Monday, January 14, 2019

Deadly Smize

Sure, slashers are fun and zombies bring endless possibility, but is there anything more satisfying than 90 minutes of a perfectly timed crazy lady Lifetime thriller?

Quick Plot: Jennifer Higgins is a successful New York photographer. Over the course of one opening montage, she loses it all, beginning with her very mind. While shooting her younger model boyfriend and seeing him flirt with another woman, Jennifer goes into a manic state, grabbing a knife and swinging wildly. 

One year later, Jennifer has moved to LA to start over. She lands a teaching position at a high school, the perfect hunting ground to find and craft her newest adonis. That comes in the form of nerdy mama's boy David, a shy senior revealed to be a modeling savant.

David is fairly easygoing about his transformation, quickly starting a relationship with fellow geek-turned-Lifetime's Next Top Model Caitlyn. Jennifer is naturally inflamed by his wandering eye, and it doesn't take long for her to craft a diabolical (and hilarious) scheme to photoshop lingerie-clad Caitlyn posing with a porn star and a baseball bat. This being 2018, releasing such not-actually-incriminating-photos to the public destroy the young woman's career.

Note that this comes after Jennifer had already murdered a popular student who made eyes at David and staged it as a suicide AND strangled a rival agent and set it up like a gang murder. Jennifer, you might say, is troubled. 

Directed by the "Stalked By" specialist Doug Campbell, Fatal Fashion (aka Deadly Runway) is pretty much everything you want from a Lifetime obsession-based thriller. Multiple homicide, weirdly modern haircuts, random attempts at high's all here, in its truly aggressive glory. 

This is the kind of movie that explains Jennifer’s insanity with a random anecdote about how her college boyfriend died in a car crash while she was taking pictures, hence, her sexual preference was arrested in time and, you know, we got Fatal Fashion. From its loose understanding of human psychology to its positively puritanical view of the modeling industry, this is a stupid good time.

High Points
I'm an easy mark for a ridiculous montage, and Fatal Fashion boasts MULTIPLE of the best type: makeover, picnic first date, and extremely unsexy lovemaking involving mostly clothed people

Low Points
I get that David is supposed to be a malleable boy, but couldn't he have even a bite sized portion of personality?

Lessons Learned
Spanish coffee is for lightweights

The best way to stay under the radar when ordering drinks for your underage boyfriend is to flag the waiter from across the room to shout for two more alcoholic beverages, even though you've just taken a single sip from your first

Sexy modeling is all about showing no emotion

Bless the grounds of Netflix for hosting Fatal Fashion. In no way will this movie make you smarter or deepen your soul, but it's a silly, over the top TV movie at its best. Pour yourself a Spanish coffee, throw on Netflix, and enjoy. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

On the Street Where You Savage

Rape revenge is a complicated, complicated subgenre. Do it wrong (and more importantly, for the wrong reasons) and you’ve created something truly detestable and aggressively alienating to 51% of the population. Do it right and it will probably be perceived by most that you’ve done it wrong. 

Savage Streets falls somewhere in the middle, but when you’ve got Linda Blair serving up fierce cross-bow vengeance, you can be forgiven for quite a bit.

Quick Plot: High school underachiever Brenda loves nothing more than her girl squad and younger sister Heather (a baby-faced Linnea Quigley!), who happens to be a sweet, virginal, and deaf. After Brenda and her friends play a fairly harmless prank on a sadistic quartet of punk bullies and their sweet Chevy, poor Heather pays for it via a brutal gang rape.

The cops are fruitless in their investigation, and the school is even worse. You don't expect much when you have John Vernon playing your principal, but even in 1984, his talkdown to Brenda ("you're a bright girl, pretty face, good figure") screams of inappropriate and useless authority figures. 

Nope, if Heather is to be avenged, it's a leather jumpsuit-clad Linda Blair to the call.

Savage Streets is a troubled, occasionally troubling film, but it's also incredibly entertaining. While her hair doesn't quite match the insane levels of Summer of Fear, Linda Blair still owns her stylish not-actually-bad bad girl character to the point that I wish we had an entire franchise wherein her Brenda roamed the streets of California and beyond, serving up elaborate booby trapped-based justice to razor blade earring-wearing punks.

