Friday, July 6, 2018

Leatherface

Leatherface (2017)


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Leatherface is the prequel to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D - I assumed that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D was the same movie as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (also called Leatherface) and this movie disregarded Texas Chainsaw Massacres 2 and 4, but Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D is actually a do-over of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which this film presumably retcons along with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 and 4. I drew a schematic of the series (below) to guide you on this journey.
Basically, fuck you

The movie is about the notorious Sawyer family before they were inbred cannibal hillbillies with a chainsaw-wielding madman, and merely inbred cannibal hillbillies. The boys murder the daughter of the local sheriff (Stephen Dorff) for what the hellsies, prompting him to send the youngest son to a home for disturbed children where his name is changed. Some years later, a group of young people, including a psychopathic necrophiliac couple (James Bloor & Jessica Madsen), the mostly gentle giant Bud (Sam Coleman), one of the nurses from the institution (Vanessa Grasse), and a perfectly normal not-at-all-a-killer handsome regular sized dude (Sam Strike) escape from the institution. The group goes on some sort of spree across Texas, pursued by the increasingly violent and sadistic sheriff.

Leatherface seems like it has a lot of stuff to say about an array of social issues plaguing America at present - it addresses how the foster care system fails children with its depiction of a thinly-veiled lunatic asylum masquerading as a home for troubled youth; class division, with the matriarch of the family (Lili Taylor) marrying into money and hiring a lawyer in an attempt to be able to see her child; gun control, in one scene where the scary girl takes a gun from a restaurant patron's side holster, then goes for the shotgun behind the bar, proclaiming "I love Texas"; Texan Pride, when same girl tells the sheriff "kiss my Texan ass"; and police brutality, with the sheriff indiscriminately killing and torturing unarmed and restrained teen-convicts. While these social elements are all interesting, most of them are negated by having the characters with whom we most sympathize be vile, degenerate monsters. One could argue that having both the protagonists and antagonists be horrific, unpleasant people presents a fair and unbiased look at both sides of the issues the movie seeks to tackle, but what it actually does is make the movie boring and unenjoyable.

The only likeable and/or complicated character in the movie is Bud, who seems to genuinely want to do the right thing but is manipulated by his companions to the point that he doesn't know what the right thing to do is, but other than that there is next to no delving into his character. This is in part because the movie so badly wants us to think that Bud is going to turn out to be Leatherface, because he's huge and quiet, but capable of extreme violence when threatened. This would have absolutely been a more interesting direction for the character. Instead, Leatherface decides that Leatherface was once a small, polite, mild-mannered boy, the person one would least suspect to become Leatherface, making him automatically the person I most suspected.

The gore is pretty gross, although there's entirely too little of it. One of the big mistakes that the movie makes is forgetting that people watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies for the violence, gore, and rampant misogyny, not the family drama.

If you're going to make a horror movie about family drama, at least try to make that drama somewhat interesting (see Rob Zombie's Halloween, a movie which did everything wrong and still managed to pique my interest). At the start of the movie, the Sawyer family is already torturing a dude for stealing their pigs, dropping an engine on a girl for no reason, and giving a chainsaw to the youngest son for fun. The origin story of Leatherface, according to this movie, boils down to "well he's a fucked up murderer because his family is all fucked up murderers and they nicely asked him to fucked up murder some people". Killing people who trespassed on their land I can get. That's a specific situation that could gradually spiral into something else. But they lure the sheriff's daughter (Lorina Kamburova) into a barn and murder her for no real reason other than they're bored, which is not even at all a jump away from killing other people out of boredom.

There's a lot of stuff in the movie that doesn't get any satisfactory explanation or backstory - for example, what happened to Lili Taylor's other kids? When the sheriff's daughter gets murdered, the sheriff declares that the oldest brother will be sent to the electric chair (some other characters say that he won't because there's no solid evidence against him, but the sheriff is crazy and crooked as fuck so... I don't see why that's an issue) and that all the other children will be rounded up and sent into foster care or institutions. Towards the end of the movie, all the kids are back on the farm, and it's super unclear how they managed to get there.

The nurse, who is kind of the main character I guess, is absolutely fucking useless throughout. She tries to escape roughly every fifteen minutes (in a ninety minute movie) and always fails, then stands around doing jack shit to help while somebody rescues her. One of her escape attempts leads to Bud getting killed by the police, which triggers Niceman McMilderson's transformation into Leatherface McMurderboner. She even tries to save the sheriff from the Sawyer's house even though she knows he's an asshole. All of this I would expect - though not necessarily like - in an older movie, but in this age of female-led powerhouse horror (for more thorough analysis of feminism and horror I refer you to Anatomy of a Scream) it seems lazy and dated.

Ultimately, the worst thing about Leatherface is that it takes itself way too seriously. There is not one ounce of joy to be found in the movie. There's a scene where the errant teens shoot up a restaurant full of people, which is reminiscent of something out of Near Dark or Natural Born Killers but with all the fun sucked out of it. Even the shittiest entries in the original continuity were weird and goofy, but this is a turgid slog.

