Friday, January 30, 2009

You Know You're a Horror Addict When...

Upon channel surfing late last evening, my eyes lit up to see the title Chihuahuas From Hell. Without a second (or even first) thought, I immediately hit 'select' and sat back for what I hoped would be a light-hearted but blood-heavy romp somewhere between Demonic Toys and Cujo, perhaps 90 minutes worth of crappy dog puns, neutering jokes, and of course, a Jamie Lee Curtis one liner/(fingers crossed) cameo to celebrate the success of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Considering it's my birthday tomorrow, that doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

So. I flip. What do I get? Cesar Millan's kind but stern face shaking in exasperation at a spoiled young woman and her growling lapdog, Peanut.

Perhaps it's the recent death of Monsters HD (The. Best. Channel. Ever.), but I guess I've come to expect that there will always be a horror movie of some ilk available at all times to entertain me. Think about it: Chihuahuas From Hell. Compared to a title like Leprechaun: Back to 'Da Hood (itself a spin-off to a 5 film franchise, making this some sort of mathematical sequel term I can't quite wrap my English major head around), this one sounds like Citizen Kane. Followup titles could include Part Dos: The Return of El Diabolito, Part Tres: Season of the Bitch, the sci-fi entry I, Chihuahua,and of course, should the series prove a massive success, Demon Chihuahuas 22: Electric Boogaloo.

Just saying: if a sheep, snowman, and ice cream sundae get their own star turn, shouldn't we have no limits? Or is there indeed a line-- however fine it may be--that the genre, for its own dignity, should not cross? Will some Full Moon/Troma-esque studio start a division of horror films made to quickly rip off popular children's series, a la the porn industry?

And with all this talk of silly killer horror, where on earth is my silly killer caterpillar movie?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Little Brothers Are So Gosh Darn Annoying

A film like Basket Case is hard to see with a fresh eye. I grew up with Part 2 being on active rotation in my VCR, but the sequel--loads of over-the-top, self-aware fun that involved a tender yet anatomically unexplained sex scene, as I recall (ahem) fondly--lacks many of the qualities that made the original such a beloved piece of early 80s cheese. Try as you might, it's difficult to recreate the sweet sleaze of pre-Guilianni NYC, stop-motion animation that reminds you why you should hate modern CGI, and a white boy afro that puts Peter Brady to shame.

Quick Plot: Duane is new to Manhattan, but instead of standing on line for a Magnolia Bakery cupcake and getting orchestra tickets to Mama Mia, he checks into a seedy motel in Hell’s Kitchen and chaperones his basket-dwelling, formerly conjoined twin brother Belial on a mini murder spree of the doctors who separated them years back. (I guess having a giant wad of chewing gum that roars like Sloth attached to your side was a tad taboo in the 80s.) A few obstacles pop up along the way, namely Duane’s whirlwind romance with a doctor’s assistant/aggressive tourist trap pusher who sports a blond Farrah wig that calls to mind a poor man’s Miss Piggy. 

See, Beliall hasn’t had much contact with women. Nor has Duane, although he seems to have no problem attracting a few. Friendly, flirty neighbors include a sassy prostitute whose idea of heavy boozing is a six pack of Budweiser and a talkative New Yawkah with Bette Davis makeup. It’s easy to laugh at the hammy acting of Basket Case, but having spent a good year plus walking around Manhattan and often finding myself trapped in random conversations with overeager strangers, I don’t doubt that these characters were based in reality.

What I love about Basket Case (other than Belial, bless his blob-like heart) is that every person involved in this film commits. Okay, I could do without the opening death scene that kind of reminded me what my high school Physics teacher would sound like if ‘Help. No. Oh God. No’ ever came out of his mouth, but from the twin vet assistants decked out in full nursing gear to the joyous full frontal streaking of Kevin Van Hentenryck, a good time was clearly had by all.  Thankfully, NYC auteur Frank Henenlotter had enough talent and good humor to let the audience in on the fun.

