hurt matters any) and the lead dude is alright given his weak material. But the let down is the script that keeps going back to whorey cliches, instead of sticking to the stuff that is working at the heart of the movie. But then again, the movie that I envision in my head around this same premise would NOT be the huge hit this one is. In fact, it would be the move that no one would ever see, that would go direct to DVD and get ignored by fans, and the mainstream media would never, ever hear of at all. Because something that strives to be more than this is not marketable to the masses the way this was. And that is the whole truth of the matter.

Original Trailer from 2006

The BS trailer that suckered America in...

And here is one of the original endings, before the studio chimes in...

And another ending too..

Reviews © Andy Copp

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day #17, that Gila Monster will have his moment in the sun

On Saturday night I was finally back in town and decided to take in some classic drive in swill for the Halloween Horror Challenge.

D. Ray Kellog

Public Domain

Full Frame

This classic 50's monster mash is such a delight that I've totally fallen in love with it. For years I have seen clips of it on TV specials, horror hosts shows, compilation tapes, and Sci-fi, horror history documentaries, but never had gotten around to seeing the actual movie. It's the quintessential 50's drive in horror fare, with EVERYTHING a movie from that era needs to be definitive: dancing teenagers, fast cars, hillbillies and rednecks, a lovable town drunk, a town sheriff who is looking out for the kids, AND a teen hero who's a grease-monkey, father figure to his semi delinquent friends, and a wanna-be rock singer! He also takes care of his widowed mom and handicapped sister who can't walk due to her malformed legs. So he's just a swell guy all around, and even the big city disc jockey takes a shine to him after he saves the man's ass when he catches him drunk driving one afternoon. Instead of turning him into the police, our hero tows him into the shop to fix the fender bender he just had and let the fat bastard dry out. In fact, he's so squeaky clean/awesome that when he swipes the tires off a crime scene car the sheriff just looks the other way!

Frenchie does NOT seem to be enjoying chase's banjo ditty. in fact looks like a projectile vomit is on the way at any minute.

Then there is the Gila Monster itself. One of the greatest monster creations of all time. Whomever got the bright idea of just getting a regular Gila monster/lizard and plopping it down in miniature sets and making a movie around it was a freakin' genius. Seriously. I mean i can't account for how this movie played in 1959 and if audiences thought that shit looked realistic (to be fair the miniatures are pretty nice) but it's classic hilarity now. But even more than that, the Gila Monster is so damn cute, you can't hate him. The way he lurks around in the bushes watching the action from just off screen, sitting there blinking his lizard eye, just wanting to be loved. You feel for the big guy.

Just chilling behind some bushes, listening to Chase and the Sheriff chew the fat.

And he's smart, too. He knows when to knock a car full of obnoxious humping teens down a cliff and eat their asses, and when to hang back and just listen to the sheriff and his buddy talk about the crime scene at hand. It's not until the horrible singing at the barn party at the end that he freaks out and decides it is time to just eat the whole damn town.

Town Drunk, doing what he does best. getting ready to go for an evening drive.

That brings us to the highlight of the movie. No, not the awesome Gila Monster attack on the barn party, though that is pretty great. Nope, it's the middle of the movie out of nowhere full on song number from lead actor Don Sullivan called "Laugh Little Children," or as it has become known to fans, "The Mushroom Song". It happens right after the main character Chase has come home to find his girlfriend Frenchie has given his crippled little sister leg braces to finally walk. Now up until this point we nave never seen, nor heard mention of his little sister, her plight or her need for leg braces. In fact, we never knew she existed until now. But he walks in and this little girl gets up, tries to walk toward him, but falls down. She gets up again and walks a few steps and starts to fall again, but heroic Chase catches her. She gets all teary eyed over the fact that she practiced all day so she could have it together enough to impress him when he got home. We're trying to figure out if this is his illegitimate kid, or what? He whips out a handy banjo and starts singing a little tune to her about how a little "mushroom" tried to grow tall but couldn't and kids laughed at it. So the Lord said "laugh little children laugh". When he's finished, the girl, apparently his sister, says "laughing is important, isn't it?" to which he replies "I've never felt more like laughing than I do right now!"

"Alright! Five HUNDRED dollars right here and now and I will make sure Chase NEVER sings again!"

Yeah, that has got to make her feel a shitload better! And no, she doesn't manage to run away on her new leg braces when the Gila Monster comes after her, though she tries. I got the feeling the director hated this little girl. Especially after her close-up revealed she has a nasty mustache.

I'm not even gonna talk about the little man crush the sheriff seems to have on the lead character, or how the lead character practically sexually assaults a woman in a hallway that we discover in the next scene is his MOTHER! Sheesh!