Merits
- Lili Taylor appears in the film (+1)
- The Power of Moms (+1)
- The Power of Friendship (+1)
- Gore is okay (+1)
- Some cool things made of bones (+1)
- There's a girl with burnt titties which is sort of unusual (+1)
Total: (+6)

Demerits
- Rips off/"homages" Friday the 13th for some reason? (-1)
- This backstory sucks (-1)
- The Halloween remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies (-1)
- The timeline of this series is all fucked up (-1)
- ECT in horror movies is cliched as hell (-1)
- Two characters get their fuck on while escaping from the mental institution which is the most obnoxiously out of place sex scene in a mainstream movie since Shoot 'em Up (-1)
- Way too serious (-1)
- The group has a bonfire inside a god damn camper and don't die of smoke inhalation (-1)
- Necrophilia can probably give you weird diseases (-1)
- The nurse is a dumbass (-2)
- The movie is so boring at one point the characters are covered from head to toe in blood and it's not even people blood (-1)
- Movie forgets that smell is a sense that humans have (-1)
- Predictable as shit (-1)
Total: (-14)
Final Score: -8

Directed by: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo.  Written by: Seth M. Sherwood.  Starring: Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen, Sam Coleman.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Lights Out

Lights Out (2016)


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I took a break from trawling youtube to trawl netflix, and Lights Out was the first thing listed under "scary movies" that I hadn't already seen. It's about a dysfunctional family harassed by a ghost-demon-monster thing that can't go in the light.

I have very few nice things to say about this movie so I'm going to get them out of the way quickly.

The fact that the monster can't go in the light yields a couple of pretty cool scenes - for example, there's a police officer at one point and they're shooting at the creature and the flash from the gun stops it so it moves forwards like a choppy flipbook which is neat.

I also really liked the main female character (Teresa Palmer) - she's supposed to be a kinda gothy metalhead, I guess, which doesn't really work, but what I like is how unsentimental she is. She has serious commitment issues, which I respect, and doesn't get all mushy until the very end of the movie which is cool. This puts her in contrast with her mother (Maria Bello) whose character is really sentimental, clinging to the past and letter her emotions control her and also manifest as a thought form that terrorizes her children.

The characters are reasonably well written for the most part, with the exception of the boyfriend character (Alexander DiPersia), whose main personality trait is that he's clingy. The first scene he's in, he's trying to pressure the main girl into letting him spend the night, which I guess is supposed to highlight her commitment problems but for me - a woman with commitment problems - just incurred immediate dislike of the guy. He also gets some pretty stupid dialogue, like when he first meets the girl's little brother (Gabriel Bateman) he's like "I didn't know you had a brother", even though she has a picture of her and her brother in her apartment. That made me mad because this guy is trying to pursue a relationship with her and insinuate himself into her life and whatever, but obviously never bothered to ask "who's the little kid in this picture of you?"

The only scares in the movie are jump scares which is obviously not a good thing - one got me early in the movie because I was hoping this wasn't that kind of movie, and that filled me with rage for about the first forty five minutes of the film. I feel like I've done this before, but I'm going to break down again why jump scares suck for anybody who thinks that "any scare is a good scare". With some very well handled exceptions, a seasoned viewer can tell when a jump scare is coming and react accordingly - I prepare by just taking one earbud out so it isn't so loud. In this movie, I could even predict whether there was going to be an actual jump scare, or a fake-out (e.g., oh my god is the monster behind that shower curtain, no, it's just the kid). To reiterate, jump scares are generally a lazy, predictable substitute for making a movie that's actually scary, and they make me hate you. Stop doing it.

Another lazy device in this movie is that apparently everybody in this family likes to buy shitty, defective light bulbs for some reason. The bulbs flicker like they're fucking strobe lights, and one bulb fails entirely, allowing the monster to kill a guy. It makes me wonder if the monster, which has an ill-defined suite of powers, also has the power to make light bulbs flicker? That power seems pretty useless except in the case where one light flickers so much the bulb burns out, but if that's a thing the monster can do why does it only do that once?

Also the climax of the film involves a power outage on the block which may or may not have been caused by the monster? I mean, they don't explicitly say that it was, but they don't say that it wasn't either, which is also kind of lazy. I know, power outages are not an usual occurrence, but for it to just go out on a clear night when a family just happens to be fighting a photosensitive ghost demands explanation. And again, if the monster can make the power go out, why doesn't it do that all the time? Why does it wait until its victims are prepared for it?

Speaking of being prepared, it's amazing to me how unprepared these people actually are for even a regular power outage. They only have, like, two flashlights and three candles, for a huge house. To contrast, I have a small apartment and have about forty five candles, a really big and bright flashlight,  a smaller and less bright flashlight, and several battery operated strings of holiday lights. Why? Because I like to be able to see what I'm fucking doing.

Back to the monster - I have some serious questions about the monster in this fucking movie. Question one - how dark does it need to be for the thing to attack? Coz like, sometimes it seems to be restricted to areas of pitch black, and other times it can come out when it's merely dim. Also there is at least one time when a character is in a room where the lights are on, and the monster is in the closet which has the door open but is completely, absolutely dark. I'm not a physicist, but I'm reasonably sure that that is not how light works.

Question two - does the monster occupy physical space or not? It can interact with, and physically harm, humans so I'm going to go with yes, but it also disappears when light is shining on it, but appears to be in the same place when the light goes away, but also can't move between shadows through places where there is light except sometimes it can. What I'm getting at here is that there are absolutely no rules for how this thing functions in the world which, okay, it's a ghost, but by not having any consistent rules it begs the question, why can't it just go wherever? Like... I dunno, inside your eyelids when you close your eyes. Is there any reason it can't?

Question three - why can it sometimes come into the light? This question is sort of related to the previous one in that there are no fucking rules for how this monster works. The only rule that is solidly laid out is that it can't come into the light, at all. Except that sometimes it can, like at one point it takes a kid's sketchbook when she turns her back on it, even though the sketchbook is underneath a fucking lamp. Also, towards the end they use a flashlight to burn it, even though previously it just disappeared whenever light was shone on it which goes back to the physical space question.

