Monday, January 15, 2018

March of the Plague Survivors

Film plots that I will never turn down: save the rec center through dance, prevent/survive nuclear war, and worldwide plagues.

1980's Virus has two out of three.

Somewhere in my personal heaven, a movie exists wherein breakdancing teenagers struggle to disarm Soviet missiles while coughing through a superflu.

If that's not motivation to live morally, what is?

Quick Plot: Ah, the Cold War, a time when everyone couldn't help but create messy scenarios that could inevitably go wrong and lead to the end of the world. 

Or most of it.

After an experimental virus is accidentally released, the majority of human beings are wiped out by the new malady known as "The Italian Flu." The only hope for mankind awaits in Antarctica, where the freezing temperatures provide a natural barrier to the germs. With 800 men,  8 women, and a whole lot more (unseen) penguins, the remaining survivors (mostly scientists, thought probably not the penguins; or maybe the penguins, who am I to draw conclusions?) re-order society under the wise guidance of George Kennedy.

Things are going peacefully enough until an impending earthquake is detected. Because it's the 1980s, nuclear missiles have been locked and loaded with just about every spot of land in target for one political reason or another. An American survivor realizes that the movement from the earthquakes will trigger some bombs towards the Soviet Union, which the Russian diplomat reveals will in turn blast some weaponry toward suspected U.S. stations in none other than the lonely outposts of the Arctic shores. 

Thankfully, there's one working submarine still in action, and it's captained by none other than Tourist Trap's Chuck Connors who plays a British naval officer with an accent that makes Kevin Costner's Robin Hood seem authentic. Actually, he doesn't really even TRY an accent. He just reads his script littered with Englishisms ("chaps", "you Yankees," etc.) in the same grizzly Brooklyn/Southern cadence he used as Mr. Slausen. It. Is. Weird.

Anyway, American soldier Bo Svenson(!) teams up with scientist Masao Kusakari to deactivate the bombs, now armed with a possible vaccine. Can they save the lingering bits of humanity? SHOULD they? 

Virus, also known as Day of Resurrection (spoiler alert?), was an incredibly big budgeted international production directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the visionary who would go on to helm Battle Royale and fuel Emily's imagination in every scenario. Based on a novel, its international scope feels epic in intention. Unfortunately, the pared down version streaming on Amazon Prime (with some 45 minutes cut out from the original cut) doesn't quite reach the bigness the material deserves. 

There's a good 45 minutes or so spent with characters who (SPOILER ALERT) die en masse as the virus spreads throughout the northern hemisphere. While it's exciting to see such an assortment of actors (Henry Silva! Glenn Ford! Robert Vaughn!), the constant shifting of protagonists takes a little too long to stabilize, eventually leading us to figure out by default that our real lead is a mild-mannered but secretly brave Japanese scientist. 

Perhaps because of the editing, there are also a ton of ideas that don't quite get the attention they deserve in being fleshed out. The gender politics are incredibly complicated, and while there's a small amount of effort made to show how a society of educated individuals would deal with such matters, it ultimately feels fairly shortchanged in the overall final product. 

Problems (of which there are many; did I mention this is Amazon Prime and therefore, very poorly lit?) aside, I certainly enjoyed Virus because, well, it's a movie about the end of the world involving both nuclear missiles AND a devastating plague. It's brimming with recognizable actors from all over the globe, from Sonny Chiba to Edward James Olmos to, you know, CHUCK CONNORS PLAYING AN ENGLISHMAN.

Sorry, this one just REALLY lingers.

High Points
You can't be unhappy with the sheer internationalism of the cast, which includes not just a diversity of actors, but characters from every part of the world

Low Points
Look, it's also sort of what will make me remember this movie forever so it can't be THAT bad a thing, but seriously: how DID I MENTION CHUCK CONNORS PLAYS A BRITISH CHARACTER DESPITE NOT ALTERING HIS VERY AMERICAN ACCENT AT ALL?

