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)

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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.

- 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)

- 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

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).

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

- 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.