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...:::Repeat Offenders:::...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

February 22nd, 2010 · 23 Comments

Horror fans often times disagree about what they find frightening. I’d like to ask though, is there anyone out there who is not mortified by TOBE HOOPER’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? I mean, I know I’m old school so you have to fill me in kids, is it possible to watch that movie and not be freaked? To me it’s pretty much the cinematic definition of the word horror. I can understand someone not enjoying it, it can be a shrieky headache, and I can understand someone not finding it absolutely convincing or perhaps a tad too comical, but it is unquestionably horrifying, no? Come on, a lady is shoved on to a meat hook for Christ’s sake.

Cannibals, chainsaws, rotting corpses, a lampshade made out of human skin… what’s not to be disturbed by? Still, even with all of those obvious sources of terror flopping around there is something within the film that fills me with an even more intense feeling of dread. I can handle the physical pain and humiliation on display. It’s the uncanny elements that unbalance me; the ominous horoscopes, the solar flares, the feeling that the universe is collapsing in on our travelers. Again, I am old school. What’s it like to see this movie when your childhood did not take place in the seventies? Are such people free from the full intensity of CHAINSAW‘s morbid grip?

The thing that scares the hell out of me in T.C.M. is not the ogre known as Leatherface but the fact that it is a journey backwards to a place that is now dead. Sally Hardesty (MARILYN BURNS) and her wheelchair bound brother Franklin (PAUL A. PARTAIN) are essentially guiding their friends on a tour of their lost, corroded youth. Before they are ever aware of the vicious madness of Leatherface and company, they explore the once livable now dilapidated home of their grandparents. Sally laughs off the fact that she once slept in the crumbling shell but from where the pouty Franklin sits, his chair unable to course the terrain, her squeals of delight sound like (and foreshadow) squeals of anguish. It’s almost as if they have stumbled into some kind of Langolier-chewed history that’s disintegrating beneath them. They truly can’t go home again…there are spiders living there now.

Which brings me to the moment that inexplicably sticks out for me in the film. Sally and Franklin’s pal Kirk (WILLIAM VAIL) wanders ahead of the group and enters a room. In an upper corner near the ceiling, he finds a nest of seething and scattering daddy long leg spiders. Trust me here, I’m not one to be squeamish about spiders (they’re adorable), but there’s something about this bit that gets under my skin. It’s almost like an animated scribble, a growing negative space or a thousand cracks forming and the scratching, clattery sound applied over top of the visual is so other worldly sinister and so wildly exaggerated that it chills me to the bone. I’m sure that in the real world a psycho with a chainsaw is more upsetting than a nest of spiders, but in the real world a nest of spiders is polite enough not to act like a LOVECRAFTian tear in the universe.

Maybe I see too much in that mass of spiders or maybe it’s the potential absence of anything being there at all that riles me. Do they simply remind me of the daddy long legs I used to encounter on my back porch when I was little (and by encounter I mean rip the legs off of)? Leatherface is ultimately human and no matter what his efforts he’ll end up eventually just like his grandfather, barely able to lift a hammer. I guess to me those spiders say that time itself is the bigger monster carving through Texas and that it’s a monster that no one can outrun.

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Tags: General Horror · Repeat Offenders

Night of the Creeps (Director’s Cut DVD)

January 18th, 2010 · 4 Comments

In our recent LOOK BACK ON 2009 I mentioned some DVD releases that I was particularly happy about. Ever since I have been kicking myself (like ALICE, it’s my favorite sport) because I neglected to mention a couple of other really great titles. There’s MESSIAH OF EVIL (thanks to Reader Taylor for reminding me of that one) PHANTASM 2 (Phinally!), and the great THE GATE (whose remarkable effects look even more remarkable on DVD) and most importantly… NIGHT OF THE CREEPS!

How could I forget N.O.T.C.? Well, I didn’t really forget it, I just hadn’t bought it yet due to moths in wallet syndrome but that sad glitch has been fixed. Unfortunately, yet another bricks and mortar video store in our area is closing but not unfortunately, I was able to vulture a half price copy of CREEPS right off its corpse! So now it’s mine, all mine and I couldn’t be happier because it’s a super awesome jam packed director’s cut DVD.

