Monday, August 31, 2009

Cat People (1982)

This is the lengths Inglorious Basterds have driven me to. I found myself being willing, nay looking forward to, reappraising Cat People. After watching Tarantino practice his alchemy and turn what was neither Schrader’s or Bowie’s finest moment into pure cinematic gold, I couldn’t help but be curious whether or not I was missing something.

I’d just seen Cat People fairly recently, a little over a year or so ago, and I can’t say I was impressed. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it either. It didn’t really make me care enough about it to form a strong impression either way. Thinking back on it, the only thing that stuck out was that it was one of the rare times I agreed with Pauline Kael when she, in one of her finer moments said, “The movie looked like a bunch of covers for albums you’d never want to play.”

That’s not a good sign, especially when you’re dealing with a filmmaker as caustic as Paul Schrader. Just so we’re clear I am as the kids say, “In The Tank” for Paul Schrader. I fucking love him, and the fact that a career as idiosyncratic as his can exist renews my faith in cinema daily. I love his films, I love the cranky old man. When I was in elementary school I wrote Mrs. Paul Schrader on all my notebooks and surrounded them with little hearts. Whether he’s casually dismissing Christianity as a “blood cult” on his Last Temptation Of Christ, commentary, remaking The Day The Clown Cried with Jeff Goldblum, or slapping the ironic distance out of some hipsters out of the New Bev, Schrader is simply the shit.

So the fact that I had no strong feelings either way about this film was something of a warning sign.

The first thing you have to do if you are to have any hope of enjoying Schrader’s Cat People, is to put Tournier and Lewton’s classic out of your mind. Tournier’s Cat People isn’t just A classy horror movie, it’s THE Classy horror movie, conjuring up fear and existential dread, through little more then darkness and some canned sounds of Jungle Cats.

Schrader’s Cat People, on the other hand, is not a classy movie. It’s down right vulgar. If one was to be unkind one could even call it trashy. This is the kind of movie that opens with a panther fucking a woman to a David Bowie soundtrack in its opening scene. I repeat. That’s the first thing you see.

Let’s be clear from the start Schrader’s Cat People is a mess. But it’s sort of a glorious hot tranny mess. It’s kitsch, true, no movie that has Malcolm McDowell in full prosthesis as a Cat Person, talking about bloodlines and destiny, can help but have a little camp in it’s blood. But Schrader God bless him, once again doesn’t condescend to the material. He wants to give the story of a woman coming to except her Cat Person heritage weight.

McDowell and Kinski play siblings who reunite after a long seperation. Things become uncomfortable when Kinski realizes in quick succession A) McDowell has called to um er start a family. B) He is a Cat Person. C) She is also a Cat Person.

Malcolm Mc Dowell, at his most Satyr like, brings the full weight of his considerable powers of intimidation to the character. His introduction, slowly and subtly taking control of the shot, from the edge of the frame as he stalks Kinski in a long tracking shot, is magnificent. It’s a shot to examine several times, you’re not even aware of McDowell’s presence for half the time, we’re just as unaware as Kinski. And when you realize how long he’s been there. Well lets just say it takes a lot for a shot to be scary in retrospect.

Kinski and McDowell who you wouldn’t usually call dead ringers, even manage to look alike. Kinski brings a real vulnerability to the part. And McDowell manages to take full advantage of it, by playing precisely counter to it, dominating every scene they’re in. Managing to be frightening even while practicing a vaudevillian routine. It takes a lot for a performer to remain magnetic rather then repellent even when they’re talking dirty to their own sister.

The only problem with McDowell’s performance is the amount of time he spends off screen. After he making such a strong impression in the opening ten minutes he spends the next thirty or so off screen, (well technically his character is still onscreen, where they found a Panther who looks that much like McDowell I have no idea) while the film turns into an innocuous comedy about a wacky zoo, a wacky zoo where occasionally someone gets their arm torn off, and we wait patiently for him to come back. When he does he disappears again.

The way Schrader handles McDowell’s character is a fascinating one. From the opening scenes set in prehistoric Africa and the general animalistic nature of the character it’s clear that Schrader is setting up McDowell as a symbol of pre Christian Paganism. Condtradictorially McDowell’s character seems to be devoutly Christian.

This too isn’t as simple as it seems. When Kinski goes to visit McDowell in the church. The whole take is done in a high angle shot that captures the whole of it. The church from this angle contains no Christian symbols but instead carefully coordinated paterns on the floor, along with corresponding lines of chairs. It looks more like a Tibetan sand painting then a church, and harkens back to the palette Schrader uses for the prehistoric and “primal dreams” sequences. These sequences themselves are interesting in their subjective impressitionistic style, in that they presage the effect that Schrader would so fully utilize in his next film Mishima (Note the biography of Mishima that Heard keeps on his desk).

It should be noticed that it’s a good thing Schrader refined the technique in Mishima, because too often it comes off as merely clumsy, as when Kinski goes for a naked prance in the wilderness after experiencing sexual temptation for the first time, and meets a literal snake in the garden.

It could be that Schrader is using this contradiction as a way to highlight Christianity's inability to contain evil, as he would later do in Dominion. But if that was the plan, he never really develops it fully and the contradiction is never explored as richly as it potentially could be.

Schrader makes full use of his New Orleans back drop. Using it’s Brick and Mortar, Onyx statues and Gothic Architecture to create a sufficiently eternal backdrop for the prehistoric soap operatics at play.

If the film has one flaw it’s paucity while the original Cat People moved along with all the zip and efficiency the classic studio system could muster. Cat People suffers from all the bloat that eighties coke fueled Hollywood could muster. It was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer after all. It’s bogged down in too many subplots and set pieces. If ever a two hour movie could stand to be ninety minutes it’s this one.