High Points:
Belial going all George Michael on the Hotel Broslin in a stop motion animated rampage that is somehow hysterical, cheesy, and oddly creepy at the same time

The shot of the twins’ dad being fittingly split in two following the operation that, well, split his sons in two

Every facial expression made by Beverly Bonner

Low Points:
Belial is scary and shocking to see. We get that. By the fifth “character about to die faces camera and lets out a scream” scene, the reaction is kinda annoying

Hey, did you know that this takes place in and around the Hotel Broslin? Really, you didn’t? Let me show you again. Oh! And did you know this scene is inside the Hotel Broslin. Let me--Okay, I get that the budget was small, but you don’t have to be so proud of having burning neon sound effects that you use them about 27 times in the course of a 90 minute movie. 

Lessons Learned:
It's very possible to rape a woman to death without external genitalia

Never trust a doctor that looks like a cross between Steve Buscemi and Dr. Nick, particularly if he eats pizza during a consultation

42nd St. was a lot cooler before the Disney Invasion

Scuzzy Times Square hotel walls come decorated with framed portraits of Irving Berlin

*(Further proof of a previous theory) Nothing good comes out of upstate NY

 Best line:
“I like you drunk. You’re cute when you slobber.” as said by a horny veterinarian that vaguely resembles one of the deformed Sigourney Weaver clones in Alien: Resurrection

Buy: The only thing that would make me recommend this movie more is if a Belial Beanie Baby was included with the purchase. The new 20th Anniversary DVD release is loaded with special features, including lots of tidbits about how money was saved (one word: streaking). The light-heartedness makes it an appropriate party movie filled with gleeful gore that should, for the most part, amuse rather than disturb.  Plus, I’m all for supporting a film that --while it may involve mutant rape, infanticide, patricide, and a total abuse of the Hippocratic oath--has a genuine innocence that seems to power every reel. Brotherly love, a first kiss, and wicker. What’s not to love? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Invited to The Uninvited (Which Leaves Me Grammatically Confused)

While browsing the thoroughly unimpressive horror section at Circuit City, a young man with a thoroughly impressive mohawk handed me a screener pass for The Uninvited, a film I wanted to see as badly as I want Lost to never explain the secret behind the four-toed statue (translation: not a lot). But because I'm physically incapable of not taking advantage of something free, I sat down for what I assumed would be disposable PG-13 pop with a quota to meet for twelve jump scares, at least five scenes where we see the lead's worried reaction before cutting to what horrifies her, and four Is-It-A-Dream? sequences that always leave me saying No, because nobody ever looks that good after just waking up. 

I'm not going into detail here because, well, The Uninvited was what it was meant to be. The performances were fine and a few moments made me slightly uneasy, but this is ultimately one of those glossy 'thrillers' that's simply made for an audience that has no objection to text messaging during viewing and will most likely have a mini dilemma over whether to rent  this or The Unborn from Blockbuster in two months time. 

Quick Disclaimer: Perhaps my words on this movie should not be taken as any kind of sacred text (because I assume the three people reading this consider me a filmic goddess with impeccable taste). My own theater experience was significantly affected by the fellow sitting behind me and his unquenchable need to break any mild tension by shouting some variation of  "She gonna get you, bitch/Get that bitch/That's a freaky bitch" during every quiet moment that involved a 'bitch' (freaky or otherwise).  Once or twice, this was actually more amusing than the film.

High Point:
Casting Elizabeth Banks allows me to post a picture of Michael Rooker

Low Points:
A score that tells you everything you need to know about how to feel in a scene

*The supreme mediocrity of this film has rendered me unable to recall anything else

Lessons Learned:
Proposing to your late wife's home nurse a mere 10 months after you became a widow in a freak explosion witnessed by your traumatized daughter is not a great idea, particularly if said daughter has just been released from a mental asylum

Ghosts of children that died in 1996 dress like Victorians and are kind of a drag

The secret to a good roast is to let it sit ten minutes before carving. If I made roasts, this would actually be useful.

