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.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Self Defense

Self Defense (1983) (AKA Siege, AKA The Night Warriors)


Image Source
Set during the Halifax police strike of 1981, Self Defense is about a guy (Terry-David Despres) who escapes a massacre at a gay bar and has to hide in a nearby apartment from a fascist gang. The gang members lay siege to the apartment, and the residents end up having to creatively and violently defend themselves.

I had never heard of this movie until last week when my friend came up with it seemingly out of nowhere. I'm really glad that she did because this is definitely an underappreciated Canadian thriller, and still uncomfortably relevant now, thirty-five years after it was made.

It's very low budget, but the filmmakers obviously did the best they could with what was available to them. There's really only two complaints I have about the movie.

Complaint number one was the lighting quality. Sometimes the lighting was really cool, but most of the time it seemed altogether absent. Granted, I watched the movie on youtube so it's entirely possible that the transfer quality of that particular copy was really bad, but still, there were a few scenes that were incomprehensible due to not actually being able to see what was on the screen.

Complaint number two is that the two main characters (Tom Nardini and Brenda Bazinet) weren't that great. The secondary characters, including a weirdly well-armed greaser dude (Darel Haeny) and a legally blind dude with unusually good hearing (Jack Blum), were excellent and totally made the movie.

Everything else about the movie is great. It's really intense - there's an early scene where a bar full of people gets just fucking executed which, though minimalist, managed to be one of the most fucked up things I've seen in a movie recently. The pervasive sense of danger and uncertainty throughout the film broke through my usual apathy so that I was genuinely concerned about what was going to happen.

The setting was really clever, and I'm not just saying that because I have lived in Halifax for most of my life, although it was cool to see my home town in a movie, that doesn't happen very often. What's clever about it is that the police strike actually happened, it was a real thing, and the movie uses that as a backdrop to create tension and a sense of hopelessness. The reality of the setting makes the action much more immediate and believable - the characters have a legitimate reason to take things into their own hand because the police aren't going to come. This is something that legitimately could have happened.

The movie is reminiscent of a lot of siege/urban survival movies, like The Warriors, or Straw Dogs, or especially Assault on Precinct 13, having a lit, synthy, John Carpenter-esque soundtrack, it's different enough to be interesting in its own right and not feel derivative of those movies.

Furthermore, the ways that the protagonists defend themselves against the gang members are spectacularly inventive. They fashion a homemade rocket launcher at one point, which is just so fucking cool, they electrocute a guy, and set another guy on fire, there's a hunting bow involved. I'm a person who enjoys a certain amount of violence in movies and this was definitely satisfying on that front.

Normally I don't give a fuck about spoiling movies but I'm going to leave this one untold so you actually go watch this movie because the ending, holy shit, I have never been so shocked and devastated by a movie. The ending is perfectly appropriate for the movie but the fact that there weren't any objections to it, or if there were, not enough to get it cut from the film, boggles my mind.

It's fucking criminal that this movie isn't a Canadian cult classic, it has every right to be - according to my friend, it's getting a little bit of attention right now so hopefully it comes back and finally gets the recognition that it deserves.

It's up on youtube right now, although like I said, that quality isn't super. Apparently it can be bought on Amazon on VHS, which is something I will probably invest in whenever I get my VCR hooked up to something. 100% recommend for fans of home-defense thrillers, and low budget Canadian grease.

Merits
- Thematically dark (+1)
- Wicked soundtrack (+1)
- Actually thrilling (+1)
- Halifax! (+1)
- Reality! (+1)
- Fucking rocket launcher (+1)
- Good deaths (+2)
- The ending is seriously amazing (+1)
Total: (+9)

Demerits
- Visually dark (-1)
- Did Halifax have a gun problem in the 1980s? (-1)
Total: (-2)
Final Score: +7

Directed by: Paul Donovan, Maura O'Connell. Written by: Paul Donovan. Starring: Tom Nardini, Brenda Bazinet, Darel Haeny, Doug Lennox, Jack Blum, Terry-David Despr├ęs, Keith Knight.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hercules in the Centre of the Earth