Question four - this isn't actually a question but the origin story of the ghost-monster is hilariously bad. Eventually we learn that the monster used to be a little girl named Diana who befriended the mom when she was in a mental hospital as a child. Diana had severe photosensitivity (like, severe enough that lamp light gave her burns. I'm not a doctor, but my boyfriend has mild photosensitivity, and from what I understand the reaction is caused by ultraviolet light, which regular lamps, and candles, do not emit) and psychic powers that she used to make people her friends and/or kill themselves, but only sometimes. Again, there isn't really any explanation of what powers she has exactly or why she doesn't use them all the time. Doctors at the mental hospital tried to treat her by shining a really bright light on her which made her literally turn to ash. I am not joking. I laughed my fucking ass off. But it also made her turn into a super powerful ghost for some reason. I can't even with this movie.

Question five - why doesn't black light work? At one point in the movie, the kids find a black light and use that to see. It turns out that the monster isn't harmed by the black light for some reason. Like I said before, from what I understand about light sensitivity, it's an extreme sensitivity to UV radiation, which is what a black light emits and therefore should probably be harmful to a person with this condition. I will accept that, maybe, the condition the monster has is actually magic and for some reason only light in the visible spectrum will hurt it. I can suspend my disbelief for that. But the lamp that the kids were using was definitely emitting visible light, so there's still no reason that the monster would not be affected.

Question six - why does the monster rip peoples eyes out? Is it because it tried to hide inside their eyelids but it was too big? You know what, I don't even give a fuck anymore, the monster in this movie is fucking stupid, I've made my point.

Want to know another really stupid thing about this movie? The ending. Towards the end of the movie we learn that the ghost-demon thing is basically the semi-physical manifestation of the mom's depression, sort of like the Babadook. Remember in The Babadook when the woman learns to live with the monster because, even though you can't make depression go away, you can manage it so that it doesn't ruin your life? Well, in this movie the Only Way to solve the problem is for the mom to blow her own fucking brains out with a handgun. Yes, the ultimate message of this movie is that you can get rid of your depression by killing yourself. Fuck this movie, right in the ear.

Merits
- Unsentimental woman (+1)
Total: +1

Demerits
- Jump scares are the ketchup of horror films (-1)
- Why not buy CFL bulbs, they use less power and last longer so they're good for your wallet and the environment (-1)
- Boyfriend is a dink (-1.5) [points restored for him like saving them or whatever]
- Convenient power outage (-1)
- Hand cranked flashlight, for extra uselessness (-1)
- Buy some more candles, jesus (-1)
- How can these people afford this massive house? (-1)
- The monster makes no fucking sense (-8)
- It's like The Babadook if The Babadook was a piece of shit (-2)
Total: -17.5
Final Score: -16.5 stars

Directed by: David F. Sandberg.  Written by: Eric Heisserer.  Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Spookies

Spookies (1986)


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A boy (Alec Nemser) runs away from home because his parents forgot his birthday. He comes to a spooky old house, and is then unceremoniously killed by some kind of goblin-cat-man hybrid wearing a pirate costume (Dan Scott). Then, a group of young people, plus their old man friend, come to the house and are murdered by various monsters, because this wizard in the basement (Felix Ward) needs their souls to restore his dead wife (Maria Pechukas). This movie is extremely fucking weird.

From what I read about it, a movie about young people getting killed in a spooky old house called Twisted Souls was filmed and almost finished when blah blah blah productions something rights legal stuff happened and somebody else came along and slapped a whole bunch of bullshit about a wizard, a goblin man, and a runaway kid into the movie. There have been whole articles devoted to the weird shit show of this movie's creation so I won't get into it too much except to say that I quite liked the haunted house stuff, and not so much the wizard stuff. It's a shame that the original filmmakers didn't go on to much after this because some of their work here is quite inspired.

The only really good thing about the latter part of the movie is that the zombie effects are okay (oh yeah, there's also zombies in this movie). They're not great but they're pretty gross so I'll accept it. There's also a scene towards the end where the resurrected wife manages to escape the house and gets chased by zombies for almost five minutes. It's a long, unrelentingly horrifying scene, which probably would have been better in a different movie but still, it was well done.

Also, actually, to be fair, the relationship between the old wizard guy and his bride is fucked up enough to be interesting. We learn that she killed herself because she couldn't get away from him, and that she also mothered several of his children after being dead. I think that this implies that the crazy monsters in the other part of the movie are their children? I'm not sure.

Speaking of crazy monsters, the monsters in the good part of the movie are really weird, creative, and cool. There's one thing that's got a tentacle and a sucker thing and is electric. There's a woman in the basement who turns into a giant spider, which is totally my jam. The effects were well done so that makes this a fun monster movie. There's also one, possibly infamous scene, with some mud monsters that just... make fart sounds while they attack. It's so absurd I laughed my ass off watching it. A lesser movie would have made a point of the monsters being fart monsters by having one of the characters address the farts, thereby ruining the joke. But no, it's a normal monster attack scene. With fart sounds. That really appeals to my sense of humour for some reason.

The characters in the good part have an unusual dynamic which kept me invested in them throughout the movie. They fall roughly into horror movie archetypes - there's a tough greaser guy and his slightly trashy girlfriend, a frigid mean lady and her whipped boyfriend, a "funny" guy with a puppet, et cetera, but there's also one woman who's boyfriend is like... a good fifteen or twenty years older than the rest of the crew. He ends up being more or less the main character and I spent a lot of time imagining the situation where this woman wants to introduce her older boyfriend to her childhood friends only to realize that they really haven't grown up over the years, they still like to cruise around the country side and party in graveyards and shit, and she's trying to keep it together and make sure her boyfriend has a good time even though he's like not into that shit, and then monsters happen.