There really is a fresh energy about Savage Streets, even if certain subplots fizzle out due to, apparently, the film taking so long to film that some actors left the production. Sure, Brenda's preppy triangle-haired blond rival never gets a payoff, but considering it means we get an extended fully clothed gym shower fight scene filled with random naked girls half-heartedly serving as backup fighters just to flesh out (teehee) the screen, can anyone really complain?

I would have appreciated more full-out girl gang-ness instead of Blair having to wreak her vengeance solo, but I still get to, you know, watch Linda Blair zip up a black leather jumpsuit and outsmart a terrible gang of rapist murderers. It's not Shakeaspeare, but it sure is fun.

High Points
Chekhov's Law of Bear Traps (if you introduce a bear trap in the first act, you damn well better catch someone in it by the fifth) is indeed in place, and with a weekend sale price tag of $37.99 to boot!

Low Points
That being said, denying us the actual sight gag of a rapist bully IN said bear trap is a bit unfair, especially when our villains deserve far worse

Lessons Learned
Unlike peach brandy, ice cream gives you zits

Tough men can put cigarettes out on their palms

Evil bullies believe in the power of uniform so much so that they wear the same exact clothes every working day

Hey, I'm not saying Savage Streets is a good movie by any conventional means, but it's zany in a more girl-powered Death Wish 3 kind of way, with the added bonus of Linda Blair serving up strength, style, and bear traps. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Prom Break

No genre has quite the inverse ratio of passionate filmmakers to budget challenges than horror. Nowhere is that clearer than in today's Amazon Prime slasher, a movie that has as much can-do spirit as it does echoes in its audio quality.

Quick Plot: It's prom night, and a sextet of seniors are ready to party. Nice guy Nelson offers up his uncle's isolated cabin, a perfect locale filled with a batch of '80s slasher on tape and a working VHS player. The only downside is that there's been a rash of missing young women in the area. But surely that has nothing to do with THIS evening, right?

Before the ladies can trade their heels for flats, a masked killer begins his hunting, tearing into the young bodies with all the practical effects a Generation Xer can ask for. The highly squirtable gooey blood almost makes up for the lack of an imposing killer...unless someone in the audience has always had a fear of men in windbreaker tracksuits. 

Party Night was written and directed by newcomer Troy Escamilla, a man with an obvious devotion to the kinds of movies most of us rented from our local Blockbuster (or if we were lucky, our independent video store, RIP Long Island's 112 Video). The screenplay blatantly references The Mutilator and some other old school gems, right down to a closet confrontation that feels positively Lori Strode in execution.

Nostalgia aside, Party Night is not exactly a good movie. Made on a minuscule budget crowdfunded via Kickstarter, it's riddled with poor sound quality that I have to imagine came from a lack of good equipment. There's a shot of a text message that's essentially just a zoom in on a cell phone, and the closeness of the camera to the actors' faces is genuinely unpleasant. It's almost like you're getting a found footage horror movie without the setup of it being, you know, a found footage horror movie.

The affection, however, is clearly there, and while the young cast lacks much experience on camera, they're all clearly trying. This isn't a movie you come to for deep analysis or filmmaking innovation, but as a 70 minute waste-no-time slasher, it achieves what it sets out to do.

High Points
While none of the violence breaks any barriers, it's generally well-executed and all clearly practical, a nice switch from the typically terrible CGI we see in low budget horror

Low Points
...with, unfortunately, the exception of the final grand kill, a decapitation that asks its audience to forget everything they know about how the human head is connected to the rest of its body 

Lessons Learned
Pink cell phones belong to girls

The music doesn't matter at prom. It's the EXPERIENCE

Being a good girlfriend in high school means more than just allowing your boyfriend to have sex with you 

Party Night is for a very specific audience: those who can handle low budget limitations for the reward of slasher gore. If that's you, then don your formalwear, hop in your Prom Ride, and find on Amazon Prime. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Holiday Stuff!

From my tacky tree to yours, wishing you all a wonderful silent deadly night and an even shinier new year's evil!

and as always, and forever, be careful of the icy patch!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Little Shop of Triffids

Published in 1951, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids has had quite the legacy, with three film/television adaptations and plenty of blatant referencing in The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later’s handling of apocalyptic hospital scenarios. The first of these, 1962’s Steve Sekely-directed (with, apparently, some later help by Freddie Francis) I snow streaming on Amazon Prime.