Ercole al Centro Della Terra (AKA Hercules in the Haunted World AKA Hercules vs. the Vampires) (1961)


Image Source
Hercules' girlfriend/fiance (?) (Leonora Ruffo) is under a spell that effectively turns her into a zombie. In order to restore her, Hercules (Reg Park) and his sidekicks (George Ardisson, Franco Giacobini) must travel to the underworld to steal a crystal. Meanwhile, Hercules' slutty friend falls in love with Persephone (Ida Galli), and also Hercules' girlfriend's uncle (Christopher Lee) is a vampire and trying to do some vampire thing. There's a lot of shit going on in this movie and very little of it is important.

I'd never heard of this movie before but it cropped up in the same youtube list as Night of the Twisters thus I was expecting it to be pretty bad. Imagine my delight when Mario Bava and Christopher Lee turned up in the opening credits. This turned out to be not only the best Hercules movie I've seen, but also the best Hercules movie I could imagine.

It's got that old school, totally over the top '60s aesthetic, plus the hilarity of an Italian film dub, plus the lush visuals of Mario Bava. All of these aspects are perfectly suited to epic myth, which exists outside of any normal reality.

The sets are cheap and crappy looking but it's almost impossible to notice when they're bathed in Bava's psychedelic light shows. Honestly, I wrote down in my notes that the sets were beautiful, then skipped back through the movie and realized "no they're not". What's beautiful are the pools of electric green, red, and yellow, sumptuous purple and blue. I've said this before about Blood and Black Lace but I felt like Mario Bava was making sweet love to my eyeballs with Hercules.

Similarly, the costumes and wigs were pretty bad for the most part, but that added to the fun, low budget aesthetic of the movie.

I'm impressed with how well the horror and sword-and-sandal fantasy genres mixed together. I guess at a certain point with this type of fantasy anything goes. Super strong dude? Alright. Immortal gods? Sure. Rock monster? Good enough. Vampires? Why not. But seriously, this is a Hercules movie with vampires in it and if that's not just the best thing that's happened to me today, I don't know what is. I've seen some horror elements incorporated into epic fantasy before (Conan has some pretty weird shit going on), but never to this extent. I can't say too much because Mario Bava is a fucking god but I kind of wish he had done even more genre bending weirdness.

Whoever came up with this thing deserves the Coked Up Movie Award for 1961 (Image Source)
Oh yeah, speaking of rock monsters, there's a rock monster in this thing. It just fucking shows up and waves its arms around like a dick and goes on about how he's going to stretch buddy because his bed is too long and squish other buddy because his bed is too short like some kind of demented Goldilocks and is all around the weirdest and most delightful thing I've seen in a movie since Box in Logan's Run.

The movie made me wish slightly goofy mythology inspired epic fantasy movies would make a comeback. We've got Xena, and we've got Conan, but those were both over a decade ago, I want something now. To be fair, every year there's at least one big budget epic fantasy movie that comes out and I don't go see it because the trailer looks atrocious, so it's possible that they're slipping by me. The ones I've seen (Exodus: Gods and Kings and the Conan remake) were both really shitty and entirely too self important. I want a movie that knows it's ridiculous and doesn't care. It's not too much to ask.

Like there's this part towards the end where Hercules and his friend have a really catty bro-fight which is just so silly but so appropriate in the context of Greco-Roman inspired fantasy (side note, I read The Iliad recently and Achilles is the whiniest bitch so I was totally down with temperamental heroes).

To expand that side note into a complaint, I'm taking a class on Greek and Roman mythology right now so the misattribution of character names (specifically Theseus, Telemachus, Jocasta, Persephone, and Medea) really annoyed the pedantic nerd in me. Furthermore, I've always taken special umbrage to the depiction of the underworld as Greek Hell. Even as a child the Disney version of Hercules pissed me off coz it turned Hades into a bad guy when like... he's just the dude that runs the underworld, leave him alone.