Lessons Learned
In the early '80s, the going rate for transporting flesh-eating bacteria was 50,000 pounds

The real secret to world peace is a stern Bo Svenson

Tying one's shoes is more difficult and time consuming than activating nuclear weapons

I can only speak to the truncated 108 minute version available on Netflix, which looks grainy and doesn't seem to flow with the full epic scale one would imagine for a film of this subject matter, budget, and director. That being said, if you, like me, love a good fashioned On the Beach-style end-of-world saga, this is certainly one loaded with a whole lot of the hallmarks of the genre. I'll be on the lookout for the extended version, which is probably (I'm guessing) the more proper way to watch.

Proper, in the truest of British forms.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Cult of Tweezology

Remember AIM? For the young ones out there, that's AOL Instant Messenger, an internet chat function akin to today's Snapchat (I assume?) that no longer exists. 

Side note: my AOL username was MSTyodameister, because I was the coolest person using the Internet that you could possibly know

The fact that this was by far the most exciting thing to be found in Cult says a little bit about the movie, but more importantly, a whole lot about the very specific days of the early 21st century.
Quick Plot: Picture it: the opening still image prologue to 1991's Beauty and the Beast, only instead of being about a spoiled prince and magical rose, it's an ancient Chinese maiden named Kwan Yin whose out-of-wedlock pregnancy leads her father to gouge out her eyeballs and slice open her belly, thus empowering her as some sort of goddess. 

Cut to a Taoist cult in 1990s era California (more specifically, an abandoned Chinese buffet) where a white lounge-erie-clad beauties sacrifice themselves in the name of the aforementioned Kwan Yin only for one to discover their male leader, Quinlin, is trying to steal all of their power for himself.

20 years later, the daughter of the slain cult member has grown up into Mindy (The Butterfly Effect 3's Rachel Miner), a hard-working college student who spends as much time studying ancient Chinese cults as she does shaping her extremely shaped eyebrows.

Mindy is currently working on the worst thing ever asked of a college student: the dreaded group project, this one specifically about the temple massacre. Her team includes pal Cassandra (played by the always welcome Taryn Manning), Cassandra's emo boyfriend Bailey, the school mascot/token awful human being Alex, and the MIA Morgan, soon to be found by Mindy to have brutally killed herself in the dorm bathroom in a manner very similar to those ill-fated maidens in the empty Chinese buffet.

Apparently, all it takes is for an unmarried pregnant woman to take her own life for Quinlin to reemerge, slaughtering those around Mindy with the help of an occasionally important jade amulet. Mindy's sexy Australian professor tries to help, but stopping Quinlin is no mere academic affair. 

Let's be very clear about something: like most of late '90s/early 00s horror titles that you have never heard of popping up on Amazon Prime in recent months, Cult is not a good movie. When your primary set is an empty Asian restaurant and the rules of your villain are clearly made up as you go, you do not, you know, have a good movie.

But that doesn't stop an idiot like me from enjoying it.

Maybe it's the fact that I wrote "EYEBROWS" in my notes twelve times over the course of its 90 minute run, but Cult just seemed to tickle some very sensitive part of my funny bone. The bargain bin CGI does wonders, and random lack of attention to logical detail makes you scratch your head with a smile. Take, for example, the lack of custodian services on campus. I don't care how cheap your film is, it's pretty hard to conceive of a college that doesn't clean a blood-stained dorm bathroom after a student commits suicide inside. I can accept crime tape a few days after the event, but can I REALLY be asked to believe no one FLUSHED THE TOILET THAT WAS FILLED WITH THE DEAD KID'S BLOOD?

Such moments are what make an otherwise underwhelming, probably once straight-to-Blockbuster-shelves genre flick somewhat memorable.

Make of that what you will.