Outside of the Freak show that is the Kinski/McDowell dynamic, the film has an able supporting cast. John Heard makes a suitably bland “straight” lead, the type of guy who doesn’t bat an eye when Kinski does a twelve foot verticle leap upon their first meeting. And is remarkably understanding when later she walks into his room naked and covered in blood to scream “DON’T LOOK AT ME” And the always appealing Annette O’ Toole plays his assistant.

Schrader’s violence is usually metaphysical, Cat People is something of an exception. While Schrader does spend plenty of time documenting the tortures of being a Cat Person, he spends equal time, almost lovingly depicting the grue that comes as a result of a Cat Person being present. When McDowell’s leopard form tears off an unwary zoo keeper’s arm Schrader lovingly documents the blood splattering the anticeptic tile and Kinski’s white shoes in ultra slow motion.

Similarly this continues Schrader’s theme of sex as a destructive force. This theme has been intensified even from the original. Sex literally is corruption, instantly stripping away any civilized impulse the characters may have, and taking them back to primal instict and leaving the perpetrators murderous psychopathic Cat People.

It’s also funny, as when McDowell finds for the first time he can’t perform, and ends up having his eager partner coax him into recieving a fatal blow job.

The film’s at it’s weakest when it’s referencing the original film. Such as the scene where Heard catches Irena sketching, or when a strange woman in the bar recognizes Irena as “Muy Hermana”.

Like I said, Cat People is hell of flawed. But for anyone willing to take the Koolaid and wallow in Schrader’s particular brand of madness for awhile, Cat People is well worth it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Unseen #9: The Damned

Why’d I Buy It?: I don’t know Visconti outside of his canonical films. But I know enough about him, to grab one of his films for five bucks.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: A two hour forty minute drama about the horrors of Nazi Germany isn’t something you turn on casually.

How Was It?: The Damned begins just as the Nazi’s rise to power. Following the fortunes of an aristocratic industrial family, whose steel mills are essential to the Nazi war machine. They find it all too easy to fall in bed with the Nazi’s, sometimes literally. The film begins in opulence and wealth, and two and a half hours of incest, child molesting, concentration camps, and gay massacres later all that is left is an overpowering desire to take a shower.

In terms of style, the film is beautiful. Visconti captures the decadence and opulence of people at the height of power doing the best to destroy themselves utterly.

The problem is, that’s all the film is. Basically a compendium of horrible people doing terrible things. It all might work grandly as a metaphor, but that doesn’t make it anymore pleasant to watch. And yes I’m aware that great art need not be pleasant, and if this were purely satirical, and say directed by Bunuel I would have no argument about the movie being a mere cavalcade of grotesqueries. But The Damned lacks even the slightest bit of rooting interest, necessary to make it a drama.

And yes, I realize that that means, I’ve given negative reviews to both Altman and Visconti films, while writing a positive one of Rob Zombie’s Halloween "Fucking" II. And yes that might actually mean as a result I’m going to film geek hell. But I’ve got to call them like I see them.

Anyway if you want to see the classiest film about Nazi’s committing all manner of atrocities This is it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Halloween 2

You know when the first Halloween remake, came out there where all of these end of the world editorials about how Zombie had sold out and would never be the original voice in horror that he was meant to be, blah blah blah. At the time I thought they where just exaggerating. Even when it was announced that he was doing this over Tyrannosaurus Rex, I figured, hey he’s just taking advantage of having a movie pre greenlit, more power to him. But now that The Blob has been announced as his next movie, those editorial’s are looking more and more prescient. This coupled with the fact that for the most part (Keith Phipps being an important exception) the reviews for Halloween II made the divisive reviews from the first movie look like raves, I was less then confident about Halloween II's quality. Despite the fact that I genuinely like Zombies take on Halloween, I felt genuinely nervous walking in to see the movie.

Well call it Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull syndrome (having one’s expectations lowered so much before hand that the movie succeeds just by virtue of not being two hours of a Monkey farting) but I enjoyed Zombie’s second trip to Haddonfield. It’s not perfect by any means; there are certainly some monstrous flaws, but on the whole, this is a bizarre, creepy as hell horror movie that ends up being something I haven’t seen before.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. This is a Rob Zombie movie, there is no bathroom too dirty, no snaggletooth too gross, and no string of words too profane that it can’t be lingered on lovingly. For those who complain that Zombie’s film are nothing but “White Trash behaving badly", there’s nothing here that will change your mind. The characters who are not from the first movie are strictly cannon fodder. Most will hate what Zombie has done to Loomis. In my case, McDowell is having too much fun for me not to. The film does have a lot of padding to it, McDowell is superfluous for most of the run time, and there are sequences which are clearly the result of Zombie getting a studio note on his script saying, “You oughta kill someone here.” Most annoying though is the fact, that everyone in this movie has learned how to teleport. Now it’s the time honored tradition and right of the slasher to be able to appear wherever he damn well pleases. In this film, EVERYONE is doing it, at one point Loomis seemingly teleports to another city in a matter of seconds. It’s just a bit ridonculous.

Other then that, I can’t see what all the hatred’s about. It’s a solid slasher movie, with some unique disturbing imagery. Zombie’s trips inside Meyer’s mind are showcases for his directorial talent. He comes up with some disturbing imagery (tell me the family of pumpkinheads eating dinner in silent movie land didn’t freak you out and I’ll call you a liar) but shoots it in a completely understated way as thought they’re just your average ordinary part of the mental landscape.