Another complaint is that there ought to have been, yknow, more monsters. If I'm being honest that's probably the thing that disappointed me the most. When I watch a movie like this, I expect there to be a fuck ton of monster, not just, like, one rock monster and a vampire and some zombies for some reason.

My only other issue with the movie is that the last third or quarter or so was either really confusing or not interesting enough to hold my attention, I'm honestly not sure which it was. I kinda zoned out for a bit because there was just so much stuff going on that didn't seem to have any real bearing on the plot of the movie, as irrelevant as the plot actually was.

That being said, though, this movie is absolutely fucking great, 100% would watch again. You can watch it too, and I highly recommend that you do, because the whole thing is on youtube for your immense viewing pleasure. If you like vampire movies, or sword-and-sandal movies, or weirdly dubbed Italian movies, or joy, you will not regret watching this movie.

Merits
- Mario Bava (+1)
- 1960s Star Trek music (+1)
- Shitty English dub (+1)
- Christopher Lee (+1)
- Vampires (+1)
- Whoever did the lights for this movie (+1)
- Hercules' leather cold-shoulder minidress is to die for (+1)
- Fucking rock monster (+1)
- All the girls have giant hair (+1)
- Horror + epic fantasy = perfection (+2)
- Ida Galli (+1)
Total: (+12)

Demerits
- Blatant disregard for actual mythology (-6)
- I can't tell any of the female characters apart (-1)
- Not enough monsters (-1)
Total: (-8)
Final Score: +4 points

Directed by: Mario Bava.  Written by: Mario Bava, Sandro Continenza, Franco Prosperi, Duccio Tessari.  Starring: Reg Park, George Ardisson, Christopher Lee, Leonara Ruffo, Ida Galli, Franco Giacobini.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Best and Worst of 2017

Since I installed an arbitrary ranking system for movies, I can actually do a best-through-worst of movies I reviewed in 2017, based on the rating I gave them at the time. Bear in mind that the ratings mean literally nothing and I don't care if you disagree with me.

House of the Devil
Ranking: +5.666
Consensus: A stylish homage to 1970s horror and tribute to the importance of pizza
Full review

Maniac Cop 2
Ranking: +5
Consensus: Better than Maniac Cop
Full review

The Old Dark House
Ranking: +5
Consensus: It is a god damn crime that I did not see this movie until last year
Full review

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon
Ranking: +4.667
Consensus: The casual racism made me really fucking uncomfortable, but that wildlife footage, tho
Full review

The Babadook
Ranking: +3
Consensus: This movie deserves more than a +3
Full review

The Innkeepers
Ranking: +2
Consensus: Fun movie, stupid ending
Full review

Feast
Ranking: +1
Consensus: I want to retroactively lower the ranking of this movie because of its sequels
Full review

Maniac Cop
Ranking: -2
Consensus: Had great potential for social commentary, squandered it
Full review

Split Second
Ranking: -4
Consensus: I have forgotten everything about this movie
Full review

Feast II: Sloppy Seconds
Ranking: -7
Consensus: Among the reasons I hate this movie is that now, when I watch Return of the Living Dead and see Clu Gulager, I will be reminded of this terrible, terrible series
Full review

The Visitor
Ranking: -8
Consensus: I didn't like The Omen and I liked this movie even less
Full review

Lost in Space
Ranking: -9.75
Consensus: This movie gave me diarrhea
Full review

Feast III: The Happy Finish
Ranking: -10
Consensus: This might not be the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's certainly among the worst movies I've ever seen
Full review

Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters (1996)

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This movie came up in a youtube playlist of cult science fiction movies, so naturally I assumed it was about sentient tornadoes or, possibly, a person making tornadoes and sending them after people. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out it was a Family Channel original loosely based on a young adult novel, which is a fictionalized account of real events, wherein a family lives in a town that tornadoes happen to. Okay, so the tornadoes behave unusually, and there's like, two or three tornadoes in a row but that's nothing in disaster movie world.