Anyway, the original bits of the movie were weird and funny and good, and even though they felt pretty Evil Dead-y, they were really fun to watch. It's a shame that they got chopped up and stuck in between absolute drivel. I would really like to see a proper cut of this movie, I don't know if one exists, but I'd like it.

The other part of the movie is cheap, and heartless. It has that low budget, made for TV feel (as opposed to the rest of the movie which has a low budget but good feel). The goblin-cat-man thing pretty much looks like Demon Cop in a pirate and/or cowboy costume. The sound recording is trash, especially for the wizard guy who sounds like all of his dialogue was recorded literally in a dumpster.

Before I realized that there were two movies haphazardly slapped together, I was really confused about whether the two cars full of people, and the runaway kid, knew each other. The way the opening scenes are edited makes it seem like they are related to each other in some way, but they obviously never come into contact with one another, and the kid just dies out of nowhere.

The parts with the kid were particularly awful and nonsensical. So, he runs away from home because his parents forgot his birthday. Then he comes to this house and just goes the fuck in for whatever reason. Then he comes to a room that's set up with birthday decorations addressed to him. And he's like "oh wow, you didn't forget". Even though they made clear that this is not his house. This is just some house that he happened to wander into. The fact that there is a birthday card in some stranger's house addressed to him does not freak him out at all, he's just like "ha ha, this is great".

I had a few problems with the good part of the movie too, let's be fair. Characters start a conversation and inexplicably don't finish it - for example, at one point the woman is talking to her old boyfriend and she says something along the lines of "it's funny, I grew up with these people-" and then just never finishes that thought. It's not like she got interrupted by something, she just stops talking. Also, the main-ish monster woman (I forgot to mention this but one of the group of people visiting the house gets turned into a super demon by a ouija board) seems to disappear for a large part of the movie before returning and causing more shit. That being said, I wonder if either of those problems were really problems to begin with, or were just fucked up by sloppy editing later.

Overall, that's my opinion of the whole movie. Twisted Souls might not have been a good movie if it had been permitted to exist, I'll never know, but what I saw of it was entertaining and funny, and very well could have been a decent horror comedy if Spookies hadn't come along and shit all over it.

Merits
- Zombies are okay (+1)
- Very cool monsters (+4)
- Old-kid (+1)
Total: +6

Demerits
- Wizard's shitty "European" (?) accent (-1)
- Wizard's shitty old-man makeup (-2)
- Wizard talks constantly to no one in particular (-1)
- crappy made for TV feel (-1)
- There's a chess analogy in there somewhere (-1)
- The kid just dies (-1)
- Greaser guy wants to fuck his girlfriend after seeing two of his friends die (-1)
- The end of the movie is stupid and meaningless (-1)
Total: -9
Final Score: -3

Directed by: Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner, with additional material by Eugenie Joseph.  Written by: Thomas Doran, Frank M. Farel, Brendan Faulker, with additional material by Ann Burgund.  Starring: Peter Dain, Felix Ward, Nick Gionta, Maria Pechukas, Kim Merrill, Lisa Friede, Joan Ellen Delaney, Dan Scott, Alec Nemser, Peter Iasillo Jr., Charlotte Alexandra, Anthony Valbiro, Soo Paek.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Nightmare

Nightmare (1981)


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A schizophrenic man (Baird Stafford) with vivid nightmares about a gruesome decapitation is released from a psychiatric hospital because he is cured of his violent tendencies. He then immediately travels to Florida to stalk a single mom (Sharon Smith) and murder a whole bunch of people.

The only good thing in this movie was the gore effects which, according to the credits and poster, were created by Tom Savini, but according to Tom Savini, were created by somebody else. Whether or not Savini was actually responsible for the effects in the movie is shrouded in controversy - I'm going to go ahead and believe the guy when he says he wasn't, but I will say that whoever did end up creating the effects did a really good job of imitating Savini's work because they looked great and fabulously gory. That's all I have to say about that.

Another controversy of the movie is that the British distributor apparently went to jail over this for refusing to comply with local censorship laws which, again, I'm not really here to comment on other than to say it's insane to me that people can actually be incarcerated over film censorship. Also it says a lot for this movie that the most interesting thing about it is how much other people were pissed off by it.

For the most part, Nightmare is just confusing. Title cards tell us what day of the week it is so that I guess the passage of time makes more sense, but they end up having the opposite effect by implying that the killer guy went from being incurably mentally ill, to cured, to released in a span of less than twenty-four hours.

It's unclear how his release worked too. Like, on the first night he's shown in a psychiatric ward being given sedatives for his screaming night terrors so obviously he's being held there, and there's a mention of him having murdered somebody or whatever so he's probably not allowed to leave. The next day he's released, then the day after that he fails to show up to a meeting with his psychiatrist, prompting the police to assume he's fucked off to go kill people. At that point, we learn that he hasn't showed up to his job in two weeks, which makes exactly zero sense.

There are so many other small logic/sense problems with the movie - for example, the police have this really advanced super computer that answers questions and has seemingly limitless information on people, and yet they also didn't know that (spoiler) the killer guy has a wife and kids that he might try to get in touch with. In another part, a police officer (or paramedic?) shows the shitty kid his friend's brutally murdered body, out in the middle of the street, and starts questioning him about where he was at the time of the murder. He doesn't even take him to the station or whatever, he just does this out in the open.