We already reviewed CREEPS way back WHEN so I won’t go into the plot, suffice to say it involves aliens, zombies, sorority girls and TOM ATKINS. That’s really all ya’ need to know and if you haven’t seen it yet, you simply have to, particularly if you dig eighties horror. CREEPS is like RETURN OF THE LIVING BREAKFAST CLUB, you just can’t find a better time capsule.

So I’m not crazy about the cover art or the comic book menu design, but the extras shine like a KOJAK dome polished with Crisco. Two, count ’em two commentaries; one with director FRED DEKKER (who also helmed the lovable MONSTER SQUAD) and one with the film’s cast which includes JASON LIVELY of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION and the cutest girl who ever lived JILL WHITLOW. There’s a superior alternate ending, a tasty trailer and a gratifying plethora of mini docs that go into great detail about the making of this cult classic.

The high point is seeing the core cast reunited, there’s obviously real affection on display and it’s always an honor to hear any word ATKINS utters. I can’t fathom how N.O.T.C. avoided becoming a hit upon release. From what we learn from director DEKKER it sounds like the studio did a crappy job of supporting and distributing the film (times sure have changed, haven’t they?) Oh well, as I told my golfing buddy TIGER WOODS, “It’s better too be loved deeply by a few than cheaply by a slew.” The important thing is, this fun, effervescent, endlessly quotable gem is finally getting the presentation it deserves and passionate new fans are an inevitability.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders · Trauma Au Courant

Piranha (1978)

January 11th, 2010 · 9 Comments

On the surface, 1978’s PIRANHA may look like a throw away JAWS rip off but thanks to the talents involved, it’s a B-movie masterstroke that lovingly recalls the monster movie heyday of the fifties. I have fond memories of PIRANHA’s television premiere and the spirited frenzy of conversation it spawned at the elementary school bus stop the next day. With a theatrical remake around the corner (a cable version was made in 1995) directed by HIGH TENSION’s ALEXANDRE AJA and presented in 3-D, I think it’s high time we take a look back and examine just what made this ROGER CORMAN produced classic so special…

JOE DANTE

In 1978, director JOE DANTE was in peak form and poised to deliver a string of hits including THE HOWLING, GREMLINS and undoubtedly the most imaginative segment of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. His collage of cartoon humor, twisted gore and blatant self-awareness are commonplace today, but only because DANTE paved the way.

JOHN SAYLES

He would later move on to become Oscar bait (LONE STAR, PASSION FISH) but thank God he spent some time in the trenches and gifted B-movie fans the likes of ALLIGATOR, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and his two collaborations with DANTE, THE HOWLING and PIRANHA.

PINO DONAGGIO

Can you ask for a better composer then the guy who did CARRIE? (Not to mention DRESSED TO KILL, DON’T LOOK NOW and TOURIST TRAP among countless others.) I know I can’t.

LOVABLE HEROES

A drunk (BRADFORD DILLMAN of BUG and THE MEPHISTO WALTZ) and a snoopy reporter (HEATHER MENZIES from SSSSSSS), who let’s face it, cause the entire piranha problem themselves by foolishly emptying a pool at a research facility. Extra props for the quickest “How do you do? Let’s screw!” this side of JOHN CARPENTER’s THE FOG.

INDELIBLE SCENES

Years of psychotherapy are predicted for this kid who watches helplessly as his dad becomes fish food and what about that old guy whose feet get eaten off?

KINDERTRAUMA IN ACTION

That drunk’s kid is rightfully hydrophobic but that doesn’t stop her from jumping on an inflatable raft and saving her favorite camp counselor (frequent DANTE player BELINDA BALASKI.) Way to overcome your fears Suzie!

KEVIN McCARTHY

Here’s a tip, if KEVIN McCARTHY (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ‘56) warns you about something, no matter how outlandish it sounds, BELIEVE HIM.

BARBARA STEELE

I’ll let this legend’s eyes do the talking.

PAUL BARTEL

I know he’s supposed to be a jerk in this but who can hate the one and only PAUL BARTEL?

DICK MILLER

What JOE DANTE movie would be complete without this guy?

THAT WEIRD SOUND THE PIRANHA MAKE

Forget the JAWS theme, I’m all about the crazy whirly whirl sound that tells you that you are currently being chomped on by a school of killer PIRANHA!