Quick Plot: Navy-man Bill Mason (the incredibly broad-shouldered Howard Keel) is recovering from surgery to restore his vision, meaning his bandaged eyes deny him the chance to witness a once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower that’s keeping the rest of London entranced. Lucky for him. The next morning, a now-seeing Bill discovers anyone who watched the out of this world light show has been blinded.

Bill slowly travels through a quickly decaying Europe, picking up a plucky orphan named Susan along the way. The pair have to fight off not only the increasingly dangerous hoards of the blind, but also the titular killer plants. Triffids are large, green, carnivorous, and seemingly immune from any kind of attack. 

Humanity’s only real chance against the triffids just might be in the hands of an angry, alcoholic researcher and his pushover wife. As chaos mounts across the city and rural landscapes, a softer Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-ish prelude between bickering spouses slowly morphs into a scientific breakthrough.

The Day of the Triffids is a fairly loose adaptation of John Wyndham’s novel, retaining the concept and character basics but taking some fairly wide detours in plot specifics. It’s not a shocking decision, since polygamy wasn’t quite the cinematic rage in the early ‘60s. 

Despite side-stepping some of the more risqué elements from the novel, The Day of the Triffids still manages to work as something occasionally rather scary. The triffids themselves aren’t at Audrey II levels of engineering, but there’s something supremely wrong about their design (both in the visuals and sound) that works on a creepy level. The mass blindness is treated with heft. If you were wondering how a pilot who suddenly went blind would handling flying a plane, the answer is of course, “not well.”

Effective scares aside, The Day of the Triffids suffers from some messy storytelling.The pacing never quite clicks, and when I read that the entire island research subplot was added after principal filming ended because the producers realized they only had a 57 minute movie, I wasn’t terribly surprised. 

That being said, The Day of the Triffids worked for me, as it probably would for anyone with a hunger for cinematic apocalypses,. You can see its influence on later work, and it has a certain “the plants are trying to eat us” charm that stands the test of time. 

High Points
It’s a movie that combines killer plants with mass blindness and an apocalypse. What’s not to like?

Low Points 
Yes, it was 1962, but it’s still a shame that most of the women play the important role of standing immobilized by fear and screaming while their men fight the human-eating plant monsters

Lessons Learned (the Blindness Edition)
The only danger in mass blindness is that the victims might accidentally start fires

Surgeons do not perform well under the pressure of blindness

As we also learned in Jose Saramago’s Blindness, all apocalyptic eyesight-based plagues will eventually end in systematized rape

Subtitle Strangeness
For whatever reason (laziness, Martian-ness, etc.), Amazon’s subtitles are just…wrong. Observe some translations:

Dialogue: I’ll tuck you in
Subtitles: I Kentucky

Dialogue: Ms. Durham!
Subtitles: Mr. Rat!

And my favorite, which has no translation because I was too distracted trying to figure out what time travel shenanigans would have allowed Mena Suvari to star in a film made 20 years before her birth:

The Day of the Triffids had been on my to-watch list for years, so it’s great to finally have it easily accessible via Amazon Prime. While it’s no Them! Or The Thing From Another World, it’s entertaining enough on its own merits, and even more intriguing as an early example of the kind of apocalyptic horror that has become fairly common these days. Fans of the novel will probably be annoyed at some of the choices, but in the context of its time, The Day of the Triffids is an interesting capsule. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

What a Big Camera You Have

They made a sequel to Creep! It's a full one minute longer than the first film's brief 77 minute running time. It damn well better earn those 60 seconds. 

Quick Plot: Now calling himself Aaron (the name of his most recent victim), the man we met in Creep as Josef is continuing his odd hobby of befriending lonely people, getting under their skin, and murdering them without warning. The shame is that his heart just isn't in it anymore.

A few hours away, a struggling filmmaker named Sara is feeling down that her documentary web series "Encounters" is tanking in the youtube views. When she sees "Aaron's" Craig's List ad seeking a filmmaker ("fans of Interview With a Vampire a plus"), she decides it's just weird enough to make for the subject of her series finale. 

Of course, Sara has no idea that Aaron is a serial killer, and even after he confesses, she has no real reason to believe him. To Sara, this visit is the chance to finally explore something deep with her camera. Sure, Aaron is testing every boundary and clearly playing his own version of two lies and a truth with every statement that comes out of his mouth, but it's naturally just a tad too late before the reality really kicks in. 