"Well sheriff I can only get my arm about THIS FAR up there. can you deal with that?"

But I will talk about how the movie's explanation for the Gila Monster's size is simply that in Russia a baby was born at 30 pounds so giantism is a real thing. Maybe lots of minerals had been being dumped in the river from the old coal mine and made the Gila Monster get real big, because it happened to a baby in Russia, so it must be possible!

Awesome. That is all I have to say. Oh yeah in June it was the 50th anniversary of this classic!

And here to amuse you, or hurt your head, "The Mushroom Song"

Reviews © Andy Copp

Day #16, when love goes sour and blood makes noise

I was still in Strongsville, Ohio at the ACM conference on Friday Night, so I watched this low budget gem from Texas. In between news reports on Balloon Boy and his exploits. Turns out his dad was doing it to warn us about the reptilians from the middle Earth! Rock on Balloon family!

D. John Keeyes
Shock -O-Rama/ Pop Cinema

HD 16X9

John Keeyes made a nice splash in the horror community with his first feature film AMERICAN NIGHTMARE that starred indie queen DEBBIE ROCHON. They were supposed to work together again from a stor
y she created on this film, but due to an on-set accident she suffered on a different film that seriously injured her hand, she had to step away from acting for a short while, rendering her unable to do this film as well. No doubt this was a great disappointment, considering they had worked so well together previously and she had conceived the project herself. What ends up counting in that situation is the final product, and SUBURBAN NIGHTMARE is actually a winner.

The story deals with a couple whose marriage is completely falling falling apart. Charles (Trent Haaga who wrote the recent indie hit DEADGIRL and has acted in tons of indie horror projects) and Deborah (Brandy Little, who replaced Debbie Rochon) have been together for a number of years - since they were teens in fact - but things are coming apart at the seams. She has severe anger issues and is a recovering alcoholic, but only after a car crash that almost killed their seven year old daughter. He's a condescending ass who has a habit of being passive-aggressive, belittling and cold. She is bi-sexual and clearly leaning more towards being an outright lesbian. He has a wondering eye towards the ladies (though, to be fair, is not a cheater). The only thing they still seem to share in common, and the big thing that bonded them in the first place, is that they are sadistic serial killers.

Don't piss off Deborah, she is a woman that has serious anger issues.

We meet them at this juncture of their lives at the crossroads, heading down the path to destruction. The movie starts with the penultimate argument that couples have where things are clearly not going to get any better. That simple, quiet argument that seems like it's about nothing, but is about everything. In this situation, the argument is about how she went to the store to get groceries. took too long to get back, and forgot the whole reason she went was because they were having guests over for dinner. Of course, these guests were going to end up dead before the night is through, but that's beside the point, the argument is just a catalyst. Then while Deborah is checking on their daughter who is sick and sleeping, Charles kills the couple without her, setting off her anger and jealously. It all just builds from there.

Did I mention the Cassavette's influence? Yeah? that whole 70's indie vibe thing?

Basically the first half of the movie is a Cassavette's style relationship drama that happens to be about killers. There's no gore in the first half of the movie.since the killings are off screen as the movie is focused on the dynamic between the characters. It really doesn't have to be about them being killers at all. The only real element in the first half about that is that Deborah is keeping a hostage in the basement that she abuses when her rage b
uilds up. This woman is her bottom in a twisted side relationship. There is mention of another hostage, but we are told that Charles cooked her and they all ate her during dinner.

What the movie really becomes about is how relationships turn sour. How people can become bored, distracted and envious of each other to the point that it can destroy them and their once very strong bonds they had. We see these two in flashbacks and see how they are very much in love and care about each other, but as the movie goes along we see how details are moved into the light that affect their future. A scene on her birthday, for instance, where they discuss the day and her presents. She goes on about how wonderful everything was, ho
w the presents were great and meant a lot, but how Charles didn't give her the one thing she asked for, the one piece of jewelry that would have said he loved her specifically. And how it wasn't the jewelry that mattered but the fact that he clearly wasn't listening to her. She says she's a selfish bitch for even saying it means so much for her. He allows her to get upset and angry, then opens a drawer and pulls out a small box with a locket in it, engraved to her, asking if this necklace she was talking about? She begins to cry and say she was indeed being a selfish bitch, and he comforts her and says she wasn't, and they embrace and say they love each other. It's a complex scene that shows her emotional fragility, a healthy dose of self-loathing and insecurity, and that she is indeed a little bit selfish. But, on the other hand, it shows that Charles is more than a bit manipulative, a little sadistic and very controlling. On the surface it's a sweet and romantic scene, but it carries the seeds of the damage that are to come for them. Later we see a flashback when she asks Charles if they can bring a woman into their bed because she is curious about having sex with women. She uses the old male ego bugaboo to lure him into agreeing to it, but then quickly makes several rules to the situation that make the whole thing advantageous to pretty much only her. She makes him promise that he will not fuck the other woman, and to promise that he will not find the other woman more attractive than her. When she rolls back over in bed the look on her face is one of worry and insecurity again, betraying that there is a lot more on her mind that simply sex. But Charles actually doesn't jump right away at the idea of a threesome, he actually seems to be a little taken aback by it and only agrees when reassured it's what she wants to do, an interesting turnabout to the standard expectation of what a man would do in that situation.