LATE SEVENTIES FASHION

Really? People walked around like this?

AND FINALLY THIS GUY…

So many questions: Who is he? What does he know? When does he get his own movie? Where can I buy one? Can I feed him after midnight?

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Tags: Repeat Offenders

The Blair Witch Vs. Paranormal Activity

October 29th, 2009 · 14 Comments

Did I mention that I wasn’t crazy about that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie?( I’m glad it stuck it to the SAW franchise though.) To tell ya’ the truth I guess there is a lot of popular stuff that I just don’t get. I hate cars, have never owned a cell phone and I’m truly appalled by pizza delivery places offering any kind of dessert.

Some people have told me that if I saw PARANORMAL with a non-sucky crowd before the hype I’d feel differently, maybe they are right but I am unconvinced. One particular piece of PARANORMAL propaganda that ended up galling me is the claim that it is superior to the film on whose shoulders it stands on, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Now I know not everybody digs B.W.P., I can name several people off hand whose opinion I value more than my own who find it intolerable, yet for me it really does do the trick.

In fact, I watched it again the other night (obviously well aware that it is not a true story at this point) and I still gotta say it gives me some real creeps. It certainly works for me better than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY did. I guess BLAIR just hits me where I live and rakes up my own personal bugaboos where P.A. does not. Anyway, I thought I’d try to share with you just what about it I think makes it a scarier and more effective movie (at least for me)…

ATMOSPHERE
For some people PARANORMAL is particularly frightening because it takes place at home in a bedroom where you are supposed to be able to feel safe. I get that, but ultimately looking at a bed just makes me feel like taking a cat nap. I defy any demon to try to wake me when I’m truly exhausted and welcome them to join me in bed if they are so inclined. On the other hand, woods, especially barren woods with trees that look like skeleton hands reaching out of the ground, scare the crap out of me. From Little Red Riding Hood to THE EVIL DEAD, woods are a common backdrop for tales of terror because they hit on something primal within us all. Think of it this way, the characters in B.W.P. were trying to GET OUT of the woods so that they could go home and GO TO bed, that’s gotta tell ya’ something.

OLD LADIES
Whether it be the scary faced locals or unseen witches, old ladies are built to unnerve. I know the GOLDEN GIRLS seem nice but just imagine them suddenly attacking you…it’s enough to make you faint on the spot. Everyone from Hansel and Gretel to that poor loan officer (ALISON LOHMAN) in DRAG ME TO HELL understands this. I’m sorry PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but demons tend to have cool horns, awesome pointy tales, and sexy goatees. On the other hand old ladies smell like mothballs and chew Mary Jane Candy… you’re trumped again!

PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT
I know HEATHER DONAHUE (who by the way, ruled in the miniseries TAKEN) can be kind of grating and sometimes comes off like a disgruntled Urban Outfitters manager, but she admits her mistakes, never courts trouble and is an aspiring filmmaker rather than an aspiring bead stringer. JOSHUA LEONARD and MICHAEL C.WILLIAMS are guys you wouldn’t mind sharing a beer with; the only thing I would share with MICAH SLOAT is a live hand grenade.

MYTHOLOGY
Both films saved a lot of paper by forcing their cast to ad lib without scripted dialogue, but you can’t accuse the makers of B.W.P. of slacking creatively. Even if one felt slighted by the content of the film itself you have got to hand it to whoever came up with the spooky legend of the BLAIR WITCH; it’s far too elaborate to go into detail here, but if anyone knows a more effective campfire story I’d love to hear it.

GETTING LOST SUCKS
As a person with literally zero sense of direction who as an adult has been summoned by intercom to meet up with my lost companions at the entrance of a Target department store, I feel for the trio walking in circles in BLAIR WITCH. Acting wise their frustration and exhaustion reads as authentic to me whereas our PARANORMAL pals just come off as mostly petulant and perturbed. The BLAIR kids make some dumb moves but their efforts are evident, the P.A. couple overlooks obvious solutions simply because they are conveniently told that any attempts to escape would be fruitless.