The movie was really obviously made for television, and replete with inoffensive cinematography, garbage music, terrible sound recording and editing (I get that it's supposed to be windy because tornadoes, but when the wind noise is louder than the dialogue during a normal scene, get a fucking wind sock), and tepid melodrama. It's even infused with morals and I felt like I learned valuable lessons both about the importance of responsibility, and the importance of family.

The writing is mediocre at best, with different characters using the same expressions - this is probably something that most people wouldn't notice unless they were really looking for it. I'm really looking for it because it really bothers me.

The whole plot of the movie is just people driving around trying to find other people who manage to leave where they're at right before their loved ones get there, which is pretty boring after an hour or so.

The only people the movie cares about at all are the small band of central characters which include the main kid (Devon Sawa), his parents (John Schneider and Lori Hallier), his aunt (Jhene Irwin), his best friend (Amos Crawley), and his best friend's sister (Laura Bertram). Twisters rip through trailer parks with no fucks given, a twister destroys the main kid's entire neighbourhood and the only people we even see emerging from the wreckage are the main characters. There's a thing where the best friend's parents went "to the lake" for the weekend, which sounds like a horrible fucking place to be when there's a bunch of twisters happening, but we never get any mention of whether they turned out to be okay or how the siblings were dealing with the trauma of experiencing back to back tornadoes without their parents because the only parents the movie cares about are the main kid's parents.

The unfortunate thing is that the best friend character is actually the more interesting of the two kids. He's really into tornadoes and weather patterns, he's from California so he doesn't know what the fuck to do during a tornado, and he's suddenly saddled with the responsibility of looking out for his sisters (which he does a fine job of, by the way). The actual main character is a whiny disappointment who's struggling with the fact that his dad is a jock and he's... not a jock (I may have missed it but I don't think the movie ever told us exactly what he is into), and coping very well with having a new baby brother. So the boring character is the focus and the actually good character is used primarily to remind us that chubby kids like to eat. I'm not even going to get into that beyond saying, fuck that movie trope.

The other character I liked was the super anxious meteorologist (David Ferry) who is tracking the storm and provides useful information to me, the viewer, about why this particular tornado event was so devastating. He became an important-ish part of the plot later but still, could've used more screen time, probably should've been the main character.

The third interesting character was the dad, who was kind of a fucking dick to his kid, but obviously cared about him, and then boom it turns out he's not the kid's dad, he's his step dad and maybe he's got this insecurity thing about the kid's relationship to his dead dad. What an interesting family dynamic that actually managed to make the movie more engaging.

The truly interesting thing about this movie is that it was released a full three months before Twister, and about a year before Dante's Peak, which is weird because it feels like a mashed up rip off of both of those movies. When I was watching it I assumed that it had been made to capitalize on the popularity of Twister, but nope, it came out first.

The other thing worth noting about Night of the Twisters is that, even though for the most part it's lame and dull, the parts where the tornadoes are happening are fucking intense.

When the first tornado hits, the mom is at work, the dad has gone to get grandma, and the kid and his friend are alone in the house. Twister starts twisting and the main kid goes upstairs to get the baby and like, the tornado rips the fucking wall off the nursery and you can see the funnel cloud through the hole and it's getting closer and closer and I'm sitting in the library at school getting goosebumps coz it was fucking great.

It took a long time for there to be another tornado and this one did not disappoint. The family has to outrun it in their car and there's this other car behind them and that person apparently isn't driving fast enough because you just see their headlights get sucked up into the funnel and if that wasn't the coolest fucking thing I've seen in a movie this year I don't know what is.

So, yeah, ultimately I have mixed feelings about this movie. It was mostly stupid and boring but also has some of the best storm scenes I've ever seen so I guess I'll call it a draw? The whole movie is available to watch on youtube here (the part with the car getting sucked into the twister is around 1:22:00).