In addition to being confusing and disorienting, Nightmare is also extremely boring. There is a lot of nothing going on, and no characters that are remotely sympathetic. The woman who is being stalked and harassed by the killer is a terrible mother who divides her time laying in bed, fucking her boyfriend, and yelling at her kids. The boyfriend (I actually forget the character's name so I'm not sure who played him but process of elimination tells me Mik Cribben) is almost okay because yknow he's actually trying to make an effort with this horrible woman and her horrible kids, except he also sometimes tries to keep her from going home to her kids so she can blow him or whatever which is a dick move. Also he lives on a boat which immediately tells me he's an asshole. Also he makes a casual reference to the Antonioni film Blow Up which is just a weird thing to do. The only one of the kids we get any information about (CJ Cooke) likes to play extremely elaborate pranks and terrorizes his mother, siblings, and babysitter. The babysitter (Danny Ronan) blatantly neglects the children. The killer almost seems like he was supposed to be a sympathetic character - he's driven to kill because of this recurrent nightmare of a horrifying decapitation. But at the end of the movie it turns out that it's a memory of himself, murdering his dad and the woman his dad was with. So like... fuck you, guy?

The weirdest thing about Nightmare is how much it feels like a hardcore right wing American fantasy. At the end of the movie, the killer is stopped by the shitty kid, who knows where his mom keeps the Family Gun and apparently has wicked good aim. So there you have it - arming our children can prevent murder.

But wait, there's more. The reason the killer guy killed his dad and dad's.... lady friend, is because he saw them having sex. Not just regular sex, but mild BDSM sex, with the dad tied up and the woman hitting him with stuff. So obviously exposure to sex is bad for children (as opposed to exposure to handguns which is beneficial in this movie), and exposure to dominant women is even worse, sending the kid so far over the edge he goes for an axe and fucks shit up.

As an adult, the killer guy abandons his family, leaving a single mother to raise the children and apparently doing a terrible job of it because at least one of her kids is a shit head. She's shown laying around in bed most of the time and having liaisons with her boyfriend, and doesn't seem to have a job of any description, which shows, I guess, that women are lazy and useless, especially single mothers.

I think I've made my case. This movie thinks guns are good, and sex and women are bad. I think this movie was bad, so we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Merits
- Tom Savini-ish gore effects (+2)
- Babysitter's boyfriend's extremely earnest acting (+1)
Total: +3

Demerits
- Soundtrack sounds like a shitty 70s porno (-1)
- Too much scream, not enough dream (-1)
- Movie makes no fucking sense (-1)
- Passage of time confusing (-1)
- All of the characters are shitty people (-2)
- The kid character is seriously fucking terrible (-1)
- Nobody calls the cops when they should (-1)
- That's not how police/computers work (-3)
- Killer puts a mask on late in the movie for no good reason (-1)
- Guns good, sex bad (-3)
Total: -15
Final Score: -12

Written and Directed by: Romano Scavolini.  Starring: Sharon Smith, Baird Stafford, CJ Cooke, Mik Cribben, Danny Ronan.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Parasite

Parasite (1982)

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In the dystopian near-future of 1992, atomic fallout has destroyed America's major cities. Orphans are forced to do labour in the Suburbs for The Merchants, a group of suit-wearing, sportscar driving elites. Outside of the suburbs, the countryside is a blasted wasteland where nothing grows, "sickos" roam, and the few remaining people use silver as the only currency. None of that has anything to do with the plot of this movie, which follows a scientist (Robert Glaudini) who accidentally infects himself with a parasite of his own making and like... tries to find a cure and stuff.

This movie inspired a raging conflict within me because the world it's set in, while extremely derivative of much better films, is really fucking cool. It's sci fi, it's horror, it might be a western, it's occasionally really funny (I think intentionally?) - like all of the characters in the town that buddy ends up in are obsessed with lemons for some reason - seriously, one guy even takes a bite out of a lemon and eats it like it's a fucking apple. There's a fucking great scene at the beginning where the Robert Glaudini "rescues" this woman from being raped by a wasteland savage only to find out it's kinky roleplay and get attacked by her.

It also has a few moments of decent storytelling. For example, early in the movie, the main guy is wrestling with the boyfriend of the aforementioned woman and rolls him towards a rattlesnake which strikes and incapacitates the guy, allowing Robert Glaudini to get the upper hand and kill buddy. He uses this same move at the end, rolling the villain (James Davidson) towards the parasite/monster/thing with similar results. I'm going to go out on a limb and call this clever foreshadowing.

The secondary antagonist (Luca Bercovici), the head of a group of wasteland orphans who escaped forced-labour in the suburbs and has the Merchant logo heavy-handedly branded on his wrist has a surprising depth of character. He goes from harassing Demi Moore and the local shopkeeper (Al Fann), and robbing and abducting the main guy, to feeling personal responsibility for the lives and deaths of his gang members, and sacrificing himself to save the shopkeeper from the primary antagonist at the end. His development felt very natural, and he ended up being the only character I gave any fucks about in the movie.

I did genuinely enjoy this movie, although to be fair I took a break in the middle to watch Jeepers Creepers 3 (which I refuse to review on principle) and then re-watch Bram Stoker's Dracula to scrub the memory of Jeepers Creepers 3 out of my mind, and then go to sleep because I drank a fuck ton of wine. I think if viewed the whole movie in one sitting it might have been intolerably boring, coz there are long stretches of absolutely nothing happening. So... take my approval with a grain of salt I guess is what I'm saying.
Look how cute it is (Source)

The monster, a giant leech-thing designed by Stan Winston, was probably the best thing in the movie and goes to prove that Stan Winston was down for anything at a certain point.