YIKES!
Some complain that nothing ever happens in B.W.P. but I beg to differ, there are several scenes that chill me to the bone even during a repeat viewing. The use of sound and darkness is pretty intense if you ask me and I am always aware of myself straining to hear and see more. Giggling children? Was that a cackle? Is that Josh crying out in pain? Is somebody just fucking with them? How about that damn dilapidated house at the end? That place just reeks of evil. Maybe those hand prints are a little over the top but I would not spend a second in that dwelling especially at night no matter how lost I was. At this point the film has earned its contagious hysteria as far as I’m concerned. Maybe STEVEN SPIELBERG might have preferred a CGI witchie-poo to fly toward the camera at the end, but I think the sight of Mike standing in the corner staring at the wall is simple unshakable perfection.

THE REALITY IS
We all have our personal fears based on our nature and experiences. Would I think old ladies were so scary if that crone hadn’t harangued me at summer camp? Would I think being lost was frightening if I had not experienced the same feelings myself? Is Micah’s macho arrogance and mundane living space just too alien for me to relate too? Ultimately I can’t blame my disappointment in P.A. on the hype because B.W.P. had just as much or more and I loved every minute of it. Both films deserve laurels for relying on their audience’s imagination for scares but for me BLAIR WITCH illustrates the idea that sometimes less is more and P.A. reminds me that sometimes it really is just less…

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Tags: Kinder-Tantrums · Repeat Offenders · Trauma Au Courant

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (A Holiday Classic!)

October 5th, 2009 · 13 Comments

In 1982 audiences across the globe cried like big babies because they didn’t get their Michael Myers rattle in HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH. Talk about pearls before swine, a critical and commercial failure, H3, or as I like to call it “The non-stop genius show” was considered the redheaded step child, black sheep, blighted pimple of the HALLOWEEN franchise for years. When H3 walked down the streets of town, spinsters called it a floozy and spit on its shoes. Thankfully one day everyone everywhere decided to stop smoking crack and woke up to the obvious slice of perfection before them and declared HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH the greatest robot-infested, killer mask thriller that involves a stolen rock from Stonehenge that TOM ATKINS has ever starred in and an unmitigated holiday classic for all eternity. Nice job catching up dum-dums!

HALLOWEEN 3 knows how great it is, but it’s not stuck up like some other sequels (get over yourselves TROLL 2 and LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE!) The reason it works as well as it does may be because it is respectful enough to honor many of the holiday classics that came before it, particularly the untouchable RANKIN AND BASS cannon. Hear me now and believe me never, I’ve compiled the evidence and I almost know what I’m talking about. Below are some instances of suspicious overlapping that will make even the most credulous among you go hmmm, like you’re at a C+C MUSIC FACTORY concert…

EVIL OLD BASTARDS!
Be it Conal Cochran or Burgermeister Meisterburger, one thing’s for sure, old rich white dudes with nothing but time on their hands want to rain on your parade. These guys hate holidays of all kinds because they promote joy and laziness amongst the masses.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN!
Our world’s innocent children are always the targets in these nefarious schemes! I’m not sure what is worse, taking a child’s toy away from them or making their head explode into a seething mass of snakes and vermin by way of vague witchery that incorporates Halloween masks, television signals and stone shavings from Stonehenge, but both sound like they would be about as appealing to a kid as a McDonald’s Salad Shaker.

CAPITALSM: A LOVE STORY
Putting aside children’s general unhappiness and/or mass annihilation, just think of what the absence of holidays would do to our struggling economy! Granted if Cochran’s plan were to come to pass, insecticides and snake trap sales would go through the roof, but only at the expense of the bankruptcy of Ferra Pan.

TOWNSPEOPLE ARE PARANOID AND NOSY!
In some cases they are fearful of strangers wearing bright red outfits and in other cases they are rightfully curious about what’s going on in that motel room between that old guy and that young chippy that could be his daughter.

NEVER TOO BUSY FOR HITTIN’ BOOTS
Everyone with awe inspiring facial hair knows that when the going gets tough, the tough get busy and by busy I mean, (insert gross sexual euphemism of your choice here) wink-wink, nudge-nudge or as the audience on FAMILY MATTERS says “Woooooooooo!”

CLOCKWORK MINIONS!
With the possible exceptions of Hitler and RACHAEL RAY, most obvious embodiments of evil have a hard time finding gullible yes men to do their bidding. Enter robots; robots do what you tell them to do and you never have to thank them or worry about unionization.