Best Line: 
"I love you and I have a condom." (Bonus points for being the first words we hear in the entire film)

Full Price/Sneak In/Stay Home
Stay home. Or don't. See if I care. I don't. I won't be angry. I just...won'

Which ultimately sums up how I felt about this movie.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Underwhelmed 3: The Rise of the Nighy

JCVD does his split.
Schwarzenegger has his accent.
The Rock raises an eyebrow.

But no man can pivot like Bill Nighy.

After spending $15 on My Bloody Valentine 3D (of which the awesomeness was simple and pure and everything it should have been so read about it elsewhere) the thought of an increased priced ticket to cover glasses that blatantly warn you not wear them in the sun seemed like the perfect reason to sneak into a vampire movie. While Frank Lang-acula WAS puffing his cheeks next door in Frost/Nixon and I wouldn’t have minded a shot at spotting a rare Clint Howard cameo, my lovely friend Erica and I decided to see that other Michael Sheen film. The one with the leather.

Quick Plot: Vampires are jerks. Snobby, blue-eyed jerks who perhaps are meant to represent American plantation owners of the antebellum period or the natural progression of goth kids if they were to somehow amass power and castles. Their chief duties appear to be holding councils, shaking down silver miners for booty to kill werewolves with, and abusing human slaves, some of whom (or perhaps all, I wasn't quite clear) are Lycans. Bill Nighy is Viktor, best-dressed and therefore leader of the vampires (although I think this particular clan should be called vamp-eYres, with an stress on the last syllable as pronounced by Andrew on Buffy), and father to the dark-haired Sonja, whom I, having never seen a Kate Beckinsdale film, assumed was actually Kate Beckinsdale (this is what movies get for putting cast credits at the end). Aside from looking good and pivoting in ridiculous grand style, Viktor's biggest hobby seems to be playing fetch with the fetchingly shirtless Sheen’s Lycan Lucien. 

There’s a forbidden interspecies romance, a valiant uprising, and several scenes of mild whipping that probably amuse some audience goers more than others. I've never seen an Underworld film and I don't really have a sunburning desire to see more, but that being said, this is good at what it does. Sheen gives a far better performance than you normally come to expect from a genre film. The man’s a good actor, but more importantly, he takes his work seriously, regardless of the content. NY Newsday recently ran an interview with him where writer and snob Frank Lovelace (relation to Linda: unknown) made some rather condescending remarks about the Underworld series, to which Sheen vigorously jumped to its defense with class.  

The guy has seriously earned my respect (plus he probably looks much better topless than Clint Howard).

High Points:
A neat little getaway scene that gets inconveniently halted by spears

As someone whose opinion of filmic werewolves generally ranges from ‘low utterance of meh’ to ‘higher pitched meh,’ the Lycans fell somewhere in the upper register of meh (until they devolved into CGI bass mehs. Meh is not a good rating system, is it?).

Low Points:
The heavy metal video editing makes Saw look like Casablanca.

A sex scene that involves a werewolf and vampire dangling over a cliff in the rain has no reason not be hot. But it’s not.

Lessons Learned:
Rhina Mitra looks an awful lot like Kate Beckinsdale. I guess. Wait, that’s really NOT Kate Beckinsdale?

Liberace’s costume designer comes from a long line of vampires

Never give Kevin Grevioux dialogue if you don’t want the audience to laugh at the inhuman depth of his voice.

Vampires suck (figuratively, and a little literally).