I stay firm in my belief that Scott Taylor Compton makes a good Laurie, even if I am the only one, and Brad Douriff all too often underused makes the most of his roll. All in all this is a good slasher movie, and not deserving of the drubbing it’s getting. Sure it has it’s flaws/ Sure it’s brutal, vulgar, and a little sloppy, but damn it what slasher movie isn’t? Doesn’t brutal, vulgar and a little sloppy sum up the genre’s appeal? The fact is this movie found new twists on the tired old genre games. It's something new, something I haven't seen before (And yes I am aware that I'm going borderline Armond White, writing that about a sequel to a remake)

The movie sets itself up for a Halloween: Season Of The Witch style bizarrothon, and I for one am kind of looking forward to see it. Now if only we can slap some sense into Zombie and get him to do some original work first, I’ll be a happy horror fan.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Inglorious Bastards (1978)

Inglorious Basterd’s mania has officially taken hold of me. I’ve got no less then three films lined up to watch, that I am viewing solely because Inglorious blew my God Damned mind so hard.

The first of these is naturally, the original Italian film Inglorious BastArds. The film which inspired Tarantino to so much madness. Staring Fred Williamson (Whose presence has caused the movie to occasionally be released as GI Bro) at his hammeriest and Bo Svenson, the original Bastards follows a bunch of American prisoners who hightail it to the Swiss border after the prison convoy transporting them is hijacked by Natzis.

While The Bastards eventually get roped into a noble cause, involving the capture and er, repurposing of a V2 rocket, but they take their damn sweet time getting around to it. And most of the film is them running riot over Nazi occupied France, kicking ass and/or taking names. For the first hour of its runtime Bastards is admirably anarchic. Not even paying attention to the scanty genre rules that govern exploitation cinema.

While I wouldn’t call the film a classic, it’s really at the end of the day a fairly likable Kelly’s Heroes rip off, it’s easy to see what attracted Tarantino. It’s exactly the kind of film he loves to promote, it works best as a collective of a few truly unbelievably stellar scenes, rather then a coherent whole. The film has a great energy, a raucous and irreverent sense of humor (such as when our heroes stumble across a platoon of Naked Ms. Master Races), a truly jet black cynical streak (Such as when our heroes accidentally execute a squadron of American soldiers), and one hell of a finale, that set it apart from the competition.

Like I said, there are some truly killer sequences in the film. Like the one, where a group of French resistance fighters who have blended in with the civilian population at a train station launch their surprise attack on the Nazis.

For a low budget film director Castellari creates a truly epic feel from some obviously limited means. As I mentioned before the finale is truly spectacular creating an epic half hour long, running gun battle with nothing but a train and two locations.

Bastard’s is a bloody, un PC, glorious mess. While it might not blow minds the same way that Tarantino’s Basterds does, it’s pretty much a guaranteed good time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Unseen #8: Thieves Like Us

Why’d I Buy It?; It completed my seventies Altman collection.

Why Haven’t I Watched It Yet?: Though I’d never deny his status as a grandmaster of cinema, Altman’s films, with precious few exceptions (McCabe and Ms. Miller, Nashville, Prairie Home Companion) are work for me, as opposed to pleasure. That’s not to say the films aren’t great, but that I have to make a conscience decision to watch them, which I don’t have to make when popping on A Scorsese, Truffaunt, Peckinpah, Kubrick, or Coen film. He’s a filmmaker always slightly at distance for me, like Monte Helleman.

How Was It?: Thieves Like Us, encapsulates a lot of what’s great and what’s difficult about Altman. There’s an unforced naturalism to the era, about as far from the glamorization and fetishized portrayals of Public Enemies, Boxcar Bertha, and Bonnie and Clyde as you can get. I’ve never seen a period drama that seems so unforced and unimpressed with it’s art direction.

Equally unforced is the easy humanism that marks the best of Altman’s work. The movie works best when capturing the quiet rhythms of human behavior, and with Shelley Duvall at her most appealing and vulnerable, and Robert Carradine, in a rare lead turn.

Unfortunately there’s a fine line between natural and meandering, and unlike in his best films, Altman is none too careful about crossing it. At the risk of sounding like a philistine much of Thieves Like Us is a frankly boring movie. Filled with long improvised scenes that don’t really go anywhere. For every scene which effortlessly captures the day to day rhythm of life, like when a group of people slowly gravitate to a radio playing The Shadow, there’s a long roundabout scene where a guy hits on his own niece.

The fact is, that this, like many Altman films, rises and falls on the quality of it’s company, which is simply not of the first water. The characters, aside from Carradine’s likeably callow performance, and Duvall’s sympathetic turn, don’t make much of an impression. I hate to use the word likable, but it applies, no one here is particularly interesting, or seems worth spending time with. And since spending time with these characters is pretty much all the movie is (where you really expecting an intricate heist in an Altman flick?) this poses a significant problem.

Despite it’s many charms and strong attributes, Thieves Like Us, remains almost purposefully, second tier Altman.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Unseen #7: Nightmare On Elm Street 2

Why’d I Buy It ? : Came On The Nightmare On Elm Street Four Pack I picked up.

Why Haven’t I Watched It ? : It’s another movie that many consider it to be the worst of The Nightmare On Elm Street Series. As I said last time there’s no small amount of competition for that title.

How Was It?: Nightmare On Elm Street 2 has a reputation for being the most Homo erotic/phobic piece of cinema outside of the works of Kenneth Anger. There’s really not much to say here. Unlike Nightmare on Elm Street 4 I’m not going to come out with some surprise defense. This movie truly is bad as you may have heard.

The film follows Jesse, whose family moves into Nancy’s old house, and who soon finds himself haunted by Freddy Krueger. Who wants to “possess him”, (which would really seem kind of counter productive, but well we can get to that some other time, it’s the least of this movies problems). Predictably no one really gives a fuck, and Jesse must participate in naked wrestling, leather bar jaunts, and sex with his girlfriend which repulses him, all before he can defeat the demon of homosexuality, I’m sorry I meant Fred Kruger, and live a normal life.