THE HERO IS CAPTURED!
Well, at least one of these guys gets to watch the original HALLOWEEN during entrapment.

EVIL HEADGEAR
A talking Easter bonnet or a booby-trapped Halloween mask; who’s to say which is more foul and diabolical?

BRAIN NUMBING TUNES!
What better way to get an audience to remember you than cramming a torturously repetitive song into their heads?

STILL NOT CONVINCED?
Neither am I, so here’s a shot of Mrs. Claus with her face blasted by a laser beam and a bug crawling out of her mouth!

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Tags: Halloween · Repeat Offenders · Tykes in Trouble

Friday the 13th Part VII :: The New Blood (Deluxe Edition)

September 28th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Like most rational people, I own the box set of the first eight FRIDAY THE 13TH films. When they started releasing “Deluxe Editions” of each of those same films I wished them all the luck in the world and held on tight to my wallet. I’m not so FRIDAY-fanatical that I’d shell out more green during a recession just for a couple dopey extra special features and some fancy schmancy 3-D packaging. I was steadfastly committed to my refusenik position, but then along came FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD’s deluxe edition; temptation got the better of me and I cracked. Cue THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s “Human.”

This new edition has an entertaining commentary by director JOHN CARL BUECHLER and actors LAR PARK LINCOLN (Tina) and KANE HODDER (Jason) that while not remarkable in the new info department, at least showcases the enthusiasm for horror of all involved. There is some never seen slashed footage too and two new featurettes; one involving “The Truth About Telekinesis” and the other an impossible to resist, fittingly short, but sweet salute to one of my favorite F13 characters of all time “Maddy.”

What is it about THE NEW BLOOD that I adore so much? It’s not my favorite in the series by a long shot, but it just might be my favorite one to watch. (Don’t hold me to that though; I am an extraordinarily complicated man of ever changing and mysterious whims [AUNT JOHN SEZ: True dat!]) As this is Part VII in the series some familiar ground is stalked (and I say thankfully so), but let us take a moment to reflect on the aspects of this movie that are uniquely its own.

Here is a loose, in no particular order, list of the things that I dig about this quirky addition to the Jason Voorhees saga…

OH, THE DRAMA:
Much as in PART 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER, in Part 7 we are privy to the goings on in two dwellings inconveniently located adjacent to that magnet for mayhem, Crystal Lake. In both films one house roofs a group of teens preparing to party and die, but where Part 4’s second residence was occupied by the charming Jarvis clan, here we are introduced to a highly melodramatic, stressed out trio on some kind of yell-therapy retreat. There’s pouty Tina (LINCOLN), ungrateful for the telekinetic powers that rightfully should be my own, her hysteric hovering mother Amanda (SUSAN BLU), who has the non-soothing disposition of an amalgamation of DONNA PESCOW and SCRAPPY DOO, and lastly, their evil psychiatrist in tow, the cacophonous Dr. Crews (TERRY KISER) whose prescription for everything seems to be, “Chew two scenes and call me in the morning.” In other words, the FRIDAY series may have dropped the counselors and the cabins, but it now has a vice like grip on a different kind of “camp.” This is THE NEW BLOOD’s deal breaker, you either find these three annoying as hell or a hilarious riot. You can tell where I stand by the giant SUSAN BLU portrait hanging over my bed.

JASON IS PISSED!
If you find the above three characters shrill shenanigans exasperating then get in line behind Jason Voorhees. I used to be one of those who thought it hardly mattered who wore the hockey mask, but this film proves my stupid theory wrong. KANE HODDER as Jason really does bring something anomalous to the character. Sure the MPAA neutered much of the gory aftermath of his kills, but Jason has a frustrated, “Somebody has got to do this job” swagger throughout which nearly makes up for the loss. Look no further than the infamous sleeping bag smack down for verification of this fact. Aesthetically, this is also my favorite looking incarnation of Jason; he’s full-blown zombie now and just check out that fashionably exposed spinal column!