When your girlfriend mentions a threesome, make sure this is not what she has in mind.

So the first half is pretty much all about character/relationship dynamic. There are the occasional horror situation in there, but for the most part this is what it is, and it works really well. But as the situation progresses it becomes more of a WAR OF THE ROSES style game of oneupmanship with serious horror overtones as the relationship disintegrates and they begin to actually try to at first physically hurt one another, and then to try to kill each other. This for me is when the movie jumps the rails a bit, since the strength of the movie had been in the really well developed script and characters up until that point. But once it starts becoming more of a conventional horror movie, it inevitably becomes about plot mechanics to get things moving. A smart movie moves down a few notches to try to deliver the expected genre goods, if you will. As they begin to battle each other situations are set up, just to make situations later possible or make sense. For example, in Deborah's rush to kill Charles the first time, she tapes kitchen knives under the table, even though she is attempting to poison him. When comes home he manages to get her tied up on the table, but leaves enough slack in the ropes that she can reach the knives. The whole thing becomes about convenience - the knives are there so she can get them, not for any other reason. Her ropes are loose, so she can get to the knives, not because his character would do that crappy of a job tying her, because we pretty much have established he is not that sloppy about his work. These kind of details become difficult to overlook.

There are also a few too many unnecessary red herrings in the mix too. (SPOILER AHEAD) At one point the daughter tells Deborah that Charles has been touching her and he hurt her while doing it, thus setting Deborah into a rage that gets her moving enough to confront him, thus propelling the movie into the last part of the second act. But then just as they get into the action, this detail is forgotten as they discuss his perhaps cheating on her and the whole child molesting thing is forgotten until much later, when it's revealed to have never happened. This whole scenario is designed to momentarily make you hate Charles, but is so promptly forgotten that is doesn't matte and ultimately there is not purpose for it at all. The movie would have been better served to have either not had it in there , or to went full ahead and had him done it and dealt with the fall out. In the final act there is a reveal about the daughter that brings some things full circle, though it is not a clearly handled as it should be (though to be fair it is pretty obvious from early on). Then it gets back into the business of them trying to kill each other before a really very moving and depressing climax.

Who is telling the truth? Daddy or his little angel?

What hangs the movie together is the impressive and strong performances of the two leads. This is the kind of chamber piece movie that could work just as well as a play or stage performance. The whole thing is up to the leads to carry off, and if they aren't up to the job than it's sunk. Ive liked Trent Haaga since he debuted in Troma's TERROR FIRMER but he has pretty much done only comedy roles. It's really good to see him bite off something more meaty and serious here and really rock it. His screen writing shows someone very thoughtful, so it's great to see him deliver a performance in that same realm. Brandy Little stepped into a hard situation by replacing Debbie Rochon, who is much adored by her fans and critics alike. So Little was kind of in a position to fail in a lot of ways. Instead she ends up doing the opposite by taking the bull by the horns and turning in an incredible performance that's pretty amazing. Outside of a couple of places where it becomes clear that director Keeyes obviously let her ad lib too much (she relentlessly says the word "fuck" when at a loss for something else to say. A common ad lib mistake that I've allowed to happen on my own sets), she is otherwise a powerhouse. Looking at her IMDB page, I am disappointed to see she hasn't done anything in two years. She is phenomenal. Her and Haaga work really well together, too. Their scene where he has a gun on her, where she has hit the breaking point saying she doesn't love him anymore and he's telling her he'll kill her if she leaves, is amazing. There are huge budgeted movies that win awards that are no where nearly as well acted as this scene.

Ultimately as a critic it isn't fair to criticize a movie on what's not on screen as opposed to what is. But while watching SUBURBAN NIGHTMARE, I couldn't help but to think to myself that in a lot of ways this would have been just as good, if not even better, not being a horror film at all. Just to have let it play out as a twisted domestic drama ala something like John McNaughten's NORMAL LIFE or some Fassbinder movie, where we see them disintegrate until the inevitable end. It could have included the more twisted elements, including the threesome stuff and even the unwilling sex slaves, and just stayed away from the serial killing angle. Then I think been a better film, because it would have not gotten side tracked in genre plot mechanics. But even as it stands, the film is an impressive piece of work, with some super well done direction, great writing, and two lead knock out performances to be reckoned with.