It’s a shoddy film, with a lobotomized cast, a complete lack of imagination, terrible effects, and sense of pace somewhere between Leaden and Bataan Death March. The subtext that finding out you’re gay is like finding out a burned child molester wants to possess your body, is truly repugnant. Look I’m the first to say that a cigar is just a cigar, and ignore the subtext, but it’s just so particularly hateful in this film. True maybe Freddy wasn’t meant as a metaphor for being gay. Maybe a burnt child molester who makes fun of your sexuality is just a burnt child molester making fun of your sexuality. But the there are scenes like the anal rape and murder of the main character’s leather boy coach and you can’t help but feel like the movie is trying to send a message.

The film fails even on the level of pure kitsch. Yes even a random exploding bird can bring this film no joy. It’s an boring, ugly, hateful movie with no redeeming value what so ever. Avoid at all costs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Halloween '07

With Halloween II coming out next week it seemed a good time to revisit Rob Zombie’s first trip to Haddenfield.

Now I’m not going to lie, when Halloween first came out I was pretty ecstatic. Go ahead and read my original review. That’s a review written by someone who’s goofy in love with what he’s just seen. And I stand by that review, to a certain extent, at the time that was my reaction one hundred percent.

Because let’s not kid ourselves of the big three franchises of the Slasher Period, Friday the 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, and Halloween, Halloween is the worst. No it really is. This is of course ironic given that of the three original films, the first Halloween stands head and shoulders over the other two. While Friday The 13th coasted comfortably at a level of agreeable six pack mediocrity, and Nightmare On Elm Street proved that even a blind squirrel finds a nut by having two sequels that where actually pretty intriguing. Halloween’s sequels all ran lemming like off the cliff that was the originals dizzying heights, only to end up twitching feebly at the bottom.

Sure every series has it’s low points, Freddy being resurrected by having a bulldog piss on his ashes, Jason spending a mere ten minutes in Manhattan. The difference is, the entirety of the Halloween franchise IS a low point. From the leaden first sequel, to the laudably experimental but frankly not very good Season Of The Witch, to the head scratchingly strange four five and six, which decided that what The Halloween series really needed was a back story more convoluted then Lord Of The Rings, to the punishingly dull Halloween H20, and finally the coup de grace which was Halloween Resurrection, in which we got to witness Busta Rhymes beating the shit out of Michael Myers with the power of his Kung Fu.

I don’t think that any Icon of horror has ever fallen quite so far. The monsters where treated with more respect in the old Abbot and Costello movies.

Because seriously say what you will about Rob Zombie's Halloweeen, but it takes Michael Myers seriously, which is something no one since John Carpenter has really bothered to do. That’s what caused that batshit crazy reaction the first night I saw it. The fact that someone bothered to care again. Watching it now the flaws are more evident, but the fact that he cared still shines through.

Michael’s family of inbred hicks, IS over the top. And it’s unsurprising that the first third which might as well be renamed “Rob Zombies Working Class Minstrely Good Time Hour”. Led by William Forsythe, who manages to be over the top here, even for William Forsythe. The opening manages to both be too reminiscent of the Rob Zombie playbook, and too pat of an answer to Zombie’s madness. Still I feel like Sheri Moon hasn’t gotten enough credit for her role as Michael’s desperate mother. It’s a truly believable, even touching performance from a woman who had previously only showcased her ability to giggle, act like a serial killer, and have a fantastic ass.

The second act, beginning with Michael’s “Well I’ve got nothing better to do” descent into serial killing, is pretty underrated. Malcolm McDowell’s Sam Loomis has been one of the most controversial things in the movie, but to me Zombie’s decision to revision him as an opportunistic huckster still genuinely trying to do the best he can, was a smart way to avoid Donald Pleasance and his increasingly drunk and surly performances. Michael’s slow slide into madness, is well portrayed, though Zombie’s insistence on reinserting the rape of the girl with down syndrome, after wisely cutting it for the theatrical release, is at the very least, icky.

Michael as a character isn’t tide to anyone actor the way that Robert Englund is with Freddy or Kane Hodder is with Jason. Michael Myers is in a lot of ways a lot more open to interpretation, and Tyler Mane does a fine job. Acting as a believably aggressive killer (Not hard for a man his size), and as the hollow giant in the mental hospital.

As for the final massacre, I maintain that it’s as well done and as frightening of a slasher film as any I’ve seen in the past ten years (true the competition isn’t strong). And while most loathed the recast Laurie and her crew, I found the performances energetic and likable. The whole Strode clan was a warm and believable family, proof positive that Zombie CAN write real people. As I wrote before, I didn’t want anything bad to happen to these people. So of course Zombie smashed their heads against a fireplace.

So yes, Zombie’s Halloween is a flawed movie, but it’s a nobly flawed one. One that has the courage to play with its source material while never sacrificing what made it great. As these shit remakes show no sign of stopping, that’s a surprisingly rare and valuable thing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Unseen #6: Horrorshow Double Feature: Horror Hotel & Crypt Of Horror

Why’d I Buy It?: Two horror films for a buck? Both with Christopher Lee? You can’t beat that.

Why Haven’t I Watched Them?: Apathy.

How Were They?: For expediency’s sake I’m reviewing the two films that came on this particular dollar tree double feature together. Expediency and the fact that you probably don’t give a fuck about either movie. You’re only half right though, one of them is surprisingly decent.

On it’s own Horror Hotel is neat little chiller that holds up surprisingly well. For a Dollar Store movie it’s better then Nosferatu, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Shining Combined.

Basically a decent ripoff of Black Sunday, with a little Psycho thrown in for good manner, flavored with the Hammer “Cobblestones N’ Fog” approach to filmmaking. Horror Hotel opens with a bunch of puritans in thrift store Pilgrim hats burning a witch at ye olde stake. She swears vengeance, yadayadayada, two centuries later the town is still controlled by Satan. Forcing people in the neighboring towns to pop their eyes and moan “Ooooohhhh you don’t want to go there.” Anytime it’s mentioned. In the grandest of Horror tradition they are of course, ignored.