THE YUMMY TASTE OF SCHADENFREUDE!
So the deaths are not as drippy as one would like, but the good news is that at least two gigantic assholes get theirs in very satisfying ways. Dr. Crews’ douchebag nature is made even more apparent when he throws Tina’s mommy under the bus by using her as a human shield. Luckily at this point Jason has developed a BUGS BUNNY like talent for pulling whatever tool is needed from some hidden pocket in his fur, in this case a weed whacker is suddenly on hand and it soon finds its way into Crews’ abdomen. Super-bitch Melissa also gets it good and director BUECHLER does a fine job milking her death for all it’s worth. After she tells those who have tried to warn her to, “Fuck off” we cut to an axe being dislodged from a tree stump. As Melissa prepares to leave in a huff we see Jason’s shadow appear behind her. When she opens the door she is greeted by our boy, the axe is slammed into her face and she is thrown across the room like a sack of laundry…go ahead, don’t feel bad about rewinding that one.

MADDY!
Maddy’s transformation from ALVIN THE CHIPMUNK to BRITTANY THE CHIPETTE is a thing of rare beauty and is why I sometimes don’t mind living on this planet. When I originally saw THE NEW BLOOD in the theater, her “A little touch up work, my ass!” was greeted by hoots, hollers catcalls and guffaws, the memory of which curls my toes to this day. Eventually Maddy bites it of course, but not before effortlessly upstaging the entire cast with but a few scenes.

CARRIE VS. JASON
What a cool idea! Who does not love telekinetic horror and when can I have more? Some might pin point this installment as a shark jumper, but really after Jason’s lightening bolt resurrection in PART 6 the series had ventured into the realm of dark fantasy anyway, why not have a little fun? Tina and Jason’s showdown is actually exceptionally well staged and certainly paved the way to Jason’s eventual audience pleasing run in with that molester in the striped sweater.

MORE, MORE, MORE!
A floating decapitated head in a flowerpot, a party favor horn shoved in an eye, the traditional jumping cat scare, the wondrous “Date with a soap on a rope,” I could go on and on. Director BUECHLER says he would have loved to have had the next sequel follow survivors Tina and the Daisy Dukes wearin’ studmobile Nick (KEVIN SPIRTAS), but alas it was not to be. Ridiculous as it might sound I think it would have beat that trip to New York.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders

Thirst (1979)

September 22nd, 2009 · 8 Comments

A while back a friend of mine who is always right about everything told me to watch the 1979 Australian vampire flick THIRST. We happened to have a VHS copy at the video store I worked at so I brought it home, threw it into the gizmo and got about five minutes in before shutting it off. I was not in the mood, plus the tape looked like, what’s the word?…crap. Flash forward a decade or so and I stumbled upon a used DVD of THIRST for a mere $5.99. I picked it up because I have a horrible hoarding problem and frequently imagine a desperate snowed-in scenario that will never occur to justify my unnecessary purchases. Well I wasn’t so much snowed in as bored out of my skull the other night and I decide to give THIRST another chance and boy I’m glad I did. On DVD, the film is a looker and as others have said before me, one of the most original vampire films ever made.

Dear KATIE HOLMES, remember when I told you that if you just waited long enough the perfect role for you would emerge? Well, get Tommy to buy the rights for this movie and get it remade stat. It’s about a chick named Kate who finds herself the prisoner of a diabolical cult who use human beings as livestock (in this case it’s blood rather than moola that is siphoned!) Her every attempt at escape is thwarted and eventually the gal starts flipping her lid, you can pull that off right? What’s that you say? You’d rather redo a movie about a woman terrorized by tiny men (WHO’S AFRAID OF THE DARK?) O.K. that makes sense too…

Putting snarky insults towards people I’ve never met aside, you get your fair share of pointy teeth within THIRST, but the emphasis is more on our heroine’s psychological state as she tries to avoid submission to the cult’s methodic conditioning. As a direct descendent of Elizabeth Bathory, Kate’s dormant “thirst” for blood is inbred and the cult believes it requires only a bit of nudging to emerge. As if tempting an on-the-wagon alcoholic, “The Brotherhood” begins spiking her liquid intake with the red stuff; hallucinations and overlapping reality warping dream states are the result. This is where the film excels, the scenes involving Kate’s paranoia and mental deterioration would make ROMAN POLANSKI proud. One particular bit that involves a crumbling wall stands as a highly effective visual metaphor for the interior war Kate seems born to loose.