It's moderately gory and the gore effects are passable. There was even one scene where the parasite suddenly busts out of somebody's head which did me a startle so, yknow, that was effective. The villain died an almost unnecessarily horrible death, getting attacked by the monster, then caught in an explosion, then burning to death.

All of that said, Parasite is not without its downsides. First of all, it was directed and produced by Charles Band, whose movies I vowed to never watch again after suffering through The Lurking Fear and Ghost Town for Paths of Glory. However, I didn't realize that he was behind this particular movie until I was almost ten minutes deep and committed to watching the stupid thing. It bears the cheapness, inanity, and general incompetence I have come to expect from his movies.

The whole thing is basically just a bunch of shit from better movies - the monsters from Alien, Rabid, and that one episode of Star Trek, and the setting from A Boy and His Dog and Mad Max - poorly recreated and haphazardly slapped together.

For fuck sakes (source)
While the monster and gore effects are acceptable, the makeup effects are really not. The parasite sucks the life out of people, I guess, and turns them into grey, wrinkly bullshit that I'm pretty sure I could recreate in about twenty minutes in my bathroom. At a certain point it's not even worth having makeup effects, and this is that point.

It was made during one of the 3D crazes of the last century - this issue is more of a personal taste thing (unlike my other, completely objective criticisms of this movie) because I fucking hate 3D. The whole point of it is to put you "more in the movie" or whatever, but it does the exact opposite, drawing attention to itself. Like there's this part where a guy gets impaled on a pipe and his blood starts running out of the pipe (which, if I remember correctly, is ripped off of Tourist Trap, also produced by Charles Band, and actually a good movie so maybe I'm being too hard on the guy) which should have been really cool but it was all weird and out of focus because of 3D fuckery.

The writing is probably the most offensive part of the movie. Not just the dialogue, which is so bad it borders on disturbing, but also structural elements. Like when the villain is following the main guy through the desert, he hits all the same stops buddy went to but in a different order. That doesn't even make fucking sense. And when the main guy finally figures out how to kill the parasite inside him using high frequency sound waves, there's no explanation of how he came to that conclusion. He's just like "sound, that's the key!" out of nowhere.

Also, did I mention Demi Moore is in this movie? She plays the local lemon farmer in one of, if not her first, leading roles and she's really fucking bad. But not as bad as Robert Glaudini who is only there to read his lines with the emotional range of a god damn cabbage and sweat a lot. Honestly, if he had put a modicum of effort into his role this movie probably would have been at least 12% better.

Overall, though I enjoyed this movie for some reason unknown even to me, it's a discordant, derivative mess and probably not worth watching for regular, sane people.

Merits
- Dream/flashback sequence has trippy Mario Bava blue and red lighting (+1)
- Lemons. (+2)
- Adorable tarantula (+1)
- Weaponized rattlesnake (+1)
- Stan Winston was involved (+1)
- Ray guns rule (+1)
- Awesome 80's wasteland punks (+2)
- Hand-severin' action (+1)
Total: (+10)

Demerits
- Poor lab safety - seriously, the only reason the main character becomes infected in the first place is because he's got these super nasty parasites in a fucking petri dish and gets jostled by somebody in the lab and they get spilled on him. This entire movie could have been prevented by a strip of fucking parafilm (-1)
- Movie can't decide what it wants to rip off (-2)
- Charles fucking Band (-1)
- Originally in 3D (-3)
- Terrible, terrible writing (-3)
- Terrible, terrible acting (-2)
Total: (-12)
Final Score: -2 stars

Directed by: Charles Band.  Written by: Alan J. Adler, Michael Shoob, Frank Levering.  Starring: Robert Glaudini, Demi Moore, Luca Bercovici, James Davidson, Tom Villard, Vivian Blaine.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Bat

The Bat (1959)

Image Source
I'm alive! The last month or so of school last semester was pretty intense so I sacrificed all activities except for the barest minimum of bodily functions in favour of study. But now I'm done and back to talk about old movies that nobody gives a shit about!

This week in Old Movies Nobody Gives a Shit About, The Bat is about a mystery writer (Agnes Moorehead) who rents a spooky old mansion to write her next novel in, and ends up living there with her made (Lenita Lane). Meanwhile, there is a vicious murderer known only as "The Bat" on the prowl throughout the countryside. Also meanwhile, there is a rash of rabid bat attacks in the area. Also also meanwhile, somebody robs the local bank and something something the money is probably in the spooky old house. There is altogether way too much shit going on in this movie.

It works though. This movie is actually pretty fun. It's a pretty generic old school mystery but the dryly funny dialogue, mainly from Agnes Moorhead, Lenita Lane, and the butler/chauffeur (John Sutton). It does veer occasionally into old timey cliches (e.g., at one point buddy tells his doctor "everybody knows I've got a bad heart" - yes, presumably your doctor also knows this so telling him is a little extraneous), but even that I found rather delightful.

It also features perhaps the most evil throwaway character I've ever seen in a movie. This old guy who works at the bank (Harvey Stephens) steals a whole bunch of... bank shit? Like... stocks... or whatever. Anyway, he frames his coworker (Mike Steele) at whose wedding he was best man and whom he talks about with a paternal affection. Then he tries to coerce his doctor (Vincent Price) into killing an innocent bystander and mangling the body to help him fake his death and escape. And he's not even the main villain. He dies unceremoniously ten minutes after he's been introduced.