A young student is sent by Professor Christopher Lee, to do some in the field work at Satantown USA. Thinking nothing of it, she blithely goes off to be either A) A sacrificial lamb, B) Bride of the great deceiver C) a little bit of both. Don’t worry I shan’t spoil which.

Like I said the film is basically a Black Sunday rip off but it’s a really good one. It may lack Barbra Steele’s magnetic presence but Christopher Lee’s no slouch either, and it’s definitely got a good, “We’re trying to rip off Hammer!” Vibe going with it’s fog covered streets, and game cast, that manages to be pretty effectively creepy.

It’s also got one truly great moment that I won’t spoil, all I can say is it involves a jump cut and a birthday cake and one day I’m going to steal it.

As if to prove that everything has an equal but opposite reaction, the other film on the disc, Crypt Of Terror manages to be a big bowl of suck despite the presence of Christopher Lee, and the fact that it’s Italian. It too is a blatant Black Sunday rip off, but crossed with a Dark Shadows like bit of soap opera that’s borderline incoherent.

To be completely truthful there are a few moments of nice Gothic Horror, corpses sitting up in their coffin and pointing while lightning flashes, hung handless corpses. Etcetera. But despite, such game attempts, the film never fails to congeal into anything intriguing. I don’t know if I’ve ever been quite so apathetic in during a horror movie before.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Unseen #5: Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Why’d I Buy It ? : Came On The Nightmare On Elm Street Four Pack I picked up.

Why Haven’t I Watched It ? : Many consider it to be the worst of The Nightmare On Elm Street Series. I might add that there’s no shortage of contenders for that title.

How Was It?: To say Nightmare On Elm Street 4 has a bad reputation would suggest that people care enough about it to give it a reputation. Even among the most forgiving slasher junkies Part 4 has a terrible reputation. It’s where the series officially gave up even trying to make Freddy Kruger remotely scary, turning him instead to a sort of sociopathic Down Town Julie Brown, becoming pop cultures most beloved pedophile until Michael Jackson (too soon?). It’s the entry where Freddy got defeated by Kung Fu (What is it with Horror Icons meeting their demise through Kung Fu in their later films?). It’s the entry directed by Renny “I Made Mindhunters and 12 Rounds” Harlin. It’s the entry where, in one of the most refreshing moments of cinematic honesty I can think of, Freddy is resurrected by having a dog piss on his grave.

I will repeat.

It’s the entry where Freddy is resurrected by having a dog piss on his grave.

No. Seriously.

And I kind of enjoyed it in an unassuming way.

The film also just looks good, polished to a high eighties sheen, the dream world scenes are well designed and are truly imaginative. The scope of the sets are truly impressive, even if they no longer bear any resemblance to actual dreams, which made the original’s excursions into the subconscious so creepy. To give the devil his due, Harlin makes the most of what he has. Like I said, It’s all shot through a thick layer of eighties gloss; remember this is back when Renny Harlin was still the cheap John McTieran not the expensive Uwe Boll. This is also the last time in the series where some money has obviously been put on screen. The practical effects are probably more impressive now in the age of CGI the they where at the time of the films release avoiding the chintzy cheap look the series would adopt after this one. The fact is the film looks good.

While the characters and story aren’t exactly groundbreaking, they’re appealingly stereotypical, in their slasher movie comfort food way. Much of the credit must go to the great hardboiled Brian Helgeland, who goes the extra mile to make the characters likable, if not believable, and make some of the nightmare’s as truly troubling as the first movie.

I don’t mean to over praise the movie. It’s not a classic by any means. It has a lot to answer for, since it more or less ruined the Nightmare series (say what you will for the first couple of sequels, they where ambitious, not good, but ambitious). It’s the movie where Robert Englund just kind of gave up. It has a scene where a cheerleader gets turned into a giant cockroach. And once again, Kruger is resurrected by a dog pissing on his grave.

It’s not a good movie, but it’s not a bad one. Especially for genre fans, it goes on the list with Friday The 13th Part 3-D, and House Of 1000 Corpses. Bad movies that go down easy, and are genuinely entertaining. Sure that’s about as faint as praise gets, but hey, sometimes you just need to see Robert Englund making bad puns.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

I’m not going to lie, when I first read the screenplay for Inglorious Basterds, I didn’t get it, that simple. I mean I really didn’t get it. Sinking pit in my stomach didn’t get it. Calling up friends with connections to make sure it was legitimate didn’t get it. This was it? This was the great Tarantino war epic? A movie that just went ahead and seemed to skip all the good parts? That placed it’s Basterds in Nazi Occupied France reign of terror underway, all in the space of a single cut? This was the end result of ten years of permutations, rumor and speculation, of a script that once was rumored to run 500 pages. And what we got out of it was this?

Things didn’t exactly increase my confidence as time went on. As first Leonardo DiCaprio, and then Simon Pegg dropped out. Mike Myers dropped in. Which was followed by the announcement that David Bowie’s theme from Cat People would play a major role. And then the Cannes reviews. Then watching the trailers cut for a movie a knew didn’t exist. The cumulative result was that by the time, I walked into the theater last night, I was fully expecting not to like A Quentin Tarantino movie. Something that hasn’t happened since Four Rooms.

Let’s just say, I get it now.

Inglorious Basterds is a great movie, it has scenes as intense as any I’ve ever seen, an ending that left me literally shaking, and performances that range from genius to super genius. This might be hyperbole, but damn it, this is the kind of movie that inspires hyperbole. Let cooler heads prevail later.