Low Points
That's right: I'm reversing this! Here's why: Alex, played by Cruel World's Joel Michaely, is easily the most obnoxious and intolerable (and also, apparently, racist and intolerant) character I can remember seeing onscreen in some time. I hated his face, hated his voice, and have never wished a more painful death upon anyone on camera

High Points
I mean, I have to give some credit to a film that makes me that excited to see someone die a horrible death

Lessons Learned
Never question the moral character of the people who make your meatloaf

The best college professors are the ones who fashion themselves akin to female porn actress starring in teacher-student scenarios

It's probably not a good idea to joke about the tragic death of any young person to your fragile daughter, let alone one whose bloodied body was discovered by, you know, your own daughter

Cult is streaming on Amazon Prime, which is probably the most effort you should put into watching it. Those with a very particular nostalgia for the early 2000s might have some fun, but to call this a good movie would be a step even someone with as bad a taste in movies as myself wouldn't do. I had a good time with it, but as regular readers know, that's not always a good thing. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Siri: Kill Me

Maybe it was the failure of the American remake of Pulse, but it seems surprising that here we are in 2017 with so few smartphone-centered horror movies. 

It's almost like someone just read my data and heard me...

Quick Plot: Nikki is a seemingly healthy high school senior who suddenly drops dead, devastating her best friend Alice, boyfriend Cody, and a few other incredibly attractive pals, all of whom eventually find a new app invitation on her phone.

Meet Mr. Bedevil, a sort of dandy version of Siri crossed with Freddy Krueger. While each teenager initially finds the app helpful in a cheat-on-your-homework kind of way, it doesn't take long for them to realize the software's goal is to exploit their deepest fears until they are medically scared to death.

Clowns, racists, teddy bears, and old people: the typical phobias of today's millennial. The kids recognize their doom, attempting to uninstall the program to no avail. The police are similarly no help, and oddly enough, none of these seventeen year olds seems to have parents or teachers that think to raise any kind of alarm when they continue to die off. 

Bedeviled is the kind of low-ish budget horror movie that has charm about equal to the amount of ridiculous logic suspension its audience must take. The young actors aren't all fully comfortable with screen dialogue, but they're enthusiastic enough to garner audience sympathy, especially since each character has enough individuality to make an impression. The fact that they don't seem to be complete idiots is what hurts the film a tad. Haven't they watched enough movies to know that splitting up is easily the worst idea anyone can have when being stalked by a slender man-esque stalker?

Look, movie characters aren't always the brightest bulbs onscreen. I get that. But if I was the only one seeing dreamlike images of my deepest fears while my friends went through the same thing, wouldn't I, I don't know, say to my pals, "hey, let's stick together because maybe this slender app-man can't be in two places at once?" I don't know much about this generation's youth, but apparently, they really don't work well together.

Details aside, Bedeviled is a fun little watch that plays like a neat little modernization of Nightmare On Elm Street. The main villain and his many incarnations have some visual flair, and the pacing moves well to make its 90 minute runtime feel just right. This isn't a franchise starter or new classic, but it's a perfectly solid for a one-time watch. 

High Points
While it's still a pick 'em off horror movie centered around high schoolers, it's admirable that this is a film that actively casts a diverse assortment of (very attractive) actors and finds ways to touch on their racial/ethnic backgrounds in somewhat thoughtful ways

Low Points
I mean, I get that Alice's mother is a single working woman, but considering just how many TEENAGERS ARE BEING KILLED, you'd think ONE adult in their lives might actually acknowledge that something is amiss

Lessons Learned
In 2017, nobody really cares if four kids from the same school die mysterious deaths within days of each other

Duck faces and assholes are pretty much the same thing, particularly if you're a bitter police officer

Seriously, kids, stop recording yourselves having sex, especially when said device includes an app that easily accesses all of your data. Seriously 

Look! It's-
Lead Saxon Sharbino, who I mostly knew from a recent Law & Order: SVU episode but who I apparently originally met via the climax of the criminally underseen, truly horrifying Red White and Blue

I don't know that I'll ever watch Bedeviled again, but I'll certainly welcome more horror from the writing/directing team The Vang Brothers.  You can find it on Netflix.