Full Price/Sneak In/Stay Home
Haughty Naughty Nighy is a 60 year-old British thespian and now a life-sized cardboard cutout on the poster for an action film about vampires. That should be reason enough to sneak in, plus, he wears spangles. In medieval Europe. And he pivots. A lot. You can live without this movie, but a little Nighy does make the world a better place. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cathy's Curse aka Cauchemares

As a young teenager, I used to use my good report cards as opportunities to get a gift from Borders. This typically involved me wandering down the horror aisle and picking up a paperback based on the cover. Quite a few featured what I assumed to be a poorly selling QVC doll holding a kitchen knife (possibly purchased as a discounted package in the final minutes of the 3AM sale). These novels were never particularly good, but my lingering pediophobia allowed the stories--usually about single mothers trying to protect their little girls from possession by a mysteriously lost-and-found porcelain doll--to be worth that A in Algebra. 
Cathy’s Curse has the feel of a crappy paperback novel, but minus the hand of a mediocre editor. Made in Quebec in 1977, it’s notable for having the most extreme spray tan you’ve ever seen to coat a film. (I could blame my 13 cent Mill Creek 50 pack edition, but I’m pretty sure this film has never looked good. But you know, it’s kind of like Ryan Seacrest. The first couple times you look at it, you’re completely distracted by the orange glow radiating from the center. Eventually, you realize there are bigger problems before you.) 

Quick Plot: A mother walks out on her husband and daughter (but keeps the son, because, as we’re quite often reminded, “she’s a bitch!”). We never discover why Mama B abandoned half her family, but I assume her potty mouthed husband and creepy doll-and-rabbit-loving daughter had something to do with it. 

Anyway, leftover family unit drives recklessly after the first half but are thwarted by a bunny in the road and die in a horrid car explosion. Not an awful start to what we know will not be a good movie. Flash thirty years or so later, and the surviving son returns home with his new terrible actress of a wife and boring little daughter (don’t worry, she’s about to get much more interesting). A quick backstory of the family follows (“You know and I know that I’ve had a nervous breakdown!”) along with Cathy’s discovery and immediate kinship with a nasty little doll. Before long, Cathy is speaking like Marlena when she was possessed by the devil on Days of Our Lives, calling every woman she sees a bitch/whore/filthy female cow, and playing Let’s Reenact How My Aunt/Possessing Spirit Died/the All Women Are Bitches Accident Game with the less than enthusiastic neighborhood kids. 
Obviously, it only gets better from here. The highlight of the film for me was Roy Witham’s Dickensian caretaker Paul, aKa the coolest babysitter on the block. How much do I love a film that features a little girl and an old British man drinking whiskey and calling a concerned neighbor a “dirty old whore?” A lot. I love it a lot. Especially when said scene concludes with tarantulas, snakes, and whatever else the local pet shop provided crawling over the old man in a scene that feels as stretched as the spider death in Fulci’s The Beyond.
High Points
Any doll with eyes sewn closed gets at least one round of goosebumps from me. 

Little Randi Allen’s clear enjoyment of being allowed to curse in numbers that would make Margaret Cho blush.
Low Points
The doll doesn’t talk. Or move. Or curse. Sigh. I would have traded my Wedding Day Midge to hear “Make us laugh, you filthy bitch!” come out of a porcelain mouth, but alas, no movie is perfect.
Remember the scene in Airplane where the woman whose husband never drinks coffee starts freaking out and screaming “I gotta get out of here” over and over again? That’s basically Beverly Murray’s performance as Cathy’s mentally unstable mother.
The Winning Line:
“Medium? I’d say extra rare piece of shit!”
I now have added to My List of Things To Do In Life Before I Die: Go to psychic, become enraged, and shout these words. Or have a 10 year old daughter and make her do it, because it’s much funnier that way. 
Lessons Learned:
Do not kiss little girls, particularly if their mommies tell you they hate being kissed.

All women are bitches, but dogs that bark are stupid bitches.
Nervous breakdowns are not contagious, but they will eff up your daughter pretty badly.
Alcoholic caretakers make adequate babysitters.
Not a new lesson in horror, but this film does offer further proof that all children with straight blond hair are evil

Buy Cheap
I watched this as part of Mill Creek’s 50 Chilling Classics pack, a set that I can’t recommend highly enough. The quality is off, but since you’re spending about 15-80 cents on this movie, depending on your purchase, it’s certainly worth a viewing. Don’t expect miracles, but do enjoy a good time.