It’s funny that I brought up Four Rooms because that’s really the movie that Basterds reminds me of. It’s more like a collection of five short films which feature reoccurring characters then a single narrative front. This coincidently seems to be the charge that bothers most of the movies critics the most; that it never congeals into a single piece. Normally I would be of the mind to agree, but how can I when each of the pieces is so satisfying, so tense, so utterly put together. It’s as though Tarantino has made Reservoir Dogs five times in a single movie. Putting the viewer through five separate roller coasters, playing them like a piano in the best Hitchcockian sense.

When I read the script I couldn’t imagine Inglorious Basterds being this way, now I can’t imagine another element being different.

Take Christopher Waltz, who more or less steals the movie. I was looking forward, to Di Caprio taking on the roll. It would have been a canny subversion, both of Leo’s golden boy status, and his aristocratic “one step ahead of it all” smarm. It would have been on of those great Tarantino movie star performances in which he simultaneously encapsulates and subverts an actor’s appeal. I was deeply disappointed when he dropped out and Waltz dropped in.

Of course Waltz proved to be utterly brilliant proving once again I’m wrong about oh so many things. Rather then being a John Travolta/Pam Grier/David Carradine/Kurt Russell performance, we get a great Zoe Bell/Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction one. An introduction to a new character who is defiantly themselves. An instant induction to the movie geek lexicon.

All the attention on Waltz has kind of ended up stealing the thunder from Brad Pitt, who turns in another one of his INSANE performances that make him such a valuable actor. BONJERNO!!! The most unappetizing plate of Strudel ever filmed. Eli Roth somehow menacing and insane. Even the Goddamn David Bowie song works perfectly. And that final image on Shoshana’s “screen”, somewhere beyond haunting.

I walked into Inglorious Basterds, expecting a failure, or at the very best a qualified success. I walked out with the kind of twitchy adrenaline that left me unable to sleep until four in the morning, the kind of feeling only the best movies give you. Now you’ll excuse me if I cut this column short, there’s a three o clock showing I need to make.

The Unseen #4: Detroit 9000

Why I Bought It: Part Of Quentin Tarintino’s Rolling Thunder Label. Bought during the most fevered stages of my Tarantino Fanboy status (Right inbetween Kill Bill 1 and 2 for the curious).

Why Haven’t I Watched It Yet?: I don’t know disappointment at finding out that the movie didn’t actually take place in Detroit in the year 9000? (kidding)

How Was It?: Surprisingly good. Blacksploitation as with any exploitation is often a lot more fun in theory then in practice. While kitsch, and giant hats will get you so far. The lack of a compelling; story/characters/anyone giving a shit, can be wearing if you plan on watching something for more then five minutes.

Detroit 9000 is pretty high end though, featuring a pretty good mystery, some great quotable dialogue, a nifty end twist (Come to think of it there are a few of them), some sequences that are genuinely well put together and excited, and a world view that is cynical even for Blacksploitation. It might not be quite as fun as watching Gordon from Sesame Street play a pimp (Willie Dynamite, IMDB that shit if you think I’m making it up). But it comes close.

When a black congressman’s fundraising ball is robbed Detroit racial tensions in Detroit (GASP) threaten to explode. It’s up to a hang dog Eliot Gould lookalike (remember this is back when this was a good thing) to team up with a Capt. John T. Soulbrother (warning might not be actual name) to find out whose ripped off the goods. The great thing about Detroit 9000 is that everyone is a bastard, a flashback to a strategy session of the congressman is one of the most gleefully venal scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. The Black Cop and The White Cop do not end up buddies, the city of Detroit plays itself admirably as a rotting husk of urban blight (once again shocking I know), the ending is downbeat, and it seems like it was shot by someone who actually knew what to do with a camera.

There are plenty of Grindhouse films with more kitsch value and Grand Guinole, but very few can match Detroit 9000 for sheer quality.

Still if it had been set in city of Detroit in the year 9000 it would have won movies.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Unseen #3: Circus Of Fear

Why I Bought It ?: Came with my dollar store copy of Carnival Of Souls.

Why I Haven’t Watched It ?: Would you watch a movie called Circus Of Fear rather then Carnival Of Souls?

How Was It?: Circus Of Fear isn’t actually a horror movie despite its misleading title, and present on a horror double feature DVD. Actually more of a crime film and mystery it follows a botched heist whose ill gotten gains end up stolen by someone (or SOMETHING, wait no it’s not a horror movie, someone) who works at a circus. Circus Of Fear is an agreeable enough movie that never quite becomes as fun as it should be. Despite the presence of Christopher Lee (!) as a Lion Tamer (!!) who wears a gimp mask (!!!) and Klaus Kinski at his most batshit Klaus Kinskiesque, this movie manages to occasionally be boring, for which there is simply no excuse.

The problem with the movie is that everything that goes on at the circus is reasonably entertaining it, but everything away from it is frightfully dull. The movie is half Freaks half pre Michael Caine, British Crime film (and thus, once again, dull). Anytime the movie cuts to British police genteely discussing Scallywags and Hooligans in a tastefully decorated office, my eyes couldn’t help but glaze over.

As the movie goes on we spend less and less time with the circus people and more and more time with the Agatha Christie Rejects (Band Name Trademarked). So despite the presence of lion attacks, Klaus Kinski acting like he’s a serial murderer, and The Dread Mystery Of What Lies Behind Christopher Lee’s Gimp Mask, things never quite take off.

The film comes to a suitably bizarre conclusion, involving an unsolved murder in South Africa (?). But by then it’s all a bit too little too late.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Unseen #2: The House By The Cemetary

Reason Bought?: Came with my copy of The Beyond asking why I bought The Beyond is a very silly thing to do.

Why Haven't I Watched It Yet?: I was a bit Fulci'd out when I picked it up (Yes such a thing is possible) I was saving it for a rainy badly dubbed day.