Merits
- The tornadologist character (+1)
- Fucking great tornado action (+4), yes I am giving that many points the tornado stuff was that good
Total: (+5)

Demerits
- Made for TV feel (-2)
- Denim everywhere (-1)
- Movie says "fuck you" to everybody who isn't the main character (-3)
- Lessons (-2)
- "Ha ha, fat people like to eat" (-1)
- Guy is pinned underneath pickup truck, probably for hours, and still cogent enough to hold a conversation (-1)
- The movie had an epilogue to tell me what happened to all the characters I don't give a fuck about a year later (-1)
- Too much chat not enough splat (-1)
- Set in Nebraska, shot in Ontario (-1)
Total: (-13)
Final Score: -8

Directed by: Timothy Bond.  Written by: Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell, based on the novel by Ivy Ruckman.  Starring: Devon Sawa, John Schneider, Lori Hallier, Amos Crawley, Laura Bertram, David Ferry, Jhene Irwin, Helen Hughes.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Independence Day 2

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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Set twenty years after Independence Day, a film which I only foggily remember and did not re-watch to prepare for this review, all the nations in the world have united and live in peace following the original alien attacks. But then the aliens come back and they're like way more powerful than they were in the first one and they wipe out Earth's defense systems and it's up to Will Smith's son (Jessie Usher), the former president (Bill Pullman), and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to figure out a way to stop them. And, like... they do. Hooray!

Like I said, I don't really remember that much about the first movie - most of my memories of it got replaced with Mars Attacks! and the first half of Starship Troopers. Thus I was kind of confused that a lot of the characters were introduced with the assumption that I know who they are. Sure, I remember Jeff Goldblum and Jeff Goldblum's dad, and I remember Bill Pullman, but I completely forgot that Bill Pullman had a daughter, Will Smith had a son, and Brent Spiner was in the movie. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure there were some characters dropped in that weren't in the first movie at all but still were presented as though I should know who they are. Given that it takes a full thirty-five minutes of preamble to get to the resurging, the utter lack of any character development is unacceptable.

I was fully prepared to hate this movie as soon as I started watching it so, in the interest of being fair, I did my very best to try to find thing about the movie that I enjoyed. I still ended up disliking the movie, but it had a few good elements and moments.

One of the things that I liked was that alien technology from the first movie was integrated into human technology in this movie. That gave the movie a cool, near-future sci-fi look to it which I found aesthetically pleasing.

The effects were good, so the destruction of major cities was satisfying. That being said, the only reason anybody watches these movies is to see shit getting exploded, so there definitely wasn't enough destruction. An awful lot of time was wasted on talking and emotional stuff (more on that later) that would have been better used showing buildings falling down and people screaming and stuff.

There's one really cool part where Will Smith's son, and Bill Pullman's daughter's boyfriend (Liam Hemsworth) for whatever reason fly on to the alien mothership and then get stranded and find out that the inside of the ship is a fully functioning ecosystem where the aliens live. They then have to evade the aliens on, effectively, their home turf, which is a super cool idea for a movie but, unfortunately, gets chopped down to a single part in this turd because, you know, they have to go back to Judd Hirsch driving a school bus full of kids around.

So... those are the good things. The rest of this review is just going to be a list of reasons why this movie is terrible.

Firstly, all of the characters, about which we are supposed to care, are so one-dimensional. I get it, there's like, nine million characters in this movie so it's really difficult to make any of them in any way realistic but there's a solution to that - don't have so many characters in your fucking movie. Make it about one person for fuck sakes. It's not that hard, most other movies manage to do that without too much difficulty.

Secondly, this movie seems to not understand that today's audiences are cynical as fuck. To be fair, maybe that's just me. I can't be the only person who felt nothing when Vivica Fox is trying to save a LADY who just had a BABY and the ALIENS ARE COMING  and THINGS ARE EXPLODING and she's rushing them to a HELICOPTER and she SAVES THEM but she SACRIFICES HERSELF while her SON WATCHES. Like, first of all, the baby-lady never shows up again in the movie so who gives a shit about her. Second of all, apart from a brief "nooooooo" from Jessie Usher, the emotional impact of watching his mother fall to her death is never addressed. Third of all, people aren't completely stupid, we know when a movie is going out of its way to be emotionally manipulative and we will not stand for it. In fact, the only thing more cynical than today's audiences is the people who wrote this movie and were like "yeah, put a chick with a baby in danger, that'll make people care".