I am not crazy about this trailer as it sells it as more of a sexy black comedy, which it really isn't. There are touches of both, but the movie is darker and weirder than this makes it look.

Reviews © Andy Copp

Day #15, It saturates the screen with TERROR!

Day #15 I spent in the Hotel in Strongville, Ohio for the ACM conference for my work. Ironically enough it is the exact same hotel that the Cinema Wasteland convention was held at two weeks earlier that I could not afford to attend for the first time in over five years! talk about irony hitting you in the balls. But I was not about to let my Halloween Horror Challenge slip past, so I took my buddy Bryan's portable DVD player with me and watched a couple of movies while I was there. First off was this Sergio Martino giallo classic.

TORSO (1971)


Incredibly stylish Giallo thriller that was clearly inspired by the world wide smash of Dario Argento's BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE just a little over a year previous. But where Argento's movie is very mechanical in its presentation (though artful in it's beauty) Martino sets out from the get go to infuse his film with as much sex and titillation as humanly possible. When the opening credits are running over shots of two teen lesbians lovingly groping each other as the shots shift in and out of focus, there is very little question about were the director's intentions lie. In the next ten minutes the viewer is blessed with more nipples through silk shirts, hookers doffing their tops, and bursting cleavage than most censorship boards would allow. By the time the first kill scene happens to a teen couple getting busy in the back of their car (eagle eyed viewers will notice this scene more or less recreated in Eli Roth's quite funny THANKSGIVING faux trailer in GRINDHOUSE) we've almost forgotten we are watching a thriller at all thanks to all the perfectly scooped boobs.Then an expertly timed and shot slash sequence jumps out and really grabs our senses, banging them into place. Soon this is followed by another young lady named Clair being stalked and killed after she breaks up with an older man she was having an affair with.

This is Clair. Italy eventually enacted laws about women being this hot.

In a fit of reckless depression, she leaves with the local dope heads a
nd almost ends up the centerpiece of their orgy, only to find herself wandering stoned into the swamp as she is stalked by a masked killer who eventually strangles and dismembers her. He takes a loving long time to of course admire her nude mud and blood flecked breasts, All the while having flashbacks to his youth and some weird incident involving poking the eyes out of a doll. The remaining four girls are naturally scared, so they head up to one of their uncle's cabins to get away. Add to that the local town obsessive-compulsive is stalking one of them and she wants away from him too. Unfortunately, the town where the cabin is located is not unlike the town in DELIVERANCE: full of uneducated, sub-level humans who are all more than likely inbred on purpose, The towns folk talk endlessly about fucking the four girls, making us fear a gang rape might be coming any minute, Thankfully that is avoided, because the actual killer arrives and does some cleaning up of his own at the villa. Seems he doesn't like lesbians much at all, Which leads to the reveal of the killer that is not all that shocking, but still reasonably suspenseful. We also get to see the rest of that flashback that has a freaking hilarious shot of a little kid falling off a cliff.

Reaching for dolls in exchange to see down a girl's panties always leads to trouble. Kids, make note of this.

Okay, it's not supposed to be funny, but there's something seriously wrong with me. Hey, it's clearly a dummy that looks like a little kid with child like screams dubbed over it. It's a cheesy moment in an otherwise impeccably made film.

One of Giallo's most memorable killers.

The movie starts off really well with those two very effective back to back stalk and slash scenes that are more or less iconic. The woods/swamp scene is especially effective and gut churning stuff. Once we are up to the summer villa, things slow down considerably with some of the tighter writing from earlier becoming lax before becoming taut again with the final scenes with the killer, using the directorial flare that Martino has built from his years of making action oriented movies.

Suzy Kendall wonder's what she had for dinner that smells like that.

The cinematography in TORSO is stunning. Maybe not as acrobatic or eye assaulting as we have come to expect in some of the other Italian thrillers from the period, but aesthetically is very beautiful. With tight composition, and always creatively placed and framed. Not to mention incredible camera moves and fantastic editing. There is a lot of shifting focus and impressive depth of field work that reveals and hides details within a given shot.

Male models punch it up big time under the supervision of maestro Sergio Martino!

TORSO has a good reputation, but is not really mentioned in the same breath as some of Argento's or Fulci's work, which to me is a shame. In fact it is much, much better than the later era work of either of those great talents. It wipes the floor of anything Argento has produced since THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and most of Fulci's movies from the 90's. TORSO is a movie that deserves a much better place on the shelves of horror fans in my estimation.

Reviews © Andy Copp