Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave

(This review is humbly dedicated to Sage Stallone, whose untimely passing last week robbed the world of a great programmer and film conservationist. If you enjoy the fact that you can watch The Beyond, you have Sage Stallone to thank. It was suggested in more than one of his obituaries that the best way to honor the man would be to watch the most squalid Italian Horror movie they could get their hands on. Well Sage here’s hoping this suffices.)

I’ve wanted to see The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, ever since Stephen King casually name dropped it as one of the most luridly titled horror films of which he knew. Though the film cannot quite live up to the promise of its title (and really how could it) it does stand as mad of an Italian tea party as has been filmed.

The film opens with a bug eyed man fleeing from a mental institute, which is as apt a way to start the film as any. This is Lord Albert Cunningham who escapes the asylum and returns to his crumbling ruin of a castle where he works through the grief of his wife Evelyn’s recent betrayal and death by kidnapping buxom redheads and killing them in his customized torture chamber. Well people handle grief in different ways... Just as we’re settling in for a good ole fashioned, “Crazed Aristocracy murders the plebians” picture the film abruptly switches gears (a phrase you’ll come by a lot in Italian Horror) and suddenly the film decides that Cunningham is a tragic hero. He marries a young blonde in an attempt to curb his murderous impulses (marking the one time in horror film history that being blonde has actually prolonged a woman’s life) and in doing so may or may not have raised the irate Evelyn from her, well you know it’s right there in the title.

Let’s see gloved killers, J&B whiskey, crushed velvet suits, incongruous hippie bands, a smattering of live burials, yep it’s a gialli all right. The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave neatly checks all the boxes of genre pleasures. But has enough of its own eccentricities to remain interesting. From the blasé manner in which everyone (and I do mean everyone) overlooks the Lord’s nasty habit of murdering women, the character of a dowager aunt who seems to be all of thirty two, and the fact that the film fits in so many nude fleshy red heads into the proceedings that one has to wonder if the filmmakers were trying to fufill a quota of some sort. Not that I’m exactly complaining.

Indeed The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, is one of the rare Italian horror films whose mind is truly more on sex than violence. Despite the lurid premise the film’s gore is actually relatively subdued, save one gleefully unhinged scene where a pack of foxes dispose of a body faster than you can say, "Chaos Reigns". Things climax in the best Italian Horror fashion with unhinged plot twist atop unhinged plot twist, creating a spectacle of the best anti logic sort. If you seek the absolute batshit from your Italian horror it won’t disappoint. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


So this isn't the usual purview of TTDS but there are two worthy kickstarter campaigns that could use a good swift kick in the starter (went a bridge too far with that one).

First off there's Trailers From Hell. For those unfamiliar with this little slice of Awesomeness, Joe Dante and crew (with crew consisting of the likes of Guilmero Del Toro, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth) have banded together to bring you the best exploitation trailer collection not called 42nd Street Forever. Seriously the amount of fannish love that these guys bring to the average production is truly inspiring for all the years they've been putting out this stuff for free the idea of giving them a hand in order to help them cross that finish line is the least we fans can do.

It doesn't hurt that this has some of the coolest Schwag I've ever seen in a kickstarter campaign, rare autographed goods from the likes of Dante, Landis, Roger Corman. As well as gifts from the good folks at The Warner Archives and Synapese. I could only afford to pledge at the 25 Dollar mark and that still gets me an autographed DVD from Dante. So do yourself a favor and become a hellion.

Next we have Before The Mask the proposed sequel to Behind The Mask which after attempts at fundraising through Facebook and Gathr is finally pulling down one last ditch effort through Kickstarter. Behind The Mask, it truly had a unique voice, and Glosserman and crew deserve to continue their story. Behind The Mask was ahead of the curve in a lot of different ways and I'd love to see what they have to say about the last ten years of horror.