My next problem is of a more scientific nature. It turns out that the reason the aliens have come to Earth both times is to drill down and extract the planet's liquid core to fuel their space ships and "advance their technology" (whatever the fuck that means). The question I pose to this movie is, why would that be at all efficient? It's a pretty good way to fuck up your enemies' planets, that I will grant, but if an alien race had space ships that ran on liquid iron-nickel alloy, would it not be easier to find uninhabited planets and asteroids and stuff that were made of iron and nickel and just... melt it? That would save all the trouble of drilling down through the rest of the planet, because that has got to take a phenomenal amount of energy to do. Also they can't possibly use a whole core all in one go, therefore they must be able to keep it at a high enough temperature and pressure that it will remain liquid for them to use so I ask again why couldn't they just melt chunks of iron and nickel? I know the whole thing is probably a metaphor for oil use or something but still, make your shit make sense, movie.

Supplemental to that point, our heroes manage to stop the aliens seconds before they reach the core with their drills, and there was much rejoicing. But, like, wouldn't there still be a gigantic hole drilled through the mantle? That has got to cause some problems. I'm talking massive - fucking massive - tsunamis and other sorts of geological unrest. They said that the hole being drilled was one mile in diameter, and the outer boundary of the Earth's liquid core is 1800 miles beneath the surface*, that's what, like 1400-ish cubic miles of material displaced? Where did that go?

The movie introduces another race of aliens and hints that there are many, many more, but tells us next to nothing about them. I want more aliens, damnit. Furthermore, the movie ends exactly when it's getting interesting, with Brent Spiner announcing that the friendly alien is going to help the Earthican people take the fight to the bad aliens, which just gives me such a huge lady-boner and guarantees that I'll watch the next turd this franchise craps out.

The worst problem with this movie is that it's actually really boring. Honestly, I didn't mention some of the other stuff that I couldn't make sense of because I wasn't paying attention to most of the movie and it's entirely possible that I missed some details. I can't even say that I hated it because that implies an emotional response and I didn't have one. This isn't a movie that you watch, this is a movie that just happens. I almost turned it off halfway through because I was so fucking bored but I made a commitment to you, gentle reader, to watch this boring excuse for a movie and tell you why it's bad.

Merits
- Jeff Goldblum appears in the film (+1)
- William Fichtner appears in the film (+1)
- Explosion! (+1)
Total: (+3)

Demerits
- Too much chat, not enough splat (-1)
- Will Smith unceremoniously killed off screen (-1)
- Vivica Fox unceremoniously killed on screen (-1)
- Ann from Arrested Development got replaced (-1)
- Horny character with no game (-1)
- Wormholes. Were there wormholes in the first movie? Why was nobody making a bigger deal out of the wormholes? (-1)
- 25 minutes before any aliens show up (-1)
- 35 minutes before the main aliens show up (-1)
- Who the fuck are all these people (-1)
- Aerial battles are convoluted, and remind me of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a movie I would rather forget (-1)
- Core-drillin reminded me of The Core, another movie I would rather forget (-1)
- Psychic bullshit (-1)
- Science problems (-2)
- All earth nations are united in peace but America is still in charge (-1)
- And yet Bill Pullman wasn't made supreme ruler of Earth at the end of the last movie (-1)
- I want to know more about the other aliens (-1)
Total: (-17)
Final Score: -14 points

Directed by: Fucking Roland Emmerich.  Written by: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devil, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt.  Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, Maika Monroe, Jessie Usher, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deobia Oparei, Nicolas Wright, Travis Tope, Angelababy, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox

*I don't know why I'm using imperial measurements here but bear with me