The actual main villain is The Bat, I guess? Also kind of Vincent Price. The movie wants you to think that Vincent Price is The Bat but makes it glaringly obvious within the first few scenes who the killer really is (spoiler alert: it's the police chief). The Bat dresses in what looks to be a solid black morph suit and has these badass claws on his fingers that he uses to rip his victims' throats out which is brutal as all hell. I fully support The Bat as a '50s movie villain.

The best part of the movie, though, is hands down the banter between Agnes Moorhead and Lenita Lane. Both of their characters are great, their dialogue fucks*, and they have so much chemistry together. Agnes Moorehead's character is smart, tough, and capable - to the point that one of the other female characters says that she doesn't want her to think she's a silly girl - which is unusual for the time and really cool.

That said, towards the end of the movie she does go all damsel in distress and almost dies in an airtight vault because she can't move a poster off the wall to find the control switch for the door. Throughout the movie, the characters behave really inconsistently, going from being terrified to be alone to just moseying out of their room unaccompanied for the sole purpose of moving the plot along. It's frustrating because otherwise it would have bordered on greatness.

Generally, the movie fails in that it falls way too deep into movie logic. Characters just do stuff, and things just happen for no reason other than "movie said so". Like when the evil, evil, evil bank guy is about to rope his doctor into his scheme, he gets distracted by the entire forest they're camping in being on fire, allowing Vincent Price to get the one-up on him. And like, that's not really ever addressed. I know that in real life, shit just happens for seemingly no reason, but like they say, if a gun goes off in a movie it had better be there?

In similar fashion, character after character gets introduced only to become Bat fodder, or disappear - the bank guy who gets framed turns up in one scene at the beginning of the movie, he gets mentioned a few times in the middle because his wife (Elaine Edwards) befriends Agnes Moorehead, and I think maybe they say something at the end about him being released, but he more or less drops off the face of the earth.

Furthermore, him getting released following the death of The Bat makes exactly zero sense. The whole reason he's in custody is because the only two people who have access to the vaults or whatever are him and the evil, evil, evil bank guy. After The Bat turns out to be the police chief, they're like "oh, I guess he took all the money and hid it in this old house" - that doesn't make any sense because a) he obviously didn't know where in the house the money was hidden and b) he would have needed one of the two bank guys to let him into the vaults and the prints on the vault door belonged to the good bank guy so, like, what the fuck? What kind of horse shit judiciary system were they running back in those days?

Overall, it's an above average '50s murder mystery, and I would give my right ovary to see a Scooby Doo style mystery show with the two female main characters roaming around solving shit.

Merits
- Swingin' jazz theme song (+1)
- Vincent Price appears in the film (+1)
- Old timey 50s dialogue (+1)
- Agnes Moorehead & Lenita Lane (+3)
- The Bat's finger claws are super cool (+1)
- Real bats! They're adorable! (+1)
- Snappy dialogue (+1)
Total: (+9)

Demerits
- Sub-plots a-go-go (-1)
- The Bat's finger claws are super impractical (-1)
- Shit just happens (-1)
- So many characters (-1)
- The Mystery is really obvious (-1)
Total: (-5)
Final Score: +4

Written and Directed by: Crane Wilbur, based on the play The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood, itself based on the novel The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart.  Starring: Agnes Moorehead, Lenita Lane, Vincent Price, Elaine Edwards, Darla Hood, Gavin Gordon, John Sutton.

* Am I using that expression right?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Brain Eaters

The Brain Eaters (1958)

Image Source
A mysterious cone is found outside of a sleepy Illinois town, prompting a UFO investigation by a senator (Jack Hill) and some type of scientist (Edwin Nelson). Meanwhile, small, fuzzy-looking parasites are attaching themselves to prominent people in the town, such as the mayor (Orville Sherman), the sheriff (Greigh Phillips), and the mayor's secretary (Joanna Lee).

I was concerned that, because this movie's run time is only 60 minutes, I wouldn't have enough to say about it for a full review, but its perplexing incompetence yields more than enough material. It was like they wanted to make a rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers but they totally missed the point of that movie.

I'm pretty sure the filmmakers were trying to make, if not a good movie, at least an interesting movie because there are a couple scenes which looked like they were trying to do something different. For example, there's one scene where every single shot is a dutch angle which, while not at all aesthetically pleasing, is at least experimental? There's another scene that's shot from the point-of-view of one of the parasites, which again, isn't good per se but suggests that maybe the filmmakers thought that they were being artistic.

There's a couple of weird, shady looking dudes walking around with a big ol' Loc-Nar glowing orb through the middle of the movie that I guess that they're using to transport brain parasites to put on people. It doesn't seem like it belongs in this movie because it's actually pretty cool and creepy.  The only function they serve is to infect the sheriff and the secretary because they don't do anything else and their existence is never addressed (or even resolved) by the other characters.

The other thing that was cool was that towards the end of the movie it turns out that the parasites are not actually from space, as they appear to be, but from deep within the Earth, having lain dormant since the Carboniferous. That's different, I can dig that. Although they don't give an adequate explanation for why they're there, how they survived, what the giant metal cone that they used to access the surface is, or how the old professor guy figured out that the parasites are prehistoric.

Most of the movie is narrated, I think by the mayor's son (Alan Frost) although I also think one part is narrated by somebody else, which just screams incompetence. They clearly didn't film enough material to adequately explain who the characters were because a lot of the narration is just telling the viewer who people are, what they're doing, where they came from, and where they went. It's also apparent that the sound was bad or non-existent for a few scenes because the narration switches from providing background information to describing what is happening on screen and what the characters were saying to each other, making it feel somewhat like a children's program.