And while I'm shilling, though while I was on hiatus from TTDS I still found time to hang out with my friends from The Actioncast (And Alex Too). Which just celebrated it's second year actionversary. So if you have for some unfathomable reason not subscribed to The Actioncast and the other Podcasts in the Joe Drilling Media Empire™go back and peruse the archives to see what I thought of such films as The Rad, or listen to me geek out about all four (well two and a half really) of the Alien films. A good time will be had by all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

8 Million Ways To Die

Believe it or not but Savages was not the first time that Oliver Stone had a hand in ruining a crime novel that I love.

In all fairness you can't lay it all on Stone this time out. 8 Million Ways To Die has to rank as one of the most inexplicable combinations between a director and source material ever devised. It’s a crime film made by Hal Ashby that we’re talking about here. Ashby was of course best know for his humanistic character driven dramidies and whimsical fables. Bruising slabs of mean streets cinema not so much.

Because it’s not just any crime film either, it’s a Lawerence Block adaptation. If there’s one thing Block isn’t it’s whimsical. He’s not particularly humanistic either. Block has written some of the most cynical, down right meanest crime novels ever and The Matthew Scudder series contains some of the darkest of those.  Following this rabbit hole even further we find that 8 Million Ways To Die is considered one of the darkest of that sub strata. This is a natural fit right? And yes, Oliver Stone (in the prime of his white powder days) wrote the screenplay, because let’s face it it’s not like it makes things any weirder.

Things get off on the wrong foot literally from the first shot, a sweeping seemingly never ending panoramic helicopter shot of a city. It would be a perfectly fine shot, except it’s of the wrong city. Matthew Scudder is the quintessential New York detective, his character is informed by and associated with the city to roughly the same extent that Phillip Marlowe is with Los Angeles and Patrick Kenzie is with Boston. It’s not simply nonsensical to move him to the opposite coast. It’s antithetical. All making the completely arbitrary decision (it’s not as if effects the plot in any way) to change the location does is make the viewer suspicious that those involved didn’t really give half a crap about making a decent adaptation, it is a suspicion that is confirmed many many times over the course of the film.

The movie follows Matthew Scudder, an alcoholic former LAPD detective, who quits the force after killing a person (though the fact that that person was changed from a little girl to a drug dealer beating Scudder’s friend with a baseball bat makes the downward spiral that follows it more or less nonsensical) and sets himself up as an Unlicensed PI.

8 Million Ways To Die really kicks off (for lack of a better term) when a Scudder is hired by a woman at one of his AA meetings, a prostitute leaving the life who hires Scudder as protection from her pimp. The woman is murdered, Scudder goes on a black out drunk and then a week later comes to and tries to figure out what happened.

As a plot gimmick goes a man having to backtrack and piece together what he uncovered during a missing week isn’t bad, but 8 Million Ways To Die soon drops the conceit. The best detective stories combine morality plays with puzzle box plots, the search for truth that the detective goes on is reflected by the peeling back of the various facades of the world around him. The solution to whatever mystery is present should neatly coincide with the revelation of the world the detective inhabits for what it really is.  8 Million Ways To Die on the other hand has all the finesse of a lurching drunk. The film was compromised, taken out of Ashby’s hands in the editing room, but the director’s personal problems were catching up on him and attempts to insert the director’s trademark whimsy (a hostage exchange negotiated over a snow cone, exposition delivered during a lurching walk down a city street that plays very close to physical comedy) and the beloved behavioralism of his seventies films just come off as sloppy.

There are a few bright spots, Jeff Bridges plays Scudder with a very undude like conviction, and with the right level of bruised morality that suggests that he could have been the right actor to bring the character to life had he been provided with a better script.  And a young Andy Garcia makes for an impressive charismatic villain, even if Stone seemingly wrote the character as a dry run for Tony Montana. But it’s not enough to save the movie. 8 Million Ways To Die is the worst kind of bad film, the kind that doesn’t make you mad so much as it just kind of depresses you. Everyone in the film has done better work, alas Hal Ashby would never be given the chance again, the film served as a muddled coda to a great career.

When the movie flopped it drove the character of Scudder right off the screen, for the next thirty years. Luckily it looks like he’ll be given a second chance, Scott Frank and Liam Neeson are bringing the character back for A Walk Among The Tombstones, perhaps the darkest and best book in the series.