THIRST has about five too many endings and might have been better served concluding before it does, but when it’s working it’s strong stuff. Direction by television mainstay ROD HARDY (who directed a similarly themed episode of the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA re-imagining entitled “The Farm”) is brisk and forthright where it needs to be, yet smoothly transitions into the artsy and surreal without breaking a sweat. The performances (including a bit part by frequent bad guy HENRY SILVA) are surprisingly restrained considering the subject matter. As dated as the film can tend to be (especially in the technology department) it’s apparent that all involved took the material seriously. If you think you’ve seen it all in regard to our bloodsucking friends you definitely need to give THIRST a chance. By sparing us the clichés and concentrating on the psychological it stands up better than most vamp flicks half its age.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders

Basket Case 2

September 5th, 2009 · 10 Comments

The next time somebody derides the existence of sequels I’m going to bring up BASKET CASE 2 as an example of their worth. The original BASKET CASE really didn’t need any expansion, it’s a solid standing entity and part of its tragic appeal is owed to the fact that both of its main characters kick the bucket (or basket) at the end…but what if they didn’t? With a more reasonable budget, a now more confident director and all that pesky “getting to know you” stuff out of the way, wouldn’t it be nice to see what the Bradley boys are up to these days?

Even though BASKET CASE 2 was filmed nearly a decade after its predecessor, director HENENLOTTER miraculously pulls off the near impossible feat of staging his continuation at the precise moment the first movie left off. Cleverly he turns the tables on the Bradleys by allowing “normal” brother Duane to feel the pangs of not fitting in and introducing misfit mutant brother Belial into a world of acceptance and finally romantic love. Throughout the course of the film we are introduced to a gallery of new monsters each more fantastic than the last; all are hideous upon introduction and all are lovable as muppets by movie’s end.

BASKET CASE 2 rather than hovering, whisks its characters into an entirely new situation and rather than retracing its steps, expands upon the original film and its themes. Some of its charming grittiness may be gone, but in its place are a breezy nonchalance and a comfortable ownership of its own ridiculousness. If you’re looking for scares you’re better off looking in Aunt John’s sock drawer, the fun here is identifying with the monsters and enjoying a cathartic thrill as they put their oppressors in their place. As with the original film, HENENLOTTER’s admiration of oddballs is both apparent and contagious.

Speaking of oddballs, the real break out star of BASKET CASE 2 has got to be ANNIE ROSS who plays Granny Ruth (you may also remember ANNIE from her Trauma nominated turn in SUPERMAN 3). Surrounded by monstrosities and grotesque special effects she still maintains the title of most fascinating creature in the room. A mother messiah devoted to nurturing a brood of outcasts, granny Ruth’s ferocious battle cry when her cubs are threatened may be the highlight of the film.

As cutting edge as BC2’s monster designs were in 1990, the real strength of the film relies on a tradition that goes back to the classic monsters of Universal. As in the first film, great effort is made to look beyond appearances and into the hearts of those deemed abnormal. It is a gallant gesture found surprisingly often in a genre many perceive as crass and insensitive, and ironically, an occurrence in the real world that is freakishly rare.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders

House of Voices

July 27th, 2009 · No Comments

After finally seeing PASCAL LAUGIER’s MARTYRS I had to check out his earlier work. I soon discovered that his debut feature film SAINT ANGE was released on DVD as HOUSE OF VOICES and that it was readily available. Slipping the disc into the player I felt a tinge of excitement at the prospect of having no idea of what was in store for me. My first surprise as I began watching the film was the slow realization that I had actually seen it before. This wasn’t an “Oh, crap!” type of recognition, but more of confusing state of déjà vu (how French!). Why have I completely forgotten about this film? If I recalled correctly, I kinda sort of dug it.

Well, I dug the beginning anyway, because midway through I realized I was in uncharted territory. Something had stopped me from finishing this movie the first time I saw it. Did I fall asleep? Was I distracted by a phone call? Did a fire alarm go off? If I went by the consensus of IMDb commenters then I must have fallen asleep. Most of those who cared to review HOUSE OF VOICES sum up the experience as being “boring.” Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, although its tone, dreamy, ethereal and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous does have a rather drowsy effect and its pacing well, let’s just say it’s more turtle than hare.