How Was It?:So going from one disreputable Italian Genre film to another disreputable Italian Genre film. Today’s Unseen comes to us from Lucio Fulci. AKA The Curly of the three Godfathers of Italian Horror films.

The movie gets off to a promising start as a busty topless chick calls out for her boyfriend in the middle of the titular house. Because nothing screams romance like fucking in an abandoned house in the middle of a cemetery, and then leaving your girlfriend alone to enjoy the post coital bliss all by her lonesome. Try it guys it’ll earn you some major points. After the predictable happens, the movie, which makes little sense even for a Fulci film, decides to follow a family that moves from their safe New York home to Boston.

The horror THE HORROR, but fear not gentle readers, they haven’t moved to Dorchester, they’ve moved to the house by the cemetery, which means they have to only deal with one house filled with murderous ghouls and not a whole neighborhood of them. (By the way what is it with Fulci and moving? An inordinate amount of his movies begin with people moving into a new place and thus opening up the gates of hell/ Zombies/ catching the attention of a serial murderer. If there’s one thing that’ll get you killed in a Fulci flick it’s not sex, and it’s not drugs, it’s desiring a more prestigious area code.

Anyway what starts as a good old fashioned family moves into a house haunted by a killer in the cellar pic, gets needlessly convoluted, again even for a Fulci film. The jist of it is that the house used to belong to a mad scientist named Dr. Freudenstein (No Really) and some of the Doc’s experiments may still be kicking around. The family moves in, including their horribly dubbed child Bob (is it just me or is it wrong to call a child Bob?) and what ensues is basically a version of The Shining if everyone took a double digit IQ drop. The Dad gets obsessed with Dr. Freudenstein (No Really) The Mom gets nervous, and Bob, the child acts creepy. And every once in awhile a shambling zombie thing comes and kills someone innocent.

Still despite it’s many shortcomings the film does offer many of the pleasures you associate with Fulci films. Its got, extreme gore, interesting style, a great Eurotrash score, and some real scares. And the most prolonged Bat Attack Of All Time.

The house itself as shot by Fulci has a genuine personality to it, and a genuinely creepy one at that. I don’t think it’s one of Fulci’s best films but it’s certainly one of his most enjoyable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Unseen #1: A Minute To Pray A Second To Die

The Unseen #1: A Minute To Pray A Second To Die

Reason Bought: Are you kidding me it’s an Italian Western entitled A Minute To Pray A Second To Die. No way I could pass that up. Plus it’s RZA approved. And also under five dollars. Plus did you take a look at that poster? Did you?

Why Haven’t I Watched It Yet: I only picked it up fairly recently. Infact it was kind of the inspiration for this column.

How Was It?: Not very good. Which isn’t to say it was bad. Just mediocre. And no where near as fun as it’s lurid trashy title suggests it to be. A Programmer in the worst sense of the word. It’s as standard as a Spaghetti Western can be, without even a particularly developed sense of sadism to set it apart from the maddening crowd.

It’s a standard story of an Outlaw trying to go straight before a corrupt marshal or his epilepsy can kill him. Along the way he romances a senorita and kills an awful lot of men in hats. But it all feels perfunctory.

Robert Ryan comes in to pinch hit at the end, and he livens things up with his always welcome "weathered bad ass mother fucker"presence. But it’s a case of too little too late and his roll is little more then a cameo. Arthur Kennedy comes in to chew the scenery as the villain, and he’s always fun too, but Alex Cord makes for a frankly boring hero and the director, Franco Giruldi doesn’t bring anything special to the film.

There are a few nice moments of badassery, a scene where Cord makes a man whose son he’s just killed give him a shave is particularly nice touch. But I have yet to see a Spaghetti Western that doesn’t and in the end there’s just not enough here to let me recommend anyone seeking this film out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Unseen: Intro

Part of being a modern day film fan is having a few DVD’s on your shelf that you’ve just never gotten around to seeing. I don’t mean the latest blockbuster which you saw in theaters, picked up when it came out, and just never got around to opening up. I mean films you bought blind and plain haven’t seen.

And when you’re as obsessive a collector as I, that number can be faintly embarrassing. I don’t know the exact number but suffice to say it’ll be awhile before this column runs out of material. Well no more. I”ve rounded up the usual suspects, and I’m burning through all of them. Every film I own and haven’t seen is going to get checked off and I’m taking you along for the ride.

Now as my track record with continuing columns isn’t the best I can see how this could be met with incredulity. It might even cause Sweet Clyde to laugh derisively at me. Well to this I can only respond that I plan on doing the shit I say, which conveniently, will have little to no details. I plan to get at least a couple of these up a week starting tomorrow, and it should be a fun trip through some of the odder places in my collection. Hope you enjoy.

What Kind Of Man Are You: The Man Who Wasn't There

“I’m going to take this hair and mix it with the dirt. Common household dirt.”

The Man Who Wasn’t ThereThe Man Who Wasn't There goes on the very short list of Coen Brothers films I’ve seen less then a dozen time. It’s been a long while since I revisited it, I was inspired to by the lunatic trailer for A Serious Man, and I’m glad I did. It’s maybe the Coen’s most troubling film, but it’s well worth seeing. There’s a lot to like even if there’s little to love.

It’s not hard to see why The Man Who Wasn’t There isn’t exactly a fan favorite. It’s an intensely uncomfortable film. Stylized and arch even for the Coens, full of their warped vision, but undercut by an uncomfortable existential hum, even in it’s most straightforwardly funny scenes (Like the trip to Frances McDormand’s “Wop” family wedding) that undercuts the enjoyment that visiting the Coen’s fractured world provides. In a lot of ways it’s darker then No Country For Old Men. It’s a decidedly almost purposefully minor film. And I can’t help but think it’s sort of brilliant.