The narration is particularly heavy early in the movie, and the scenes that do have dialogue are weird and arbitrary. Like there's a shot where the senator guy tells somebody unseen to turn on a light. That was important enough to be in the movie and have dialogue. This strengthens my argument that they recorded shit audio for a lot of stuff and the scenes that did have decent audio ended up in the movie with audible dialogue for whatever reason.

Not only were the people on set useless, so were the people in charge of post-production. The editing is extremely sloppy - there's one jarring scene where the two angles of the same guy are obviously from two different rooms and haphazardly jammed together in a godless mockery of coherence. There's also the classic outdoor scene containing shots taken during the day and night, the twist in this movie is that they didn't even try to hide it whatsoever.

Basically vampire tribbles (Source)
The monsters (and I use that term very loosely in this context) are little spongey fuzzy pompoms with giant fangs on them. They're often referred to as being attached to their victims neck, controlling their central nervous system for reasons unknown, but are never shown doing so.I assume this has less to do with the artistic decision to leave them a mystery and more to do with either straight up forgetting to film close-ups, or having whatever happened to the sound happen to the footage on a few occasions.

So the movie was technically incompetent, but what about the writing and story? Was that any good? If you're in a hurry and want a short answer to that question, it's "no".

The dialogue crosses into the so-bad-it's-good territory. One of the scientist characters says "I don't know" in response to every question which I honestly feel like is the the motto of the whole movie. The science dude explains that the parasites are like snakes in that if you "cut a snake in half, the two pieces go off in different directions" which I am here to tell you is 100% not true, please do not do this.

The love interest character gets taken over by a brain slug while she is sleeping (unlike the male characters who get possessed at work so they get to be in uniform) so she fills the "zombified woman in filmy nightgown" cliche. This particular trope always amuses me because I place myself in these movies and like to imagine roaming around the countryside wearing the oversized Alpine Lager t-shirt and pair of men's boxers I wear to bed.  Anyway, the whole point of even including this cliche in a movie is so that the character can White Zombie around at night and look really creepy and cool, which doesn't happen in this movie so what the fuck was the point of it.

Towards the end of the movie, a guy just appears out of the metal cone somehow which never really gets explained. They then say that the cone is attached to a tunnel, despite explaining earlier that the interior tube was empty and a loop, and then there's a wizard down there? I'm not even joking, there is a dude in a robe with a long white beard who barely gives the characters any information and then promptly disappears never to be seen or mentioned again.

The characters routinely use 50s Movie Logic (e.g., firing a hand gun into a hole in the cone to demonstrate that there is a spiral tube on the inside), and jump to some major conclusions about what is happening in the movie to make the plot move forward. For example, the scientist guy explains that the things are parasites which can control their hosts central nervous system after being told that one of them had two appendages lodged in the mayor's neck, and one of the characters deduces that the cone is the fuel tank of a space craft that's still orbiting the planet for no reason other than it just occurred to him - which interestingly turns out to be wrong in a rare example of a hunch not being right in a shitty old sci-fi movie.

Despite the characters jumping ahead to provide crucial information that they have no right to have access to, it's difficult to tell what is happening, and why. The plot is not difficult to follow and I guess the movie goes out of its way to explain the minutiae of what is happening, but the why is the big issue. I didn't feel like there was ever a substantial reason why anything in the movie happened. Why did the brain slugs come out of the earth? Why did they make the movie?

Honestly, at a certain point I was just watching to see if the "Leonard Nemoy" listed in the credits was Leonard Nimoy. Spoiler: it was, but he's basically unrecognizable in wizard get-up. I only recognized him by voice because a) I watch Star Trek a lot and b) I was waiting for him.

Subtle (Source)
I think the most laughable thing about the movie is that when the parasites are attached to humans, they create a large, pulsating lump on their back under their clothes which ought to be really easy to detect and yet people keep getting surprised when other people turn out to be controlled by the brain slugs.

Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoyed watching this movie. It's got the same endearing quality that Ed Wood movies have. It's also, somehow, better than some other 50s sci-fi flicks I've subjected myself to (Invasion of the Saucer Men in particular comes to mind). This at least was short enough that it wasn't incredibly boring. The story progressed unevenly, but mercifully quickly.

All in all I wouldn't recommend it by any means and I probably wouldn't watch it again but I'm not upset that I watched it this time. It's an interesting tribute to human incompetence, and it's equally interesting that it has survived to be consumed by me sixty years after it was released. Ultimately though, the most interesting part of the movie is the poster.

Merits
- A surgeon sparks up a dart in a hospital waiting room (+1)
- Leonard Nimoy appears in the film (+1)
- Parasites come from the Carboniferous (+1)
- A dude gets punched in the dick (+1)
- 50s Movie Logic (+1)
Total: (+5)



Demerits 

- Dog slaughter (-1)
- Narration needed to explain the action (-3)
- Shitty editing (-2)
- Character leaves a Bunsen burner just on (-1)
- Shortcuts in storytelling make the movie seem longer than it is (-1)
- Possessed woman in white filmy negligee doesn't get to do anything (-1)
- People and things appear out of nowhere (-3)
- The movie gets resolved at the last minute for no reason (-1)
Total: ( -13)
Final Score: -8

Directed by: Bruno VeSota.  Written by: Gordon Urquhart. Starring: Edwin Nelson, Alan Frost, Jack Hill, Joanna Lee, Jody Fair, Greigh Phillips, Orville Sherman, Leonard Nimoy.