Like Creep, Creep 2 is directed by Patrick Brice and written by Brice and star Mark Duplass. I enjoyed that film well enough, but found the unbalanced nature of pairing such a fascinating presence like Duplass with his bland target (played by Brice himself) a letdown. Creep 2 wisely improves upon this, using the same basic setup but putting Aaron/Josef's chronicler and possible victim on a much more even playing field. 

Played by Desiree Akhavan, Sara has a very specific confidence that allows her to challenge Aaron. With nearly two decades of post-Blair Witch film crews investigating subjects that will doom them in our public conscious, it's not easy to make a found footage horror film about an ambitious young director without leaving your audience sensing deja vu. Thankfully, Sara manages to feel fresh. Akhavan has a brave (if not always bright) energy totally fitting to a an experimental, fresh-out-of-film school documentarian, and her interaction with Aaron goes in a variety of directions you don't quite see coming.

It's a shame then, that Creep 2 has such a poorly executed ending. I won't spoil anything here, and the news that Creep 3 has been greenlit certainly takes some of the frustration out of my initial viewing. But dangit: Creep 2 goes so well for so long, then tosses in an incredibly rushed coda that just doesn't seem to line up with the story we've been watching.

High Points
By golly, is there a more engaging onscreen presence than Mark Duplass? It's also such a treat to see him get to play off such an interestingly drawn character as Akhavan's Sara (and as said earlier, such a gigantic step forward from the first film's costar)

Low Points

Lessons Learned
Death by blender should never be ruled out for execution

Perhaps documenting your fail-safe escape plan isn't the best way to keep a fail-safe escape plan secret

Wolf masks offer just enough peripheral vision clearance for safe country road driving

Creep 2 is a Blumhouse production that goes straight to Netflix, and like its predecessor, it makes perfect sense as a breezy streaming view. Mark Duplass continues to make incredibly weird (in the best of ways) choices, and watching him tap into whatever pleasantly unsettling darkness is within his Aaron is always a strange pleasure. Give it a go. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

I'll Have Another

I Drink Your Blood has a nifty distinction: the first film to be rated X purely for its violence. 

Sign me up.

Quick Plot: A diverse gang of devil worshippers makes camp in a small, nearly empty town filled with some decent abandoned real estate and a whole lot of rats. After raping a local woman, they ignite the fury of her ineffectual grandfather and wildly creative little brother Pete. 

Grandpa tries to exact revenge only to end up being forced to take LSD by a gaggle of hysterically laughing punk satanists high on rodent hunting (happens to the best of us). Peter, on the other hand, has a more solid plan. He shoots a dog infected with rabies, collects its blood, injects it into meat pies at the town's only market for food, and convinces his sister's tormenters to chow down.

As cinematic little brothers go, Peter is up there with the best of them

Since I'm not scientist, I have no choice but to take the movie at its logic that eating rabies-seasoned pot pies will turn the consumer into a ravenous zombie. 

Mayhem takes over the town as the rabies takes its toll, igniting pure savagery in some, suicidal tendencies in others, and insatiable lust in one who just happens to end up naked with a full construction crew. Since rabies (or at least, I Drink Your Blood's version of rabies) is spread by any touch of bodily fluid, it's not long before the whole town is either hunting or being hunted. 

I Drink Your Blood was directed by David Durston after producer Jerry Gross decided, if the internet is to be believed, that  "he wanted to make the most graphic horror film ever produced, but he didn't want any vampires, man-made monsters, werewolves, mad doctors, or little people." 

Success all around! Three years after I Drink Your Blood, George Romero would play with a similar concept in The Crazies (which happens to also costar I Drink Your Blood's Lynn Lowry). The Crazies is a scarier film, but there's an element of wacky fun to I Drink Your Blood that makes it a darn fun watch. It doesn't take long to hit full chaos, and when full chaos involves a LOT of severed limbs, who can complain?

High Points
I am, and will always be, an easy mark for frantic jazz used to enhance insanity, and Clay Pitts' score is perfectly applied in a way that truly takes the wacky tone to the perfect level of escalation

Low Points
You can't give me "old man force fed LSD" as a plot point without the fun of, you know, showing an old man high on LSD

Lessons Learned
You don't have to know about LSD to know abut rabies

The mark of a good machete is one that can sever a head from its body in just one swing

Satan was an acid head

I dug the heck out of I Drink Your Blood. It moves fast, in a wonderfully weird and over the top way. I found the film via a Netflix disc rental, so while it doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere, the disc does come loaded with a batch of special features worth checking out. Bon appetit!