In The Man Who Wasn’t There, Billy Bob Thorton plays a barber who so deadpan that he surely has reached a stage of zen. In a weird way he’s like The Dude’s evil Doppleganger, a man so laid back, one who abides much that nothing, not Tony Soprano fucking his wife, not a trip to the electric chair, a visit from Aliens, or even a blow job from Scarlett Johanson can get much of a rise out of him. The only thing that does knock him off his even keel is the opportunity to invest in Dry Cleaning, the wave of the future. To do so , he blackmails Gandolfini who’s having an affair with his wife, not that he minds that much, basically threatening to tell himself. And for that little show of ambition he ends up doomed in the best of Noir fashion.

The film is so laconic it can barely be said to have a pulse. It’s not like we care all that much what happens to Ed, how could we? He doesn’t care what happens to himself. For those who accuse the Coen’s of elitism this film has to drive them bugnuts. It’s practically anthropological, noir with all the passion surgically removed. This is the film people who hate The Coen brothers see every time they watch a Coen Brothers movie.

The film doesn’t involve us in a traditional way it just passes by like a fever dream. There are some stunning moments, Frances McDormand shot with genuine (though albeit, bizarre) eroticism for the first time since Blood Simple, the moment where the pane of safety glass fissures right in the middle of Gandolfini’s rage filled face. Dream logic, dialogue that doubles and Coens, pervaded with a sense of unease that’s down right Lynchian. Maybe the aliens who show up later in the film (surely the most unexpected since the ones who turned up to berate Woody Allen in Stardust Memories) are a message, because I don’t know if there’s ever been a film which seemed so much like the product of non human intelligence.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Well Watchmen is finally over. The directors cut is readily available, and as a result 20 odd years of speculation can finally come to an end. Reactions from the fans have ranged from grudging respect to grudging disappointment with no one going apoplectic on either side. Personally I feel that Zack Synder did about as well as one could do with the source material. The only scene I felt was really butchered (heh heh) was Rorschach’s interrogation scene, which gave the pat easy answers the novel refused to.

But it’s only now that I can look at the film with any kind of critical distance. The first few viewings where spent slack jawed and pointing. The first time I realized that the film wasn’t really working as well as I thought, was when I dragged some friends who weren’t familiar with the source material to it, and watched them shift uncomfortably in their seats for two and half hours. This hasn’t been an atypical reaction from what I can tell either. In one of those weird exceptions that prove the rule the fans have been more forgiving with the adaptation then the general movie going public. Or as my friend called it “The Anti V is For Vendetta”.

In a weird way the fans bring the greatness to the movie. Yes there are flaws in the movie. Plenty of them. Since his casting was announced I went around telling anyone who cared (and a fair amount who didn’t) that Matthew Goode was a perfect Ozymandius. This has turned out to be only slightly less accurate then Matt Damon’s prediction that "Crush Groove would be bigger then ET" in Dogma. And yes Carla Gugino’s performance would not be out of place at a Drag Queen gala. Yes Silk Spectre and Nite Owl straight up executing those top knots was a little weird.

But the moments it gets right are so right. Moments that have colored my imagination since Jr. High brought to stunning life. Jon’s sojourn on Mars (and really how underrated was Crudup in this movie) Rorschach’s desperate doomed struggle with the police (and the way that Jackie Earle Haley found the sadness at that character’s core) “I’m very disappointed in you Adrian”, the best opening credits sequence since Se7en and all the rest. I can’t help but love this movie. Love it for all it’s little missteps and bat shit insane music cues, Love it for it’s ambition and it’s daring.

Really what this movie made me excited for is Zack Synder. He took some deserving lumps for those “Visionary” commercials that came out. But I can’t help but like him. He seems to have no greater ambition then to be the greatest genre filmmaker of all time. Someone with John Carpenter’s instincts who can shoot like Ridley Scott. Someone with the skills, the enthusiasm and most importantly the clout to pull this off. I can’t wait to see Sucker Punch, his first original film. In a lot of ways it’ll be his true proving ground, and I can’t help but hope he pulls it off.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes

Between Michael Jackson and Hughes, a whole lot of the 80’s died this summer.

I can’t help but feel a little hypocritical writing a tribute to John Hughes. While I’ve never actively disliked Hughes, I can’t say I ever really cared about him either. He’s like the Aerosmith of film directors. Not bad, but never anywhere near transcendent, with some embarrassing steps in their later careers that make you have second thoughts about just what it was you liked about them in the first place.

Still there’s no way to deny that Hughes death came as a shock to me. Hughes was truly ubiquitous in American pop culture in a way that very few directors ever have. He joins that small list of filmmakers like Spielberg and Capra, who truly have their name above the title. One of the few who anybody, no matter how little they cared or knew about movies knew who he was and what a film by him meant.

Most of the obits point to Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Hughes enduring work, but my favorite has always been Sixteen Candles, his loosest and funniest piece. While I admire both as quality pieces of Hollywood craftsmanship neither ever really broke the skin with me. Which in all fairness is part of the Hughes appeal, just how easy this stuff goes down, complaining about how Hughes goes down smooth is like complaining that Coke does, or course it does, that's why everybody likes it. Despite it’s iconic feel The Club always felt a bit too calculated to me (again, duh) and for all the charms of Ms. Sheedy in that film, I still can’t help but kind of shake my head at the films “big” moments like Judd Nelson’s dance of anger, which even at thirteen struck me as profoundly silly.

I’ve always found the more grey shaded Pretty In Pink, just as I prefer the looser more manic Sixteen Candles to the calculated Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The problem with pointing out these kind of flaws in a Hughes movie, is that their faults are too tightly intertwined in their pleasures. Are they contrived, simplistic, calculated, yeah but who the fuck cares. As Woody Allen said in Annie Hall art is often just there to potray how life should be. And John Hughes potrayed the way life should be to a whole lot of people. You can’t discount that.