Here’s hoping they have better luck. 

Monday, July 9, 2012


Hey guys…

I know I know, here I am sneaking in at 3:00 AM with lipstick on my collar and whiskey on my breath. But it’s not what it looks like baby I can explain…

OK I can’t explain. It’s just what it looks like.

In hindsight I really should have called an official hiatus. In my defense, I didn’t plan to go so long without writing. Honestly I didn’t. Certainly there were films I wanted to write about, both big like John Carter (underrated) Prometheus (WTF) and The Avengers (Wheeeeeee!) and small like Resurrect Dead and The Red Riding Trilogy.

But I was also in the middle of writing one manuscript and editing another and every time I scraped out a couple hours to write, the sad fact is that something else took priority.

But a funny thing happened during the time I spent away. I began to miss it. For the last couple of months Things That Don’t Suck had turned into something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do. And that, as Nixon assured us “Would be wrong.”

Well I want to do it again. I miss writing about film on a constant basis, I miss having a voice in the conversation no matter how small it is. And I miss you guys reading your responses, hearing your insights. Dodging your bricks.

Alright group hug over, let’s try this again.

Don Winslow’s Savages is a piece of pulp poetry. A maniacal ultra violent near farce one moment, a melancholy requiem the next. It’s cynical to the point of being borderline nihilistic, angry, viciously satirical, laugh out loud funny, occasionally beautiful and above all it’s fucking lean and relentless. You can read it in one sitting. A novel made out of gristle.

Saying that Oliver Stone’s film is in comparison a little chunky is like saying that Orson Welles circa Touch Of Evil had a few extra pounds on him. As Stone’s bloated spectacle flopped before me the strongest emotion I felt wasn’t anger, or even disappointment, but a bone deep bafflement. Just what the fuck was this? Don Winslow’s name is on the script, what was he thinking when Stone started adding subplots and politicking turning his sleek cruise missile of a story into this ungainly ornamented thing. I have not seen an adaptation miss the point of its own source material so aggressively since Less Than Zero. I am confused by literally every creative decision made in Savages.

This is the sort of film where I don’t even know where to begin with what’s wrong with it. Sure there’s the aforementioned extraneous subplots and characters which add nothing but baggage to the story (and give Stone a place to shoe horn in his requisite Indian Fetish I guess). But there’s also the voice over by Blake Lively (not since The Spirit has wall to wall narration been this unwelcome), which sound like Stone was actually angry at his hypothetical audience when he recorded it. We could talk about the fact that Stone’s still using canted angles and lens filters like it’s the mid nineties and someone gives a fuck. There’s also the cop out ending. The way the film ignores most of the books biting black humor, contains none of its irony and sentimentalizes its deeply unsentimental tone. That would leave out the fact that the film’s gender politics are truly odious, adding in a rape scene not featured in the book that is so completely gratuitous that it is down right bizarre. With absolutely zero narrative or thematic payoff. I guess you can’t have a powerful woman character in a story without debasing a double XX Chromosone somewhere.  

The real bitch of it is I can’t deny that the movie has its moments. There’s a heist scene here that is as tight and intense as anything that Stone has ever directed. There are isolated shots and scenes that are excellent. Some of the most striking images of Stone’s career are in this movie. As for the actors Selma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta all give excellent performances, with Del Toro in particular relishing the chance to be one dimensional, going so far as to literally twirl his mustache at one point in the film.

As for the younger trio that the film centers around it’s a wash. None of them are really bad, even Lively if one overlooks her voice over is only kind of bland. But they don’t have any of the richness that they did on the page. Like the film they inhabit they’ve been white washed, turned from Winslow’s venal, sociopathic and deeply haunted (respectively) creations to just some guys.

Savages is by any judgment a complete failure. As an adaptation it’s a willful misinterpretation at best. On it’s own merits it’s a piece of self parody that buries its few thrilling moments underneath bloat, vanity and some severely fucked up subtext.

To quote the book’s opening line,

“Fuck You.”