If you have seen JUAN ANTONIO BAYONA‘s THE ORPHANAGE or JUAME BALAGUERO’s FRAGILE (both of which were released after H.O.V.) then you have a general idea of what kind of food they serve in this restaurant. It’s set in the olden timey days and the big monster building centerpiece is really just a blown up model/map of the neurotic heroine’s booby-trapped mind. Like a Victorian ghost story it is more concerned with creating an uncanny atmosphere that subtly unsettles than clobbering the viewer with blasts of the grotesque. If you dig vague, vapory ghost tales this is your jam, if you dig giant robots that turn into cars bring a noose.

Which is not to say that HOUSE does not have a few well-timed jolts. The opening scene in particular had me nervously loosening an invisible tie that I don’t wear. What really separates HOUSE from the two Spanish language films I mentioned is that much like he did in MARTYRS, director LAUGIER throws a cinematic curve ball toward the end that seems cut and pasted from another film entirely. The director has stated that he was inspired by the thought of making an unofficial sequel to LUCIO FULCI’s THE BEYOND, an awesome idea, even though it comes across more like a mash up of JANE EYRE and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

It is clear after watching both LAUGLER films that this is a director who refuses to spoon feed his audience (and is strangely fearful of subterranean science labs), just as in MARTYRS, HOUSE OF VOICES leaves much open to interpretation. It is an incredibly gorgeous looking film as well, which I have to admit, for me, goes an embarrassingly long way. I don’t think I’d recommend this movie to the casual viewer, but if you are a fan of slow burners about crazy people running away from their own self-devouring heads, or if you love saying; “What the, huh?” as the film credits roll or even if you’re just curious about LAUGIER’s pre-MARTYRS work, I say give it a try. Maybe just have a cup of joe first.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders

Trog

July 23rd, 2009 · 12 Comments

trog!

Admittedly, your Aunt John has a relatively high tolerance for sub-par films, especially if the movie features an Oscar winning actress at the end stage of a long career, forced to work overseas with a heinous script opposite children, animals, or monsters. Honestly, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a train-wreck of a movie, and in theory, I should have fallen crazy in love with director FREDDIE FRANCIS’ infamous dud TROG, but sometimes even I have my limits.

trog!

Featuring silver screen legend JOAN CRAWFORD in her last cinematic outing, TROG kicks off with a trio of strapping spelunkers who stumble ass backwards over a pre-historic creature living in subterranean solitude somewhere in the English countryside. The misunderstood monster attacks, the townspeople get all in a tizzy, and an angry mob gathers. Enter respected anthropologist Dr. Braxton (CRAWFORD), who clearly wears the pantsuit in this hamlet. She basically swoops in with her tranquilizer gun, pumps the poorly made-up monster with sleepy-time darts, and then drags it back to her eponymous lab for further study.

trog!

Back at lab, CRAWFORD reminds us how she won that Oscar for MILDRED PIERCE by busting out her trademark, put upon reaction shots followed by bursts of volatile explosiveness when anyone crosses her. Weathering the brunt of hurricane JOAN is the titular Trog, who seems more terrified of CRAWFORD throughout the film than she is of him.

Aside from her occasional howls, CRAWFORD brings little else to the table. The film is set in England, and she can’t even muster up the energy to do a British accent. And it’s not like it is explained that she is some sort of ex-pat working abroad, for nothing in this movie is even remotely plausible. MICHAEL GOUGH tries to bring friction as the religious yin to CRAWFORD’s scientific yang, but even he seems a tad relieved to be done with the film when Trog dispatches with him. The film just meanders along, cutting and pasting a poorly made pastiche of the most boring elements of THE MIRACLE WORKER, INHERIT THE WIND, and FRANKENSTEIN.

trog!

Okay, I take it back about the FRANKENSTEIN scenes where Trog escapes the lab and runs amok in the town flipping cars, murdering shopkeepers, terrorizing small children, and kidnapping a small girl. This montage is straight up hysterical! Sadly, it all comes a little too late to compensate for the insufferable courtroom drama sub-plot where JOAN takes the stand to defend science against religion. If the director had left that hot mess on the cutting room floor, and ramped up the scenes of the beast man going berserk, TROG could have been a B-movie classic instead of pitiful end note to CRAWFORD‘s cinematic legacy.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders